HL Deb 08 April 1971 vol 317 cc433-509

12 noon


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill. Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Windlesham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[Baroness WOOTTON OF ABINGER in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Uses of premises for which fire certificate is compulsory]:

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


It might be convenient if I said a word or two on this clause about the two important points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Burntwood, on Second Reading, concerning hospitals. The noble Lord drew attention to the cost of bringing old hospital buildings up to the standards envisaged in the Bill, and also to the fact that in certain hospitals equipment might not be an effective precaution unless there were adequately trained staff. The Government share the noble Lord's concern on both of these matters, and I can confirm that hospitals generally will fall within the scope of the Bill under Clause 1(2)(a) and (b). This applies to mental hospitals as well, the exceptions in Clause 40 being confined to the special hospitals such as Broadmoor.

The Department of Health and Social Security has been doing a great deal in recent years by way of guidance and advice to encourage regional hospital boards to review and, where necessary, to bring up to standard their fire safety arrangements (especially the arrangements for means of escape), including alarm systems. In carrying out this work hospital boards commonly seek the advice of the fire authority, and while we accept that there are still necessary improvements to be made, there is no reason to believe that means of escape generally in hospitals are inadequate. Moreover, where other fire safety measures are thought necessary, these too are being carried out by hospital authorities within their normal budgets as and when possible. The noble Lord rightly stressed the need for adequate financial resources. As he well knows, hospitals boards constantly face the problem of conflicting priorities in allocating the funds available to them, but there is no doubt that they are aware of the importance of adequate fire precautions.

The noble Lord also stressed the need for adequate staff training. This, too, is a matter which receives close attention, and in which fire brigades already give a great deal of help. The Bill indeed makes special provision in Clause 6 for persons working in premises covered by a fire certificate to receive appropriate instructional training. The shortage of financial resources to modernise old hospital buildings, both as regards improved fire precautions and in other ways, is of course a matter that goes outside the scope of the Bill, but in view of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Burnt-wood, on Second Reading, and his considerable knowledge and interest in hospital administration, the Government thought it right to make a brief statement at this stage for the Record.


I must apologise to the Committee for not being present when the noble Lord began his statement. I think there may be some deficiency with the postal services, as I did not know that the statement was to be made. However that may be, I will study what the noble Lord has said more carefully, and perhaps I shall be in correspondence with him. I am much obliged to the noble Lord.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Premises exempt from s.1]:

12.4 p.m.


Page 2, line 32, after second ("premises") insert ("(other than those in which musical entertainment is supplied)").

The noble Viscount said: In moving this Amendment I draw attention to what is, I am afraid, rather a complex situation. Your Lordships will see from Clause 1(2)(c) that the Secretary of State is able to designate premises which are used for the purposes of entertainment as being premises to which the fire certificate procedure, under the Bill, will relate. There are certain premises which are used in the purposes of entertainment which, rather surprisingly, already come under the provisions of the Offices. Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963. Your Lordships will see, if you look at Clause 2(a). that any premises which are caught by that Act of 1963 cannot be brought into the fire certificate procedure under the Bill.

There is an additional complication. These premises which fall under the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act are usually places where there is music and dancing. They are places like public houses, bars and lounges, public restaurants and dining and banqueting halls, and hotels. The present procedure is, of course, that premises of this sort have to comply with the code relating to fire precautions under the 1963 Act. Those provisions are to be found in Sections 28 to 38 of that Act, but they are not anything like so comprehensive as the provisions for fire precautions made under this Bill. Indeed, I think it would have been possible for the Minister in charge of the 1963 Act to make regulations to extend the scope of the code under that Act, but he has not done so; he has never made the regulations that he could make under Section 37.

The result is that we have a supervisory power in the local authorities under the 1963 Act which is mainly to deal with the provision and maintenance of means of escape and fire fighting equipment and, to some extent, fire alarms and the instruction of staff, but it does not deal with control of the people who have come in to take part in the entertainment. The local authorities concerned, therefore, had to fall back upon the licensing powers and there are, therefore, in many places, two separate codes of fire precaution machinery being operated in relation to premises of this sort. I say "in many places" because the strange situation is that although some county councils have powers to deal with this under licensing procedure, in other areas it is not the county council but the local district council which has to take these steps under the licensing procedure, and some of these local district councils do not have the power at all. Therefore, there are areas where there is no machinery whereby the public who come into these entertainments can be properly provided for in the way of fire precautions, and the 1963 Act is not adequate.

What my Amendment seeks to do is to bring premises of this sort within the scope of the Bill. There will then be available to the local authorities all the extra conditions over and above those in the 1963 Act, and they will be able to take advantage of any regulations, for instance, that the Secretary of State makes under Clause 12 which would not otherwise apply because Clause 12 regulations will not apply to premises at the present moment exempted under Clause 2. Equally, the provisions of Clause 6 will apply if my Amendment is made, but not otherwise.

If something is not done, we shall be left with what I suggest to the Committee is an unsatisfactory situation whereby there is, in all places, a somewhat inadequate provision in the 1963 Act available, which only in some places can be supplemented by the licensing provisions; and those provisions are sometimes under the local authority and sometimes the licensing justices, if they operate at all. I would suggest to your Lordships that the most satisfactory thing to do would be to stop this complex situation and bring these premises within the scope of this Bill thus giving the public the full protection which this Bill would provide everywhere for the first time. I beg to move.


I am grateful for the explanation that the noble Viscount has given of his Amendment. He is right in saying that restaurants are required by the 1963 Act (that is the Act covering offices, shops and railway premises) have adequate means of escape from fire in certain circumstances. Where more than 20 staff, or more than 10 elsewhere than on the ground floor, are employed, they must have a fire certificate. Furthermore, if there is music and dancing on the premises, the restaurant will normally require a licence in addition under the appropriate licensing Acts; and, as the noble Viscount pointed out, these vary for different parts of the country. Therefore these premises are covered at present as regards fire precautions, even though more than one piece of legislation applies.

The fact that more than one Act applies to the same premises is unavoidable, and this affects both premises corning within the scope of the Bill and premises such as restaurants which fall outside it by reason of the exclusion of Clause 2. A cinema, for example, will still need a licence under the Cinematograph Acts, as well as a fire certificate under the Bill, because the licensing provisions extend to matters other than means of escape. There is therefore no advantage from this point of view in bringing restaurants where there is a floor show within the scope of the Bill rather than leaving them under the control of the 1963 Act. In either case, a licence will be needed in addition to a fire certificate.

It is arguable, indeed, that this Amendment would complicate matters even further. As I have explained, there are two licensing provisions already affecting these premises, and the effect of the Amendment would be to bring the premises referred to in the noble Viscount's Amendment within the scope of the Bill, without of course repealing any of the provisions of the 1963 Act. Accordingly, it would seem that a restaurant offering entertainment of the type envisaged in the Amendment would require two fire certificates instead of one, as well as being subject to licensing conditions; that is, it would need a fire certificate under the 1963 Act, and a fire certificate under what will become the 1971 Act as well. That seems to us an unnecessary complication.

Even if the intention of the Amendment were acceptable, there are difficulties about its form. The words musical entertainment "are not defined, and would presumably include not only a floor show, such as in the larger type of restaurant providing musical entertainment, but also "canned" music which is a feature of, for example, railway stations, shops and small restaurants. To take premises of that type out of the scope of the 1963 Act and bring them all under the Bill does not seem to be a desirable innovation. Moreover, as I have explained, small restaurants employing less than a certain number of staff do not require a fire certificate under the 1963 Act; but if they were brought under this Bill by means of this Amendment they would. This would greatly increase the fire authorities' burden of work, and the increase does not seem to be justified in the interests of the safety of the public. I hope I have explained why the Government feel that it is not wise or, on the whole, desirable to accept this Amendment. I do not know whether, with that explanation, the noble Viscount will be willing to withdraw it.


Before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a question about places where there is "canned" music, such as railway stations? Can they be described as being provided for the purpose of musical entertainment? They are really provided for the purpose of transport. Musical entertainment is, unfortunately, there and we cannot avoid it; but those places are not provided for that purpose.


It could be said that the railway buffet was provided for the purpose of refreshment of the passengers, and that the recorded music played in the buffet was for the entertainment of those using it. I should not like to give a more considered reply than that.


If there is something wrong with the wording of the Amendment, then, plainly, I shall have to ask leave to withdraw it, but I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Windlesham a few extra questions about this subject. The reason why I understand a certain amount of concern has been expressed about this matter is that under subsection (2)(d) of Clause 6 there is power to make provision for limiting the number of persons who may be on the premises at any one time, and in the case of a large restaurant, or a large public house bar, this, one would have thought, was an extraordinarily relevant provision. There is no such provision, so far as I know, under the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act. It is because there is not that sort of power under the 1963 Act that the local authorities have to use licensing provisions, if they can, to supplement the 1963 Act. That is all very well where the licensing provisions apply, but then there are large areas of the country where they do not apply. The result is that you are left with what is a very much less widely drawn code under the 1963 Act, directed primarily to protecting the employees rather than those resorting to the premises.

I quite see that there may be difficulties when premises have to have yet another fire certificate. But the whole point of this Bill is to provide an extensive and comprehensive code so as to protect all the people on the premises at the time, whether employees or those who are resorting to the premises for entertainment. My noble friend's answer simply does not meet that point. I do not see how the Government suppose that the 1963 Act is going to be adequate, unless my noble friend is going to tell us—which he has not done so far—that the Department is going to make regulations under Section 37(2). They have not done that so far, but Section 37(2) of the 1963 Act allows regulations to be made prescribing requirements as to the internal construction of the premises and the materials used, and it provides that somebody instead of the occupier shall be responsible for a contravention. Probably other things, which go further than the powers in existence at the moment under the Act, can be done as well. Is my noble friend really not prepared to go any way in order to meet this practical point? I will certainly withdraw the Amendment if it is technically invalid, but I should have thought that the substance of it remained.


It is true, as the noble Viscount has said, that in a number of country districts there is no power under the 1890 Act to license premises used generally for music and dancing. But the point is that a restaurant is covered by the fire safety provisions of the 1963 Act, wherever it is. In a country area, where, after all, a large restaurant with floor shows is not very likely to be encountered, the 1963 Act provisions are in practice more than adequate to ensure the safety of the customers in the restaurant in the event of fire, even if occasionally a small orchestra or a small floor show is provided. I am advised that it is not right to say or to imply, as the noble Viscount has done, that the powers in the 1963 Act are less rigorous than those contained in the present Bill. It is right to say that they are somewhat more limited, but not that they are less extensive.

What I ought to do, in view of the noble Viscount's strong feelings on this matter, is to leave with him the considerations that I have advanced, which are considerable ones. Is it really wise, at a time when people are worried about increasing unnecessarily detailed administration, to have three certificates for one set of premises—two fire certificates and one general licence? Is it really wise to bring the small restaurant, which is outside the 1963 Act, within the legislation? And then there are the detailed points about the nature of the musical entertainment provided. I should like my noble friend to consider those points, and any local authorities specially concerned to consider them, too. In return, without giving any specific assurance at this stage, I can say that I will look again at the central argument that my noble friend has advanced, which is that some aspect of the 1963 Act might give additional protection to the public in certain circumstances which would be beneficial. So if my noble friend is happy to settle on that basis, I will willingly give an undertaking on those lines.


I am very much obliged to my noble friend. I think that probably, although formally it may be very difficult, the practical difficulties are really fairly easily overcome. It is obviously insane to have three series of applications and to overburden the authority, but it seems to me that if under this Bill we have the best and most comprehensive code then there is no reason why we should not also in this Bill provide that premises dealt with under that code do not have to be dealt with under either of the others, and I do not see any difficulty in providing an Amendment which does that.

Equally, if we are going to have some trouble about actually deciding which sort of premises, or what sort of size of premises., are to be covered by this comprehensive code, and if my noble friend wants to leave some under the existing control, by far the best way to do that is to give the Secretary of State powers to designate under Clause 1 on a rather more detailed basis than he at present has and to give him power to designate some premises which at the moment come under the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963. We can then segregate the ones which we want to be dealt with comprehensively under this Bill from those which my noble friend thinks it is not necessary to deal with in so comprehensive a way. At the moment there is no latitude in this at all. But I will look for a way to bring this about. It may be fairly complex, but I should not have thought that it was entirely impossible to achieve. Anyway, I will leave that point with my noble friend and certainly I will take account of what he has said. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clauses 3 to 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Change of conditions affecting adequacy of certain matters specified in fire certificate, etc.]:

12.24 p.m.

LORD CROWTHER moved Amendment No. 2: Page 11, line 17, after ("dwelling") insert ("or sleeping accommodation").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this Amendment and that of Amendment No. 17, which stand in my name, are identical, and I hope that it will be within the rules of order if I explain the purpose of both Amendments at once. This Bill is to cover, among other premises, hotels (I do not know whether the fact that I have for many years been actively associated with the hotel industry is an interest that I ought to declare, but if it be so I do declare it), boarding houses, residential clubs, hostels and a great variety of other such institutions indeed, in the words of the Bill, all those which are in use as, or for any purpose involving the provision of, sleeping accommodation; …

Now in many cases rooms in institutions of this kind are the occupant's home in the very fullest sense of the word. They may be, in long period, in almost permanent occupation, and the occupant may have no other home anywhere in the world. Even in the case of an hotel, where rooms are let by the night, it is I think by law, and certainly by common consent and custom, regarded as the case that the occupant, having taken the room, is entitled to privacy in it.

The Bill as it stands at present does not provide any protection for the privacy of the occupants of homes of this kind. A fire authority can require an inspection of the premises wihout notice. The difference, I might say, between the two clauses—the one we are now dealing with and the clause to which Amendment No. 17 applies—is that there are two different sorts of inspection. The first sort of inspection is the inspection prior to the granting of a fire certificate, and the second inspection is the subsequent inspection to make sure that the conditions of the certificate, when granted, have been complied with. But in either case, in the Bill as it is drafted a fire inspector (or, indeed, he may delegate his powers to an officer of a fire brigade; and, in circumstances which he is to judge, he may be accompanied by a policeman) has the right to enter any of these bedrooms at any reasonable time without giving notice.

What is a reasonable time? I think that as a matter of practice it can only be assumed that, at any rate until there is a body of case law on this Act, a reasonable time would be a time which the fire inspector thought to be reasonable, because the only way to establish the contrary would be to deny him access, to run the risk of being summarily convicted and fined £50, of appealing and hoping after a vast expenditure of time and money that the courts of the land, possibly including your Lordships' House, might in the end conclude that the time had not been reasonable. So I think one must accept that in practice a reasonable time means a time which the fire inspector thinks is reasonable.

Would 10 o'clock in the morning be a reasonable time? I feel quite sure that all inspectors would regard it as a reasonable time; but from the point of view of the occupant of a room which may be his home, it may be a highly unreasonable time. He or she may have been working on night shift, or may be ill, or perhaps be indulging in one of those few liberties in this land which are still both legal and untaxed, of just having "a good fie in". And yet, under the provisions of the Bill, a fire inspector, accompanied if he sees fit by a policeman, can burst in and ask questions which have to be answered under pain of the law.

Now I cannot bring myself to believe that the Home Office drafted this clause with the deliberate intention of producing this result. They have exempted dwellings. Where it is a dwelling which is concerned—a dwelling covered by the Bill, that is to say—then 24 hours' notice has to be given. That would seem to imply that the giving of notice is not regarded, at any rate where a dwelling is concerned, as being destructive of the purposes of the Bill. If notice can be given where a dwelling is concerned, then surely it can be given in the case of a bedroom which may be the occupant's home and where, so long as he is the occupant, he is entitled to reasonable privacy. The purpose of these two Amendments is simply to put bedrooms, sleeping accommodation, in the same position in the Bill as dwellings are already in it.

I confess that, on re-reading the Bill and my Amendment this morning, I wondered whether it went far enough. I am not sure whether what I am about to say is strictly relevant on this Amendment, but I think I can bring it into order by asking your Lordships to contemplate what the position would be if this Amendment were accepted. Bedrooms and dwellings would then be in the same position; that is to say, a fire inspector or, if he has delegated his powers, a member of a fire brigade (and, as I have said before, accompanied, in circumstances in which he is the judge, by a policeman), may enter dwellings and, if the Amendment is accepted, bedrooms at 24 hours' notice; but there is no requirement for the consent of the occupant, and I seriously ask your Lordships whether it is right that anybody's home should be invaded, on notice (very short notice) of 24 hours, but without consent for any purpose—let alone the purpose we are considering in this Amendment, an inspection prior to the grant of a fire certificate.

I am no lawyer, but I suspect that this is really a vast extension of the powers of the police to make domiciliary visits; nor should it be thought that it will apply only to a relatively few places. The dwellings that are brought in under the Bill I have seen described—I do not remember whether it was on Second Reading in this House or in another place—as being high rise fiat blocks. But in the Bill this definition applies to any building divided into separate dwellings which has either a basement or is more than two storeys high. I think that the dwellings covered by the Bill would amount to a very substantial proportion of the total dwellings of the country.

Although it arises in connection with this particular Amendment only by my asking your Lordships to contemplate what the result would be if it is accepted, I seriously ask the Committee whether it is right that there should be slipped into a Bill on fire precautions a vast increase in the powers of officials and police to enter into the homes of citizens. What happens if a family is away and a 24-hours' notice is never received? It seems to me that under the Bill the officials then have the power to break down the door. They have a power of entry, they have given notice and the period has expired. I have difficulty in thinking that this was intended; and I suspect—though I confess that since I arrived from America only at breakfast time I have not had time for verification of my suspicion—that the language used in the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act, which may or may not have been proper for inspection powers for shops and offices and railway premises, has, without sufficient thought, been written into a Bill designed to deal with these domestic and semi-domestic situations. I beg to move.


It is particularly appropriate that this Amendment should refer to sleeping accommodation when the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, has just spent all night in an aircraft coming from the West Coast of the U.S.A. Although I am afraid that the change in time at which the House is meeting—in the morning rather than the afternoon—must have inconvenienced him, perhaps he may be consoled by the thought that if he misses his lunch, as I think is likely, he will have been better sustained on his flight than some of us who spent the night in bed.

As the noble Lord explained, Clause 8(1) empowers a fire authority, so long as a fire certificate is in force for any premises, to inspect at any reasonable time (or after 24 hours' notice in the case of dwellings) any part of the relevant building for the purpose of ascertaining whether there has been a "change of conditions" affecting the means of escape and fire precautions. Clause 19 provides the inspector with general powers of entry and inspection for the purposes of the Bill. Again in the case of dwellings, 24 hours' notice must be given before the power of entry can be exercised as of right.

The effect of the noble Lord's Amendment would be to require 24 hours' notice to be given in the case of premises used as sleeping accommodation as well as in the case of dwellings. The noble Lord explained that he has mainly in mind bedrooms in an hotel or in a residential establishment which might be the only home an individual has. The requirement to give notice in the case of a private dwelling follows from a similar provision in the Public Health Act 1936—Section 287(1). It is based on the belief that it is wrong to provide a right of entry without notice for any purpose to a private home. We must bear in mind that the reason for this, as much as anything else, is the factor of convenience. The occupier may be out, or he may need to be away from his home on a particular day, so that it would not be convenient for him to be visited by an inspector on that particular day.

The position in an hotel or similar residential establishment is really quite different. These are establishments offering a service to the public, usually by way of trade, and the inspector needs to take the use of the premises as a whole into account for the purposes of his inspection. In practice, what happens is that he conducts his negotiations with the hotel manager or with some other responsible person, and it is important—and I hope we can agree on this—that, where a public risk of this kind, a fire risk, is in question, the inspector should not be prevented from carrying out his inspection at any time that seems to be necessary.

However, we find it difficult—and I have checked on this since the noble Lord put down his Amendment—to envisage circumstances in which the inspector needs to visit a hotel room at all when guests are present. What happens in practice is that he is concerned far more with the public rooms in hotels, the staircases, corridors, and bedroom floors en bloc. Where he needs to make a visit to an individual bedroom, this is arranged through the hotel management, as a matter of course. This general power of entry, I am advised, has existed for many years under the Public Health Act 1936 in respect of hotels, and we should have heard if hotel guests had been inconvenienced or embarrassed.

The noble Lord in the later part of his speech went on to raise some of the general considerations in his mind about the powers given to inspectors under this particular Bill. We have Amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, himself on this matter, on Clause 19. So if it is convenient to the noble Lord, I suggest that we discuss the extent and justification of these powers when we come to Clause 19 and confine our considerations on this Amendment to the rather narrower issues that he raised.


I think the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, has a point here, although I would not go with him on the general issues that he dealt with in the later part of his speech. What we want to achieve here is a code of sensible practice. It could be intolerable if the inspector of a fire authority arrived at, say, one o'clock in the morning, claiming that this was a reasonable time to inspect hotel bedrooms. This kind of thing has never, to my knowledge, happened but it is just the kind of point which can reasonably be covered in a circular to the fire authorities. When this Bill becomes law, unquestionably the Secretary of State will need to send a circular to the fire authorities explaining the provisions of the Bill. I should have thought it quite possible that the Secretary of State might point out in that circular that what may be a reasonable time to inspect a place of entertainment may not be a reasonable time to inspect hotel bedroom; and ask the local authorities please to take that fact into account. In that way we should avoid legal proceedings and strengthen the assurances that we would get reasonable action taken. Perhaps my noble friend would consider that possibility.


I think this is an interesting Amendment. I am quite certain that the hotels of which the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, is a distinguished director are extremely well maintained; and the Amendment, so far as Trust Houses and modern hotels are concerned, is extremely reasonable. But there are a number of small hotels near railway stations, and some of them are very old. I remember a nightmarish experience at one in Nottinghamshire several years ago. All the electrical wiring in this hotel was in a terrible state. It is just possible that there could be a disastrous event in the small hours of the morning in a hotel of that kind. Having said that, I would add that most of our hotels in this country have been reasonably modernised, and I think that the Government should pay some heed to a reasonable Amendment of this kind, if it is moved by a person experienced in hotel matters such as the noble Lord, Lord Crowther.

12.42 p.m.


Perhaps I might comment first on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, which I think goes to the heart of the matter. What really determines human behaviour is what seems to be reasonable, whether or not people are aware of the legislation in a matter of this sort. It is very doubtful whether a private citizen would be aware of the legislation, but a hotel manager would be. In this context the practice which takes place, if it can be codified, is extremely important. For this reason I can tell noble Lords that we are about to produce a voluntary code of practice concerning fire precautions in hotels.

This code has been prepared by a working party of the Joint Fire Prevention Committee of the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Councils, on which the Government, fire authorities and the hotel industry have all been represented. I will say a little more about this on Clause 12. But once this Bill has gone through, it is the intention to proceed in other areas, by way of consultation with the interests affected, to draw up codes of practice where none exists; and to consider at a later stage whether these should be given statutory backing. This process of consultation with those who have the day-to-day experience seems to be the best way to proceed.

I should point out one further difficulty regarding the noble Lord's Amendment. The reference to "sleeping accommodation" extends beyond hotels. It would include the dormitories of hostels, residential institutions of various kinds, boarding schools and so on. In these cases, I think noble Lords will agree, it is essential for regular inspections to be carried out, particularly of means of escape, to see that they are unobstructed and in good order. If 24 hours' notice had always to be given, the effectiveness of an inspection of this kind, which would be directed to the normal conditions and practice, would be very much reduced. I take very seriously the concern of the noble Lord and the considerations which he has advanced. We can certainly continue to bring these to the attention of those concerned, the fire brigade, or the local authorities who provide inspectors. But for the reasons I have given—and I will come back to the wider considerations on Clause 19—I feel it necessary to advise the Committee that it would not be wise to accept the Amendment as it stands.


May I deal with one or two points in the speeches that have been made which seem to me to show a misapprehension of what I was after? To begin with, though I did disclose my interest in the hotel industry, it was not mainly of hotels that I was thinking when I put down this Amendment. I am quite sure that between any reasonable hotel proprietor and reasonable fire authority the practical difficulties of inspecting hotel bedrooms could be overcome. I was thinking more of residential clubs, and especially of places where people e for years on end, and in the fullest sense regard the rooms in which they live as their homes. It seemed to me to be wrong—I confess that it still seems to me to be wrong—that it should be possible, under this Bill or under any Act, to be able to invade the privacy of their homes without giving them notice.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, somewhat mistook: my purpose, and this was perhaps my own fault in having spoken at such length about reasonable time. The Amendment does not alter the reasonable time; the reasonable time is in the Bill. My purpose was to secure that there should be notice. Suppose you are, say, a schoolteacher living in a residential club, and have lived in your room for any number of years; and suppose that you come back and find that, without warning or notice, at a wholly reasonable time—let us say 3 o'clock in the afternoon—someone has come into your room and has inspected it. Whatever may exist in the law at present, or as it is proposed in this Bill, that seems to me to be a wholly unreasonable invasion of the privacy of an individual.

However, I am faced with a dilemma, as the Government are unwilling to accept this Amendment. I was not very sure how far-reaching were the assurances that the noble Lord was prepared to offer. What I am after of course, is the practice almost as much as the law: whether, in the communications passed between the Home Office and fire authorities, guidance could be given to the authorities that, wherever possible (I put that in to deal with the case of boarding school dormitories and the like), not only should the hour be reasonable to everybody concerned but also notice should be given before any room used as sleeping accommodation was inspected. If I am right in thinking that that is the assurance and that was what was intended—but perhaps I may have an answer before I finish my sentence.


I think that a very prudent request for the noble Lord to make at this stage. It would be a mistake for me to try to give him a form of words on behalf of the Government. What I can say is that I should like to see what can be done and to come back on Report stage with a form of words. We need to look with some care into the practical implications. If the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, does not feel that I have been able to meet him when we get to the Report stage, he will still have an opportunity to press his alternative.


I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

12.48 p.m.

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSSmoved Amendment No. 3: Page 11, line 23, leave out ("the occupier") and insert ("any person")

The noble Viscount said: I think the Committee will be pleased to know that in moving this Amendment I can also speak to Amendments Nos. 5, 6, 8 and 10, because they are all on the same point. This is a very simple point. We are dealing, at any rate to start with, with Clause 8(2). Your Lordships will see that it deals with the proposition that where there is already a fire certificate in force in relation to premises, in the case of certain changes which may take place the person in charge of the premises—to use a neutral term—has to tell the fire authority about them, and they can see whether the certificate is adequate.

This is considered to be a very serious matter. One has only to look at subsection (7) to see what happens if you do not give notice. You can be fined up to £400 in the magistrates' court; and if it is a bad case, and you go to what is, at present at any rate, quarter sessions, you can receive an unlimited fine and two years imprisonment. So it is plain that the Government consider that the evasion of the provisions of subsection (2) is a very serious matter, not only serious from the point of the person who may be making plans but equally serious for people who may resort to the premises after the material changes have taken place and find them without adequate precautions, made necessary as a result of what he has done having been put into effect at the instance of a tire authority.

I may have a nasty, suspicious mind, but I wanted to see whether anybody could possibly get round this requirement. Faced with a serious penalty and the possibility of a fire certificate which might require costly adaptations to the building to bring it into adequate accord with safety requirements, an occupier might seek a method of getting round this provision. And of course there is one. In almost every case the natural person to make the proposed alteration would be the occupier, but a disreputable occupier might get in touch with his landlord and make an arrangement whereby the owner, with the occupier's consent but not at the occupier's instance, might make the alterations. If that happens, nobody gets notified, the fire authority is not invited to act, the penalty does not apply and nobody can be prosecuted, because the clause deals only with the occupier. I am suggesting that we should take out the words "the occupier" and put in "any person" in order to make it comprehensive. Then nobody can "fiddle" their way round the provisions of this subsection. This is much more desirable than leaving a possible loophole for the disreputable and the dishonest. I beg to move.


This proposal was considered at considerable length during the drafting of the Bill, and the Government concluded that the duty should lie only on the occupier, or, in respect of premises covered under Clause 3, on the notified person, who would usually be the owner or principal landlord. Under the Bill the obligations relating to means of escape and other fire precautions will rest on the occupier of the premises whose use attracts the provisions of the Bill. These premises may be a club or small theatre or the like, which may often be part of a larger building and possibly on one of the upper floors. The fire authority will be anxious to ensure that the means of escape, and so on, are devised so as to be self-contained in relation to the premises concerned. But there may be cases where part of the means of escape can be ensured only by laying contingent obligations on an occupier of another part of the same building—for example, an obligation to keep the door of a boiler room shut, if this happens to be close to the main staircase common to the building.

If the other occupier accepts this obligation—and he cannot be compelled to do so—he will thereafter be guilty of an offence if he is in breach of that obligation. We do not think it right in the circumstances to subject the other occupier to controls which might affect the business he runs in his own premises, simply because someone else in the building carries on activities which attract the provisions of this Bill. It would be no fault of the other occupier if someone upstairs had a business which required a fire certificate. Therefore we thought it right to keep to the absolute minimum the contingent obligation which falls on somebody else. I emphasise that the principal obligations under the Bill must rest on the occupier of premises the use of which attracts the need for a fire certificate.

That is the reason for narrowing the category of persons concerned to the occupier, and not to any person. With that general explanation, I will conclude. This is an extremely technical matter and I could give a much longer explanation of it, but I hope that the arguments I am using commend themselves to the noble Lords, Lord Foot and Lord Crowther, who think we are going too far in some respects. Here is an instance where we think that liability should be narrowed so far as possible and should not cover somebody who might be affected by the use of premises for which he is not responsible.


I see the noble Lord's point. I turn to the provisions of Clause 25 to see what defence there may be for an entirely innocent person. I have not considered all the technicalities, but I should think that these provisions would go some way to meeting the point. If my noble friend is saying that the loophole I have pointed out is one that the Government are prepared to accept and live with, there is nothing I can do about it. They have made a policy decision on it. I hope that they realise what is going to happen. I do not know whether my noble friend would agree that the provisions of that defence would be acceptable without putting any undue burden on another innocent person. I quite see the reason for wishing to avoid it. Perhaps my noble friend and I could discuss these technicalities in order to avoid taking up the time of the Committee, and see whether before the next stage of the Bill we could get somewhere in the middle of this point and stop up the loophole I am suggesting exists, while providing the protection my noble friend wishes to retain.


I should certainly be willing to discuss this and any other point with the noble Lord. What we have to assess here is the extent to which legislation imposes liability on people and the reasons for it, and what element of risk may be regarded as acceptable and what as not acceptable. In Clause 8 we are concerned only with change of conditions and with the system of inspection of the building. One would expect the Bill to have regard to the sort of circumstances which an inspector, who will often be a member of the local fire brigade, who will be spending a great deal of his time on this work and who will be aware of the position, would regard as a risk. Having said that, I shall be willing to have a talk with the noble Viscount about the matter and, if he is convinced that there is any way in which this part of the Bill could be improved, I shall be glad to consider it.


My noble friend is always most helpful. I think that the most profitable thing would be to take up his invitation, and in the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

12.59 p.m.

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSSmoved Amendment No. 4: Page 11, line 27, after first ("or") insert ("in relation to any premises used as a place of public assembly,")

The noble Viscount said: This is a slightly different point. It relates to material alteration in the furniture or equipment with which premises are provided. At various stages in the passage of this Bill this provision has been examined carefully, but if one were in a position of advising a client on what this means, looking at the penalties involved if proper notice is not given, I think one would take a pretty strict view of what would be a material alteration. One would tend to err on the side of caution and give notice to the fire authority of something that is comparatively minor, in case it should turn out, in their view or in the view of the court or whoever is prosecuting, to be material. The result, I should have thought, would be an inundation of the fire authorities with notices of the sort here concerned.

All I am doing in moving this Amendment is to see whether there is any way in which we can try to limit the application—or defer, define or refine it—of this requirement. I can see that there are circumstances in which furniture and equipment are most important and should be drawn to the attention of the fire authority. But I would ask my noble friend whether he is satisfied—whether it be because of the nature of the wording of the Bill itself, or because of some indications that are going to be given in a circular, such as was referred to by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor—that we are going to get a clearer definition of the circumstances in which this provision is to be operated. At the moment, it is very broad, however much Members in another place may have tried to pin it down. This is a probing Amendment, and I seek my noble friend's guidance.


As my noble friend has said, this subsection of Clause 8 was the subject of a good deal of debate in another place, and in its present form it reflects Government Amendments which were made on Report. It should now be clear that the word "material", as applied to the alterations, has to be understood in terms of the means of escape as a whole in relation to the normal conditions of use of the premises, as explained to, and seen by, the fire authority at the time the fire certificate was issued.

We are aware, as my noble friend has said, that there has been some concern that a great many unnecessary notices might be received from occupiers of the premises concerning alterations which are not material to the means of escape. The intention of this Amendment would therefore be, so far as changes in furniture and equipment are concerned, to limit the operation of Clause 8(2)(b) to places of public assembly. But, as my noble friend has explained, he has put this down more in the nature of a probing Amendment. I think that is as well, because if the Bill were amended in this way. to confine the subsection to places of public assembly, we should be without a definition of "places of public assembly" unless one were put in later in the Bill The term would probably exclude a bingo club, open only to members; it would probably exclude those parts of hotels with guests; and there is the question of hospitals, institutions for treatment or care, schools and so on. In all these premises it is easy to envisage substantial alterations of furniture or equipment which would seriously affect the means of escape. It would be quite wrong that alterations of this kind should not be notified to the fire authority.

However, I can say to my noble friend that the intention of the wording in Clause 8(2)(b) will be explained to fire authorities in administrative guidance on the Bill. It will also be possible to include reference to it in any published guidance to occupiers, and particularly in the codes of practice for particular uses, which I have already said it is our intention to produce. All this should help to keep unnecessary notifications down to a minimum. Even so. I think we have to bear in mind that in questions of fire risk it is better that the fire authority should be consulted too often rather than too seldom. Having given the information that I think my noble friend is seeking as to the nature of the guidance that will be given, I hope he may feel that I have been able to meet him in his intention in putting down this probing Amendment.


Indeed my noble friend has. I, who am a lawyer, find it comparatively easy to understand what "material" is meant to mean here when the noble Lord explains it to me. What others may understand is quite a different matter. I have a letter here from somebody who is advising certain hoteliers. They look at the clause, as it now stands, and they say: It would now seem to be obligatory on hoteliers whenever they make a material alteration in the wall coverings, ceiling coverings or floor coverings to the rooms in the hotel to give notice to the fire authority. Every time they re-paper, re-paint or re-floor their rooms in goes a notice to the fire authority. That is what they genuinely think. That is far too wide, of course, and it must be wrong: it is not what the Bill is about at all. But it is just this sort of explanation which I think is so necessary, otherwise we shall be getting an inundation of quite unnecessary notices into the office of the fire authority. However, I am sure that my noble friend's solution to this by way of published information, and also information to the fire authorities in a circular—which is available, incidentally, to legal advisers as well—is probably the best way of dealing with it. I am grateful to him, and beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1.7 p.m.

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSSmoved Amendment No. 7: Page 11, line 39, at end insert: () For the purposes of subsection (2) a fire certificate shall be deemed to be in force with respect to any premises to which requirements imposed by the certificate have been applied under section 6(3)(b) of this Act.

() On receipt of a notice under subsection (2) with respect to any premises the fire authority may require the person giving the notice within such time as they may specify —

  1. (a)to furnish them with such plans as they may specify; and
  2. (b)if the premises consist of part of a building, to furnish them, insofar as it is possible for him to do so, with such plans of such other part or parts of the building as they may specify."

The noble Viscount said: There are really two points in this Amendment, and I had meant it to be put down as two Amendments. Perhaps I may explain them one at a time. This Amendment still concerns Clause 8 and the same part of the clause that I have just been discussing. The first new subsection relates back to the provisions of Clause 6. The situation here, as I understand it, is that under Clause 6 a fire certificate (my noble friend has already mentioned this) may only technically refer to part of premises, but because of the interconnection, or because of other physical situations, it is necessary for other parts of the premises which are not actually designated to be dealt with for the purposes of the fire certificate. Then those other parts of the premises conic within the fire certificate, and the Bill applies to them.

It appears to me that if somebody were to propose alterations to those other parts of premises which are brought under control by Clause 6, then they would not have to notify the fire authority although of course when the certificate was originally issued in relation to the main part of the building the fire authority required certain alterations to be made to the other part of the building under Clause 6. The first subsection that I suggest would require any alterations (which I suppose would be material in the other part of the building) to be notified in the same way as alterations to the main part. That is the first matter that I seek to draw to the attention of the Committee.

The second is a matter to which I shall refer several limes, and it is quite simple. Whether or not the point about the subsidiary part of the building is met, at the present moment Clause 8 does not contain the same provisions as Clause 5 whereby a person applying for the fire certificate has to send plans if the fire authority requires them. That is Clause 5(2).

One can easily understand the administrative ease which is provided if plans are sent instead of the authority having to go there and inspect. Particularly if it is a minor matter, it may be quite sufficient to look at the plans. But at the moment, under Clause 8 the fire authority cannot ask for those plans as of right. Perhaps they can as a courtesy, but there is no equivalent provision, so far as I know, to subsection (2) of Clause 5. Therefore, the second of my new subsections seeks to import that power to ask for plans: and I think it would probably add to the expeditious handling of Clause 8 notices from the point of view of both sides. I beg to move.


As my noble friend has explained, this Amendment proposes to add two quite distinct subsections to the Bill. The first new subsection would have the effect that if requirements were made in a fire certificate relating to other parts of the building in which the premises put to a designated use were situated, then the occupier of the other parts would be treated as if his premises were subject to full fire certificate procedure. The object is presumably to place a duty of notification of change on that other occupier. But the Amendment would also seem to have the effect of requiring him to notify changes which were irrelevant to the premises which originally required the fire certificate. We do not believe that this is acceptable or necessary. Even if fire authorities were willing to receive unnecessary notifications—something which is hardly likely—the Bill should not impose unnecessary obligations on an occupier of other parts of the building for which no fire certificate is required. The other occupier should be hound—always assuming that he is willing to be bound—only so far as is necessary to safeguard the means of escape from the relevant premises. For example, take the instance I gave earlier of seeing that a boiler room door is closed when it fronts on to a main staircase.

The second new subsection would have the effect of enabling the fire authority to require such plans as they may specify after receiving a notice of proposals to make alterations to the premises. We have considered this matter since the noble Lord put his Amendment down, but have come to the conclusion that this would really be unnecessarily burdensome for the occupier. We must remember that in many cases no drawings are likely to be needed at all, and it seems wrong to allow the fire authority to require them for the purposes envisaged in the Amendment. The outline plan envisaged on a first application is intended to facilitate the first authority's work in issuing the certificate, but it is not wholly essential. Once the initial plan has been called for and duly submitted, there seems less need to empower the fire authority to require further plans every time there is a change of conditions.

I should remind the Committee that we are talking here about change of conditions. Until now fire authorities under the 1961 and 1963 Acts concerning places of work, have had no power to require plans on the initial application and have often had to prepare them themselves. Under this Bill they will be spared from that work. We do not see why they could not make any necessary alterations to the existing plan when they are considering subsequent applications that are made to them. There is also a real danger that, if occupiers got to know that they might have to submit plans to the fire authority on every minor change, they would become somewhat reluctant to notify the fire authority. For those reasons, we are inclined to feel that the Bill is better as it stands and I hope that, with the explanation I have given, the noble Viscount may feel willing to withdraw his Amendment.


I am bound to say that I have not read Clause 6 in the narrow way that my learned friend seemed to think it operates —


I am not learned, either.


I am sorry. I keep on getting myself into the wrong tribunal. I beg your Lordships' pardon—my noble friend. I thought Clause 6 applied to other premises inside the same building which were occupied by a different occupier, but that it also applied to other parts of the same building occupied by the same occupier. I cannot see anything in it that prevents that occurring. If the man is the same occupier, both of the part which requires the fire certificate, and also an occupier of an ancillary part which has to have ancillary measures in order to protect the main part, it does not seem unreasonable that if he chooses to make alterations in the ancillary part he should notify the fire authority. I see that it would be unreasonable if it was a different occupier. It would be unreasonable if the separate occupier's alterations were not material to the fire precautions on the main part. I did not intend to go so far as that, and I am sorry if I gave the impression that I did. I should have thought that there was an intermediate point here that was perfectly reasonable and did not impose undue hardship on anybody at all. I will look at what my noble friend has said, and perhaps he could consider that, too.

So far as the plans are concerned, I imagine that the situation is that no sane fire authority would ask for them except probably under paragraph (a), which is the material structural alterations to the plans, in which case they would no doubt receive them under the building regulations anyway. It may be that it is covered in that way. I was concerned about paragraph (b) and, possibly, about paragraph (c) because it might be material to know where he was going to keep the explosive and highly inflammable materials. Perhaps a plan would be useful for that. My noble friend cleared up paragraph (b) for me by telling me what is the meaning of "material", but I think there is still something to be said. I will not press this at the moment. I shall come back to the 1961 and 1963 Acts on plans, because that is the subject of a later Amendment. Without asking my noble friend to say any more at this stage, perhaps he could look at the point again. Meanwhile, if the Committee agrees, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1.17 p.m.

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved Amendment No. 9: Page 12, line 2, leave out from ("occupier") to end of line 3.

The noble Viscount said: This is another point on which I am puzzled. It may well be that as a result of my noble friend's administrative actions there will not be a huge flood of notices about changes of condition, particularly in relation to subsection (2)(b) of Clause 8. There is, and very understandably, a requirement that the notice shall be dealt with by the fire authority within two months of its receipt. Everybody is in favour of expedition; everybody is in favour of seeing that the fire authority hurries up. I am a little concerned about what happens if, for administrative reasons, they do not.

There are many provisions on the Statute Book which require local authorities to do something within a certain time. One with which I am most familiar is the time within which they are allowed to give a planning decision. If they do not do it within a certain time then there is a deemed refusal. The general development Order allows them, by agreement with the applicant, to extend the time. If the applicant agrees that they should have another month because they have not finished looking at the plan or consulting somebody, then usually that time is allowed. Of course he need not give his consent, and if he does not there is a deemed refusal. There is no such latitude in this Bill, and if the answer is not given within two months I am not sure what happens. I suppose that if the answer is not given in two months they can always say "No". Then we have the performance of going to appeal under Clause 9. But if an extension of time were provided for—it may be for only a few days—the applicant would be able to say, "Yes, you can have your extra few days", and the fire authority would then agree and there would be no appeal.

There is something to be said for writing a little more flexibility into the Bill on this point, though certainly not in order that the local authority may sit on the application for ever. But the provision of flexibility similar to that which I have suggested in the Town and Country Planning Acts could be added to this Bill so that, with consent, the time could be extended. I beg to move.


We feel that the difficulty about this Amendment is that the occupier has a right to receive the fire authority's decision within a reasonable period. If the time limit were removed, as it would be by this Amendment, the fire authority could come along months or years afterwards and require work to he done. Clearly, a fire authority would not normally delay a decision unduly. But it is right that a period of time within which they must reply should be written into the Bill, so that the occupier knows where he stands and those whom the noble Viscount has mentioned who are concerned to interpret the legislation—legal advisers and others—can find fairly easily in the Act what the period of time is.

Two months seems to us a reasonable period. The reason why it has been selected is that, as the noble Viscount indicated in moving the Amendment, it is based on the time within which plans deposited in connection with building regulations must under Section 10(2) of the Public Health Act 1961 be passed or rejected by the local authority. This seems to be a useful and deserved protection for the occupier. What I should like to do is to find out what the practice is where a short extension is required. This is the point the noble Viscount put at the end of his speech. I am not familiar with the practice myself and therefore do not have an answer immediately available, but I take note of his argument on that point. He is not concerned with the long period ahead; he is speaking about the borderline area where somebody may be just outside the two months' period. I will look into that point for him and provide an answer at a later stage.


In view of that reply, I am happy to leave the matter to my noble friend, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved Amendment No. 11: Page 14, line 33, at end insert

"(12) The duty placed on a fire authority under the foregoing provisions of this section to amend a fire certificate (or to cause to be amended a copy thereof) or to cause any document to be attached to it or to a copy of it shall be deemed to have been complied with if the amendment or document, as the case may be, is sent to the holder of the certificate or copy thereof with a request to attach it to the certificate or copy."

The noble Viscount said: This Amendment, again, is tabled in order to clear up a point which at the moment I do not think is entirely plain. The two preceding provisions of Clause 8—that is, subsections (10) and (11)— require certain action by the fire authority. They say, for instance, that a fire authority shall cause to be attached to it a copy of the notice together with a written statement…"; and, in subsection (11): they shall cause the like document to be attached to the copy of the certificate required to be kept in the premises…".

I am not quite sure how they are supposed to cause this to happen. What I am suggesting in this Amendment is that they can do this by post by sending to the holder of the certificate, or copy, the necessary document and requesting him to attach it to the certificate or the copy in his possession. This would seem to me a sensible and happy way of dealing with it. I want to know from my noble friend whether that is legal as the Bill is at present drafted, or whether the fire authority must go along with their drawing pin and with their own fair hand actually put it on the wall in the premises. I beg to move.


The point of principle here is who should have the responsibility for amending the fire certificate. The effect of the new subsection proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, would be to leave the amendment of the fire certificate to the holder of the certificate; whereas in the Bill we have placed the responsibility on the fire authority, so as to be sure that the amendments will be made to the certificate itself, and so that nobody will be able to evade responsibility by claiming that an amendment was never received. How the fire authority cause an amendment to be affixed is of course left entirely to their discretion, but they have ample powers of inspection. The fire certificate must be kept on the premises concerned by virtue of Clause 6(8) and Clause 6(9); and, moreover, it must be produced if required. It seems desirable that this responsibility should rest with the fire authority.


I do not think I would dissent from that, but it also sounds to me as though the Amendment is unnecessary because the fire authority under the Bill are to do exactly what I suggest. What they do is to send an amendment by post, and the next time the fire inspector is round there he can go and see whether the amend- ment has properly been made. What they do not have to do—and this is really the point I had in mind—is, every time, to write to the holder of the fire certificate, saying, "Please will you send us the fire certificate," or alternatively, go there and get it and wait for it to come back to the fire authority's office; re-type it, and then take it back again and stick it up. This would be too laborious for words. There must be a quicker and easier way to do it. Certainly I would judge from what my noble friend has said that the postal system, followed up by inspection, would be a fulfilment of a duty which, I entirely accept, should be upon the fire authority. I see my noble friend nodding. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clauses 9 and 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Building regulations as to provision of means of escape in case of fire etc., and related power to amend local Acts]:

1.26 p.m.

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved Amendment No. 12: Page 17, line 6, after ("requirements") insert ("(i)").

The noble Viscount said: It will be no surprise to the Committee if I say that this Amendment and the following one go together. The point is a simple one. It is a probing Amendment, to ask my noble friend a question about the Report of the Holroyd Committee. That Committee recommended two things: first of all, that the building regulations, with which this clause is concerned, should cover the provision and protection of means of escape; and that is in the Bill. They also recommended, in the same paragraph, that the building regulations should deal with other structural measures to assist fire brigades in fire fighting. Those are the kind of things concerned: adequate access for the fire engines, or "appliances" as I believe they are called; rising mains; fire lifts, and so on. All that is sought here is power to include these matters under the building regulations.

Some local authorities are puzzled why it is that, half this recommendation of the Holroyd Committee having been accepted, the other half does not appear. I should be grateful, as I am sure others would be too, if my noble friend would explain what is the answer to that question. Is it too difficult to implement the other half of the Holroyd Committee's recommendations in the building regulations; are they thought to be bad recommendations; or is it proposed to deal with them in some other way or at some other time? And, generally, what is the situation? I beg to move.


I did not realise that this was a probing Amendment and that the noble Viscount intended to put the question he has on the Holroyd Report. The best thing I can do is to study exactly the question of which he has now given me notice, and provide him with a full and considered reply on Report stage.


I thought possibly the terms of the Amendment would draw the noble Lord's advisers' attention to the Holroyd Committee's Report because it is exactly on this point that they made their recommendation. It is, I believe, Finding 147. But if my noble friend wants to study this matter with his advisers, I shall be happy to leave the matter until Report stage. Perhaps, also, he will in the meanwhile tell me how the matter is progressing, so that I know whether to put down another Amendment. I am sure he will do that. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 [Power of Secretary of State to make regulations about fire precautions]:

On Question, Whether Clause 12 shall stand part of the Bill?


I am quite ready to say something on this important clause concerning uniformity of regulations, following representations which were made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther. If he would like to speak first, and would put any further points he wishes before Members of the Committee, I should be happy to follow after him.

1.30 p.m.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord and I will try not to detain the Committee for too long. To my great distress I was prevented from being in my place when the Bill was read a second time. If I had been here I should have sought an opportunity to say—without any authority to speak for the hotel industry, but as someone who is actively concerned in it—how much I welcome this Bill; that I support it in principle, and indeed with some enthusiasm. It seems a lamentable lacuna in our legislative arrangements that there has not hitherto been a national code of fire precautions for hotels in this country, and it is high time that that situation was remedied. If I have any apprehension at all it is that these greatly increased powers are probably being put into the hands of many fire authorities up and down the country without adequate co-ordination from the centre, and it is on the degree of the central co-ordination that is contemplated that I should like to put some points to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham.

I suppose that my company probably has more experience of the vagaries of fire authorities in respect of the sort of buildings—or at any rate some of the buildings—that are sought to be covered by this Bill than almost anybody else in the country. The fire authorities vary very greatly in their requirements and in their approach. We find that many of them are willing to follow the London Fire Brigade (or perhaps I should say the Greater London Council), and if what is proposed falls within what would be approved in London many of them are willing to say, "Well, that is good enough for us." But there are many who seem to operate (such is human nature) almost to the opposite principle, and if something is approved by the larger authorities they are the more determined to show that they are going to be different in one way or another.

I should like to give your Lordships two examples of what seems to me to be the necessity for a very high degree of national uniformity in these matters. In recent years there has been a trend among fire authorities to require the insertion of smoke-resisting doors in corridors, particularly where they impinge upon staircases. If indeed these doors do reduce the risk of fire—or perhaps it would be more proper to say the loss of human life and property as a result of fire—then indeed nobody will resist their being placed there. But as any of your Lordships must know, if you have either battled your own suitcases up to a bedroom, or watched a porter doing the same thing, these doors, substantially made (as they must be), kept closed by heavy springs (as they must be) and made to open only one way (as they must be), are a confounded nuisance. Quite recently a device has been developed which could get over many of these difficulties. This is, broadly speaking, a device which holds the doors open by electro-magnets, the magnets being wired in with the smoke control and fire alarm system, so that at the very first sign of fire or smoke the magnets go dead and the doors close. It can be seen what an advantage this would be.

Within the last few weeks this device has been approved by the Greater London Council for some work that is being done in London. That was done, as was proper, only after considerable demonstration and discussion, and the asking and answering of a great many questions. It seems unreasonable that when a device of that sort has been established to the satisfaction of a competent authority on one occasion the same demonstrations and arguments should have to go on, possibly with differing results, all over the country.

Alternatively, let me give another example, which relates to a slightly different principle. Every precaution that is sought to be imposed must be balanced against other considerations. It must be reasonably necessary. After all, if precautions against fire were the only consideration in any building, your Lordships would not be sitting in this Chamber this afternoon. This building is not as safe as it possibly could be made; it is, I hope, as safe as it reasonably can he made. And the same should apply elsewhere.

Fire authorities have a liking for the device of sprinklers. I am sure that I need not describe this device to your Lordships. The device is put in the ceiling of a room, and if it detects any considerable heat anywhere near it then it squirts water under considerable force all round it. In certain cases these can be admirable devices, but they suffer from the defect of perhaps going off when there is no need for them to do so—sometimes out of sheer cussedness, or by accident—and it has to be considered whether devices of this sort should be put in hotel bedrooms. This is a question of balancing the additional security against fire which they would provide against the risk which experience suggests would happen much more frequently—the risk of suddenly, without notice, soaking the occupant of the room (who may very well be in bed) and all his private property displayed around the room. I hasten to add that I know of no case where sprinklers have been insisted upon in hotel bedrooms in this country, but I do know of cases in other countries; and I do know that fire authorities, egged on by the insurance companies, are getting more and more interested in them. It seems to me that this is a case where it would be unfortunate if the decision up and down the land were left to each individual fire authority. The fire authority has no concern whatever except to prevent fire.

Here again I would suggest that devices of this sort really ought to be judged, and a decision reached, by some central authority, such as the Secretary of State, who can take into account the reasonableness of the precaution that it is desired to impose. In this particular case, my own wish would be that the verdict should go against the sprinklers. But if it were decided, after careful examination, that they are a necessary precaution, and that they should be enforced everywhere, then one would swallow hard and accept them and trust that our soaked guests would blame the Government and not us. I give those as two illustrations of what seems to me to be the desirability, and indeed the need, to have a substantial degree of uniformity throughout the country. Clause 12 provides for that possibility, because it provides not only that the Secretary of State can make regulations but also that, when he has made regulations, nothing more may be required by any fire authority than appears in those regulations.

Therefore the questions I should like to put to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, are three. First, can he give an assurance that the intention is that the Home Office—the Secretary of State —will proceed with reasonable dispatch to the drawing up of very precise and comprehensive regulations, such in fact that we shall have a national code of fire precautions for the types of premises covered by the Bill; end that the duty of fire authorities will be not so much to devise what the precaution should be as to see to the application in their districts of this national code?

Second, can the noble Lord give me an assurance that in drawing up those regulations the factor of reasonableness, with the other considerations coming into the question, will be given their full weight? Third, can he give me an assurance that in the course of drawing up those regulations there will be consultation with those who have practical knowledge of the consequences of them in actual operation?


I think I can give the noble Lord each of those three assurances. He points out with great force that a national company should be prevented from wasting time and energy by arguing the same point over and over again with different fire authorities and being subjected to different standards, and I think we can all agree that that situation is undesirable and wasteful of time and money. I ought to say, before moving on to the detailed answer to his questions, that the regulation-making power under Clause 12 is in the nature of a reserve power, the main system of control established under the Bill being the fire certificate procedure. The advantage, of course, of the fire certificate procedure is that it can be precisely tailored to the particular premises which are concerned, so that the occupier knows exactly what is required of him.

But we are at one with the noble Lord that the aim must be to achieve the greatest degree of uniformity possible, and we believe that this can be achieved by another route, not via the regulations the Secretary of State has power to make under this clause, but by means of drawing up codes of practice. I mentioned this in the debate on Second Reading. I said that we do not intend to make designating orders under Clause 1 for any particular use, unless there is a matter which is too urgent to allow of any delay, until we have worked out a code of practice dealing with the basic requirements for the particular use. We shall certainly do this by the widest possible consultation between the central Government, the fire authorities and the representatives of the undertakings concerned. I think in this way we shall achieve the uniformity of practice which the noble Lord is seeking, because everyone will know what the basic requirements will be.

The advantages of this procedure—of drawing up codes of practice for different types of premises or different categories of use—are illustrated by the fact that we have already reached agreement on a voluntary code of practice on fire precautions in hotels. I mentioned this in speaking to an earlier Amendment in reply to a question raised by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor. This code was not specifically prepared for the purposes of this Bill, but rather, I understand, in response to a general feeling that against the background of a number of serious hotel fires everyone concerned would welcome up-to-date guidance on what should be done, regardless of the extent to which statutory controls did or did not apply.

Until this Bill, there was no fire legislation as such which applied to hotels. There were some parts of some measures—I think the public health legislation applied in part to hotels, but there was no fire precautions legislation designed specifically for hotel use. Therefore, I can take this opportunity to pay tribute to the help that the hotel and boarding house representatives on the Working Party have given the Government and the fire authorities in preparing this code. This certainly augurs well for the code that will now have to be prepared before the Bill is applied to hotels, and I think we can have no doubt that the code will draw heavily on material already prepared, although doubtless it may be in somewhat different form.

The final point I make is that if, in the light of experience, the code of practice needs to be amended, it can be done very much more quickly than if there are regulations made under an Act of Parliament. But once that particular code has proved its worth in practice, we shall certainly be open minded as to whether or not advantages may be gained by giving statutory backing to it by means of regulations under this clause. Experience of the voluntary code, for example, may well reveal basic requirements which, by common consent, apply to all premises devoted to a particular use; and if such requirements were incorporated in regulations which will apply generally there would be no need for the fire authorities to spell out such requirements each time they issued a certificate.

Therefore, I think the answer to each of the three questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, is, yes; we hope it will be possible to achieve the maximum degree of uniformity, both as regards hotels and other premises and uses, and to proceed by way of drawing up voluntary codes with the interested parties before considering whether or not these should be given statutory backing in the form of regulations.


May I ask the noble Lord a supplementary question? I am most grateful for what he has said, and, of course, have no objection to proceeding by codes of practice rather than by regulations. But if the uniformity is achieved by a code of practice will the provision of the Bill apply whereby no fire authority—and some of them are run by very curious people —may require more? They cannot require more than the regulations allow, but could they require more than is required under a code of practice?


I hesitate to speak with complete authority on that question without notice, but it certainly would be the intention that fire authorities—who, after all, will be involved in drawing it up —should abide by what is contained in the code. That is inherent in what I have said.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clauses 13 to 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 [Powers of inspectors]:

1.47 p.m.

LORD FOOT moved Amendment No. 14: Page 25, line 32, after ("therein") insert ("which it may be reasonably necessary to inspect for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of this Act").

The noble Lord said: I think it may be some relief to the Committee, and possibly to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, if we stop talking for a moment about fire precautions and sprinklers, and speak for a little while on the subject of liberty and individual rights. On the Second Reading of this Bill I expressed some misgivings, and indeed alarm, about the sweeping powers which appear to be given to inspectors under Clause 19. First, there are the powers to enter upon premises; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, has pointed out, the premises with which the Bill is concerned under Clause 3 are dwelling-places, places where people live, and it may well be that there are a very great number of dwellings of this kind. The first thing that Clause 19 does is to give inspectors power to enter premises, for the most part without notice, and at the best with only 24 hours notice. Then it gives the inspector, once he has entered the premises, the right to inspect the premises and things in the premises; and it goes on to give him rights of interrogation of various people found on the premises.

These are, at first sight, very sweeping powers; I do not know of any other official or enforcement officer who is armed with such wide and sweeping powers as these are. It may be that it is necessary for the enforcement of this law that there should be powers of that kind. Nevertheless, I do suggest—and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, would go along with me on this—that when we are affording and conferring upon some official powers of that kind, which touch upon this very delicate field of privacy and intrusion upon privacy, it is desirable, and indeed necessary, that we should try to accomplish two things. The first is that you should very clearly and exactly define what the powers are; and, secondly, that you should ensure that you limit the powers to what is strictly necessary for the enforcement of the law, and for the carrying into effect of the provisions of the Bill.

If your Lordships would look at Clause 19—and I leave out the immaterial words—you will see that it provides that: …a fire inspector, shall, for the purpose of the execution of this Act, have power to do all or any of the following things, namely—

  1. (a) at any reasonable time to enter any of the following premises, and to inspect the whole or any part thereof and anything therein…"
Thereafter the premises are set out and they are, of course, the premises with which this Bill is dealing. As I said before, they include a great number of dwellings.

I ask myself this question: is it really necessary and reasonable that an inspector should have the power and the authority to go in and inspect anything which may be on the premises? That is, as it appears to me on the face of it, what the Bill precisely says. Is he entitled, for example, to call upon somebody to produce his private records or papers? Is he entitled, for example, to look in somebody's safe? Is he entitled to look at and inspect the books that are on the shelves, and things of that sort? On the face of it, he is, and so in my Amendment I have suggested that, in order that sonic curb and limitation should be put upon that power, after the words, anything therein— we should insert the words, which it may be reasonably necessary to inspect for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of this Act".

I hope that the noble Lord will agree that that is very innocent. I hope he will agree that it in no way circumscribes or curbs an inspector in the proper exercise of his powers, and, at the same time, gives to the individual against whom, or over whom these powers are exercised, the protection of not having an intrusion into his privacy which goes beyond what is necessary for the enforcement of the Act.

I have tried to foresee what the noble Lord is going to tell me is wrong with my Amendment. At the least, I am asuming that he will tell me that it is not necessary, and I am assuming, for the purposes of the moment, that he is not going to accept my argument. I have been trying to foresee what he is going to say to me, and I fancy that it will be: It is all right, you need not he alarmed, because, as the Bill is at present written, your purpose is actually met.

I fancy that he will say to me: If you read again Clause 19(1) you will see it says 'a fire inspector, shall, for the purpose of the execution of this Act, have' the following powers…".

I foresee that the noble Lord may say: Well, there you are, that is all right. We are only giving him powers for the purpose of the enforcement of the Act, and that is your safeguard.

I very much doubt whether it is, partly because of the place where those words appear. If those words appeared, as I am suggesting, after the words "anything therein", qualifying the power that he could inspect "the whole or any part thereof and anything therein" in so far as that is necessary for the purpose of the execution of the Act, then I think my point would be met. But, as it appears to me by the position in which the words "for the purpose of the execution of this Act" appear in this clause, they are not intended to qualify the power but they are simply introductory or, if you like, just saying why the inspector is being given these powers at all "for the purpose of the execution of this Act".

I may be wrong about that. It may be that the noble Lord is going to use this argument, and it may be that he is right, but I am suggesting that there is nothing whatever wrong in putting the matter beyond any doubt by inserting the kind of words I have suggested here. I have no doubt that the Minister, and the Government, will agree with me on my intention. if the noble Lord is going to say that it is all right now, I am afraid—and I speak now after having spent most of my life trying to interpret Statutes—that I do not think this is good enough, and I do not think that we have written into this clause the safeguard that should be there. I beg to move.

1.57 p.m.


On Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Foot, was somewhat critical of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition because we had not leaped to the defence of freedom and put down some Amendment ourselves, or threatened some Amendment on this particular clause. I should like to tell the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that one reason why I did not voice any fears about this clause was that I have no knowledge at all that there has ever been any question of these powers being abused. There has been no suspicion that in the exercise of their authority the inspectors have overstepped reasonable bounds. Therefore, if we are to err, it seemed to me reasonable that we should err on the side of caution, and ensure that the benefit of the doubt should be given to those who are solely concerned to reduce the risk of fire.

I certainly agree with him that, on the face of it, his words are innocent, but, on the other hand, I would be interested to know whether the noble Lord himself has any evidence to support the suggestion that there is any reason to be anxious that the powers now in the Bill would be misused by those in whom they are to be vested.


I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Foot, in his Amendment. It seems to me that the argument put forward by my noble friend Lord Beswick is rather like the argument which one sometimes hears from from road safety officers at borough councils, who say. "We have no knowledge of any fatal accident occurring at these crossroads, and therefore we do not think there is any point in putting up a Halt sign." Of course, two days later there is in fact a fatal accident.


May I interrupt? I have no doubt that my noble friend is going to develop a very interesting argument, but I am sure he would agree that the example which he gives is exactly the opposite. In his case certainly we should err again on the side of caution and put up the road sign t in the case I am suggesting we should err on the side of caution and make absolutely sure that the necessary precautions are exercised.


If my noble friend will allow me to complete the argument, what I was going to say was that one hears continually this kind of reply. I have recently been in touch with a local borough council about some traffic on a road in my locality, and the argument I have heard is, "We made a study, and there have been no accidents ". I have seen about seven near accidents there, but the council will do something only when there is eventually an accident.


I agree with my noble friend.


I think my noble friend will agree with that argument. My noble friend Lord Foot—I refer to him as "noble friend"—is asking that there should be some protection for the public. If we should have one single case in which a fire inspector abused his rights, then, with the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, the person who had been victimised by that fire inspector would have some right of redress, because he would be able to quote the Act, as it would be, in the courts. But as the Bill stands at present he would have no redress, no matter how sympathetic the court might be to his arguments, and Parliament would be faced with the necessity of amending the Act in some way or another. Therefore I suggest that this is a matter of putting up a very simple "Halt" sign, making this Amendment, and being very safe.


I think we want to be very safe, and that is why I was pleased to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said. I appreciate and respect the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, to safeguard personal liberty. I always want to safeguard liberty, but, even more, I want to safeguard life; and when fire gets hold of a building it does not ignore those parts of the premises which it might be argued it had not been reasonable for the inspector to inspect. I find it hard to see what effective addition these words would make, because it seems to me that, as between the occupier of the building and the fire inspector, it must always be the fire inspector who is the expert. It must always be he who will know better than the occupier whether it is essential to inspect certain parts of the premises. I could not follow the noble Lord, Lord Foot, when he said that this provision might be claimed as giving the inspector a right to inspect documents in filing cabinets, and that sort of thing. I have read the whole of the subsection and I can see nothing there which would enable him to do that.

But with some experience of fire risks, I would beg your Lordships in considering this clause to pursue a policy of being safe rather than sorry. If there were evidence that fire inspectors were the sort of people who would wilfully and unjustifiably infringe personal liberty, then perhaps we should think further about it, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has said, and as I believe to be absolutely true, no single case has ever been reported of a fire authority sinning in this matter of infringement of liberties. That being so, I suggest that we should not take the risk of weakening this clause in any way and making it in the slightest degree more likely that a fire should take place through some infringement of the certificate not having been detected.


I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Foot, both in general and because I fail to follow the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor. We should all agree with the proposition that it is better be safe in the matter of preventing fire; but how on earth does it make us any safer not to prohibit the inspector from looking into things that it is not reasonably necessary to inspect? The inspection of anything that it is reasonably necessary for him to inspect would be permitted by the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and how it makes us any safer not to adopt the Amendment I cannot for the life of me imagine.

Then there is the general argument. I was brought up in the tradition that if it is a matter of choosing between the powers that officials need to carry out their duties and the essential liberties of the subject, it should always be the practice of Parliament and of the law to lean over backwards in defence of the liberties of the subject. May I go back to the example that I gave the Committee on a previous Amendment, of the schoolteacher living in a residential club who comes back one afternoon from her school and finds that her room has been entered, and that everything therein has been inspected? Is this really what is necessary for the purpose of preventing fire. Surely, all that is necessary is that those things that it is reasonably necessary to inspect should be inspected. I do not see that the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, reduces the efficacy of fire inspections by a jot or a tittle.


It seems to me that the addition of the words in the Amendment is going to lead to complications and is not going to help the purposes of the Bill. Surely, these words might very well create an argument between the occupier and the inspector as to whether for the purpose of his inspection it is really necessary to visit certain parts of the premises. In such a case, if the occupier refuses, the inspector could take action against the occupier. In so far, as those words mean anything at all, or add anything to the plain meaning of the clause as it stands, they would give rise to a possible conflict between the parties. I think it is far better not to insert them.


As the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said in moving his Amendment, we have been considering some of the far-reaching implications of this Bill. Therefore most noble Lords have spoken on the underlying considerations rather than on the detail of the Amendment which is before us, and I ought to reply in the same way. This part of the Bill, concerning the powers of entry and the questioning by inspectors pursuing their duties under the Bill, raises a fundamental principle of legislation to which the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, has referred. Where the interests of the public require some form of intrusion into the privacy or activities of the individual, and perhaps into his home, we must make sure, first of all, that the powers are necessary—that there is a justification for them—and, secondly, that the circumstances in which they are used are defined and understood.

On the first of these two criteria, I think the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said that these powers are necessary to prevent risk to life from fire in the premises covered by the Bill. Now how do these powers stand up to the second test: that the circumstances in which they are used are defined and can be understood? The noble Lord, Lord Foot, drew attention to the words in Clause 19(1), that a fire inspector, shall, for the purpose of the execution of this Act, have power to do all or any of the following things… That is the beginning. Subsection (1) governs every case which is contained within Clause 19. Now we should look further, because this power is carefully limited and carefully spelt out in this clause, and one must not assume to the contrary. First, he must act for the purpose of the execution of the legislation; and, secondly, he can inspect only—


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, I think that inadvertently he said "he can act", but, of course, the Bill does not say that. It says that he shall, for the purpose of the execution of this Act, have power…


In the exercise of his power, because, after all, that is what we are discussing here. We are not discussing the inspector who sits at home and does not act: we are discussing the inspector who goes out to exercise the powers given to him in this part of the Bill. He can only use this power to inspect the premises which are set out very precisely in Clause 19(1)(a), on the second half of page 25—and the premises are here explained. They are: any premises requiring a fire certificate…under…this Act…"; secondly, any premises such as are mentioned in section 10(1)(a) of this Act — these are premises where there is a specially high risk of fire; thirdly, any premises to which section 3 of this Act…applies" — these are the high buildings; fourthly, where there is a partial use; and, fifthly, any premises which he has reasonable cause to believe to be premises falling within any of the foregoing sub-paragraphs;… Therefore, the premises which he can enter under these powers are limited in the Bill. But more than that, the matters about which he can make inquiry are also limited in sub-paragraph (b) of Clause 19(1), and these are set out on page 26. I need not go through them because your Lordships have the Bill before you; but there are four categories there in which the inquiries that the inspector can make are described in the legislation itself.

The next point is that these powers are not new. We are not discussing these powers for the first time. They have applied since 1961 in the factories legislation, and since 1963 in the legislation concerning offices, shops and railway premises. We are dealing, therefore, with powers that are known and powers that have been used by largely the same people; admittedly in relation to other premises, but in the case of small shops, offices, restaurants and places of this sort inspectors have been exercising these powers.

When, on Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Foot, expressed his concern, the immediate response I gave him when I wound up the debate was that if in recent years these powers of entry and of Questioning had given rise to instances where people felt that undesirable intrusion had occurred, we should have heard about it at the Home Office. In saying that I spoke without prior notice, so I did not want to take this assertion too far without checking up on the facts. But I have now done so, and after the most careful inquiries I find that neither the existence nor the exercise of these powers has resulted in a single complaint of which the Government are aware. It seems to me that this is a remarkable testimonial to the tact and skill with which the inspectors have carried out their enforcement responsibilities under the existing legislation. Since, as I have just said, under this Bill it will be largely the same inspectors carrying out largely the same responsibilities, I really do not sec any reason why this situation should change in the future. There is not only a precedent, but one which has been well tested in practice.

The third point that I would make in reply to this debate is that the fire service stands high in popular regard, and rightly so. I do not think, for reasons which we may come on to when discussing subsequent Amendments, that the analogy with the police is at all an exact one; it is one which we should really put out of our minds. The function of the fire service in this respect is to offer advice for people's own safety, and this is recognised by the public as a whole.

In advising the Committee not to accept this Amendment I would nut a final point before your Lordships. There is no need to say specifically that the inspector must act in a reasonable way, because what he does must necessarily be for the purposes of the Bill or he has no right to act at all. Therefore, to put in the qualification suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, not only is unnecessary but, in our view, would not, on the whole, be to the advantage of the people for whom this legislation is designed. I should like to hear what Lord Foot has to say in reply but I must advise the Committee to reject the Amendment.

2.15 p.m.


I have heard it said that an Englishman's home is his castle; I have never heard it suggested that a factory or shop or office or, for that matter, railway premises are a man's castle. I am quite sure that the Minister appreciates, as does everybody else, that there is something very special and precious about the entitlement of a man to privacy in his home. I do not feel that the Minister has made an adequate case against the Amendment and I should be disappointed if the House does not decide to accept it.


I do not think the noble Lord would wish to mislead the Committee. Is he implying that this Bill applies to private dwellings as a whole?


No; the comment that I was trying to make was that the Minister has drawn precedents from the application of similar provisions in respect of factories, shops and offices and so on. I am simply saying that the case of one's private dwelling is quite different.


As those who study Clause 1 are aware this Bill is mainly concerned with places of public amusement and resort. This is what has brought forward this Bill. The provisions of Clause 3 cover certain private dwellings in particular circumstances and bring some of these private dwellings within the scope of the Bill. What I have said about offices and shops is very relevant to the premises in this category.


Since the Minister indicated that he is not going to accept this Amendment, I shall in due course withdraw it because it would be foolish of me to divide the Committee on this. I can be very brief in what I have to say before withdrawal, partly because it seems to me that the arguments addressed to us by the noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Beswick, were completely destroyed by those of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther. As I understand it, the Minister is saying that the words I am seeking to put in are already there in the words "for the purpose of the execution of this Act." He is saying that my words are unnecessary and that they mean exactly what the words in the Bill mean. If that is so, and if my words add nothing and detract nothing from the Bill as he thinks it now stands, why should he object to the words going in in order to put the matter beyond peradventure and beyond doubt?

The logic of the noble Lord's argument seems to be for putting the words in rather than leaving them out. Why should the matter be left in doubt? Why not eliminate doubt? I hope that the noble Lord may be prepared to look at this again because it seems to me that my Amendment detracts in no way from the exercise of the powers which are given to inspectors; it requires only that they exercise them properly. The Minister says that there had been no complaints at all. I do not think that that is the proper approach. There should be no legislation en the Statute Book which is capable of abuse, under which a person, without involving himself in any criminal activity, can clearly abuse powers. It is not a sufficient excuse to say that there have been no complaints and that fire inspectors are a good lot. Of course, nothing I say is meant to reflect in any way on the fire brigade. But what we do not want, in relation to private and individual rights, is something on the Statute Book which permits a person, if he is so minded, to do something grossly in excess of his powers. That is the risk of abuse about which my noble friend—if I may call him that—Lord Willis was speaking. I hope that the Minister will look at this point again. In a moment I shall be moving a similar Amendment, and I shall be brief in doing so because no doubt I shall get the same sort of answer. It may be that my form of words is not as good as a form of words which the Minister could devise, but I ask him to look at this matter again before the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

2.20 p.m.

LORD CROWTHER moved Amendment No. 15: Page 26, line 37, leave out from ("answer") to ("such") in line 38.

The noble Lord said: This Amendment appears in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and myself, though it is not a collaborated Amendment. It happens that the noble Lord and I both put down Amendments of exactly the same wording and purport, and Lord Foot suggested that I should move it. I am not saying this in order to disown the alliance; I should be proud, at any rate on this Bill, to work in the closest alliance with the noble Lord. But he and I may perhaps approach this Amendment from slightly different angles; or shall I say that I have a special reason, which I think that he might not advance, for proposing this Amendment.

The words that we seek to remove permit a fire inspector, when asking questions of anybody he finds on the premises whom he has reason to believe to be the occupant or who is employed there—there are various other words in the Bill—to prohibit anybody else from being present. He can deny to the person of whom the questions are asked any assistance in answering those questions. Again, this seems to me to be an astonishingly far-reaching provision. If a man is questioned by the police on a charge of murder, he is allowed to have the assistance of a solicitor or a legal adviser. This is simply for a fire inspection; yet the inspector is to have power to say, "I am not going to allow anybody else to be present. I am going to ask my questions of this particular chap that I have seized; and, what is more, he has got to sign a declaration at the end."

In general, this seems to me to be licensing third degree methods. I am not saying "introducing" them—we all agree that the fire inspectors we know would not use them. But as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, why permit things to happen? Why have a law that enables these things to happen, if somebody is so minded—perhaps in some future circumstances, when the attachment of the authorities in this country to the principles of civil liberty is less than to-day? Why allow this to be done?

My particular reason for moving this Amendment is this—and once again I hope I may be forgiven for referring to the circumstances of the hotel trade. As is common knowledge to your Lordships, a very high proportion of the employees in the hotel trade are foreigners. Often, I regret to say, they have a very imperfect command of the English language. A young Spanish girl probably would not understand the questions that were being put to her; and if the inspector—I repeat exercising the powers he is given by this Bill—brought a Policeman with him, she would be terrified. She knows what the appearance of a policeman means in her own country. Why on earth should this be necessary for a fire inspection? When the citizen who is suspected of being a criminal is protected in all sorts of ways with which we are familiar, why is it that in regard to a fire inspection someone like this Spanish girl is not allowed to have the assistance of the manager unless the inspector wishes it?

All through Clause 19 there are these little sections that give immense powers to the inspector and seem to have no regard at all to the basic liberties of the citizen. This one seems almost to be the worst. In what conceivable circumstances is it right to override the natural right of a person when being interrogated by authority to have assistance in making his answers, and in what, after all, is not a criminal investigation but simply a fire inspection? I beg to move.

2.26 p.m.


I support this Amendment very strongly. In discussing the Amendment, it seems to me that your Lordships are in a certain kind of moral difficulty. When a noble Lord speaks of the police, it seems that before going on to make a complaint, he always has to preface his remarks by saying that the police do a difficult job in difficult circumstances and they are a wonderful body of men. I am reminded a little of the story told during the McCarthy era in America, when a poor little man got up at a town meeting and said, Ladies and gentlemen, I do not like Lenin, I do not like Stalin, I am anti-Marxist and I am anti-Communist in every possible way, but I think my rent is too high".

It seems to me that we are in this kind of dilemma here. A great deal is being put on fire inspectors. As the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said, they are a wonderful body of men. But does anybody suggest that there may not be one among them who is not quite of such a high moral standard as the rest, who does not in the mildest possible way abuse his power? The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said that his Department had not had one single complaint. Now, really, he is a little too long in the tooth to swallow that one, as I am sure we all are. In fact these men have considerable powers, and I know of certain instances, as I am sure do many of your Lordships, where a fire inspector, simply because of his considerable powers, is able to prevent complaints. I do not want to suggest for one moment that fire inspectors go about blackmailing people or asserting undue power—in other words, they are a wonderful body of men—but it does happen that a little man who is approached by a fire inspector will not make a complaint because he knows that somebody at the town hall will come down on him or because he is afraid that that may happen.


Did I understand the noble Lord to say that he had experience of cases of this sort, or is he speaking of what might happen?


I want to be careful in what I say about this, but I think that I may be able to tell the noble Lord of examples of cases where people have been afraid (because not all people are educated, intelligent, or bright) to take full complaints forward about attitudes, because they are afraid of bringing clown the full weight of bureaucracy upon their shoulders. I am sure that this is an experience the noble Lord must have heard of many times.


This is a line of argument with which I am completely familiar in relation to some services but, as I said on Second Reading and again to-day, I have not heard of it in connection with the powers already held by fire inspectors.


Is that not exactly the point? The noble Lord will not hear of such complaints.


But why have I not? If this is a widespread feeling, why has it never been raised before? This is the first time that what the noble Lord is saying has come to my attention. If there is widespread apprehension, why has nobody become aware of it?


The noble Lord must not put words into my mouth. I did not say that it was widespread. I do not suggest that the whole country is trembling under the threat of fire inspectors or anybody else. What I am suggesting is that the possibility exists. To my certain knowledge, there have been one or two cases where complaints might have been made, but have not been made because of a kind of a quid pro quo: "Well the chap will be down next year; I want him to be reasonable, and therefore I will not complain." It happens in every area of life.

I have known of stallholders in market places. It is the easiest thing in the world to get hold of a stallholder in a market place, because there are so many regulations. If they have a single basket of fruit one inch over a certain line they can be caught by the market inspector. They all have baskets of fruit two or three inches over a certain line, and they work on a kind of quid pro quo with the market inspector. But they know very well that if certain things do not go right the market inspector will get them in one way or another. I know of an example of the one Jewish policeman I ever knew. He once told me that in the East End of London some of the Gentile policemen, when they were a bit short on their case books, would go down to the local market place and "knock off" a few Jewish stallholders. There was no real malice in it. In order to put the balance straight, he would go down to the market and knock off a few Gentile stallholders. It was not difficult to do.

This happens in any area where there is created a bureaucratic organisation. By and large, you rely on the good sense, the humanity and the human understanding of the people who operate it. We in this country are grateful that we have in the police and the fire inspectors people who carry out their duties in a good way. But I have no doubt at all that before the year is out we shall be reading in the newspapers of a corrupt policeman—because that is what life is all about—and it is quite possible that we shall be reading about a corrupt fire inspector. The noble Lord may tell me that he has never heard of such a case, but it is quite possible, as he must know.

Therefore I support the noble Lord, Lord Crowther. Why put it in the Bill? Why not put in some elementary precaution and protection for the ordinary citizen? Why enlarge it in this way? That is why I strongly support the Amendment.


I should like to say a few words in support of this Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther, gave an illustration of a foreign girl without an adequate command of the language, and of how frightening it might be for her to be confronted with an interrogator, perhaps backed up by the police. There are two other illustrations which I think are useful to bear in mind.

On the occasion of the Second Reading, I put the illustration of the person who wants to call in his solicitor, or who has his solicitor at hand. Under this power, the inspector can say: "No. You are not entitled to consult your solicitor; you are not entitled to speak to him or to have him here. I am going to interrogate you and require answers from you in the absence of your legal adviser."

Take the case of a minor. It would be quite easy to find children, employed to work therein or otherwise having responsibilities in relation thereto. What about the little girl who helps out on the premises? Is the inspector entitled to say: "No. Your parent is not to be present; you will be interrogated on your own "? In the case of minors who are being interrogated by the police, it is laid down that the parent or guardian ought always to be present when the child is being interrogated. It could, I suggest, be a frightening experience for a child if she or he were required to answer questions put by the inspector in the absence of anybody, even of her employer, even of her guardian or even of parents or friends.

What would be lost? In what way would this Bill be damaged, in what way would the enforcement procedure be curbed and curtailed, if these words were left out? I suggest that there would not be a single extra fire in the land in the next twenty years as a result of our leaving these words out. We should have taken steps in advance to avoid the possibility of abuse of power by the fire inspectors. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, said that this is something which may happen very rarely, but it is something which is made more possible, more likely to happen, by putting this parenthesis into the Bill.

2.36 p.m.


May we remind ourselves—because the debate has gone rather wide—that the provision that the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, would omit is that which enables the inspector to decide whether or not any one else may be present when he is questioning a particular person. Here again this provision is in the existing legislation in the 1961 Act concerning factories, and in the 1963 Act concerning offices, shops and railway premises. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, and the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, asked "What is the justification for this particular provision?". It was beyond their imagination to envisage circumstances where it could be justified. There are circumstances in which it can be justified, and that is why it is in the Bill which is before us to-day. It did not just get in there by accident, nor did it get into the earlier legislation by accident; it got in by intent. The reason is that in the experience of the fire service and those who exercise powers under fire prevention legislation a measure of this sort is needed for the protection of employees, not for the reverse.

Let us consider the case of junior staff in some premises, who may be asked questions by an inspector concerning failures to comply with the requirements of a fire certificate. Would not these people feel embarrassed? Would they not feel inhibited? Might they not even be intimated by the presence of a manager, or a more senior official, who might have had responsibility for not implementing the contents of the fire certificate? In those circumstances how could the inspector expect to get an accurate and truthful account from a junior member of the staff? The noble Lord, Lord Foot, said very confidently that he could not envisage that a single fire would be prevented in twenty years by the use by inspectors of powers of this sort. I do not know how he can be so confident. This provision is in the Bill on the basis of the experience of those who have spent a lifetime in trying to prevent fires from breaking out.

I can say quite unequivocally that it is not the object of this provision to keep out persons, whether an interpreter in the case of foreign staff, or a solicitor, or a colleague who might be needed to help the person concerned in answering the inspector's questions. There is no evidence whatsoever that the fire authorities have ever placed this construction on this particular provision in the legislation to which I have referred. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, in the course of a speech that did not really touch on the Amendment until the closing sentences, made some fairly serious allegations concerning inspectors. I hope that he will either be able to justify them, in private if he wishes to do so rather than in public, or qualify them in some way. I spoke earlier about the regard in which the fire service is held by the public. I believe that this is generally true, and that the way in which it carries out its functions and responsibilities under existing legislation has not given rise to circumstances of the type the noble Lord envisaged.


May I intervene? I think the words "serious allegations", the phrase just used, are a rather serious allegation to make. What I was commenting on was the usual process that goes on in the case of a bureaucratic organisation (and I use the word "bureaucratic" in the best sense) involving people at the other end of the bureaucratic process. I was referring to no more than that. I should not want, as I was very careful to say at the beginning, to denigrate the police, the Fire Inspectorate or the fire brigades, or any other body. But they are bureaucratic organisations and this kind of quid pro quo goes on.


Well, maybe; but the noble Lord was making assertions, and I do not know their basis. What I have said is based on advice that I have been given by the Fire Service itself and by people who have spent, as I say, a lifetime in this particular field. Therefore I think I can speak with considerable, although second-hand, knowledge and experience. If the noble Lord can speak from similar experience of something he has seen or has knowledge of, so be it. But if not, I think that to speak in these general terms is really not helpful.


I disagree. May I ask the noble Lord whether it is impossible for him to envisage a situation in which a small man is visited by a fire inspector who is a little brusque and orders certain things to be done to the premises in order to make them safe against fire? Perhaps the inspector is in fact imposing the full letter of the law, but his manner, or something in his attitude, gives cause for complaint. Can the noble Lord not envisage a situation in which the man concerned says, "Well, I should like to report him to somebody in authority, but if I do he will only come back next year and make it even tougher for me"? Does the noble Lord not also believe that there are certain circumstances in which a fire inspector will turn a blind eye to certain minor deficiencies because he understands the difficulties of the owner, and that therefore this in itself is a kind of quid pro quo? Can the noble Lord not imagine those circumstances, which must be going on all the time?


The noble Lord is speaking of a hypothetical case; what I was asking him to do is to come forward with some actual examples. I do not think we should speculate further on this matter. We have had a fairly long debate on this Amendment and we have others which cover some of the same ground. Let me say a word or two to the noble Lord, Lord Foot, because he raised a point concerning the position of a solicitor, in the discussion on this Amendment and on Second Reading. The noble Lord pointed out that the police were forbidden to require a person to answer questions in the absence of a solicitor in the case of criminal proceedings, but that such a situation was permitted under this Bill. It is true that every person at any stage of a police investigation should be able to communicate and consult privately with a solicitor. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther, also mentioned the analogy of the police. I do not think, however, that the analogy really holds good, because in the case of an examination by a police officer, the person being examined is suspected of having committed an offence.


Will the noble Lord forgive me for intervening? It was not an analogy. Under the Bill as drafted a fire inspector may take a policeman with him.


That is not the exact point I was dealing with at this stage. I can cover it at some later stage, but I have spoken for quite some time already. What I should like to do now is to draw a distinction between the circumstances envisaged in the Bill and the circumstances in which somebody is being examined by a police officer, when he is entitled to have his solicitor with him. In those circumstances the man is suspected of having committed an offence. That is the position the individual is in.

On the other hand in the case of a fire precautions inspection the inspector, making inquiries under this provision of somebody, let us say, who has the overall management of a building under his control, is asking only whether the requirements of a fire certificate have been complied with. The individual is not in the same position as the man suspected of an offence and is in no danger of being charged with an offence as a result of what he says.


But surely he is in grave danger of being charged with an offence as a result of what he says, because the words in Clause 19(3) are: A person who—

  1. (a) without reasonable excuse (proof of which shall lie on him) fails to comply with any requirement imposed by an inspector under subsection (1) above…"
That includes answering questions. If he fails to answer a question which is put to him he then becomes liable to a penalty. When one turns to Clause 22 one finds that if a person in purported compliance with any obligation to give information to which he is subject under or by virtue of this Act, gives any information which he knows to be false in a material particular or recklessly gives any information which is so false. he is liable to a fine not exceeding£400. So in both circumstances the person is in danger.


If the noble Lord will study subsection (4) of Clause 19 he will see that there is no risk of self-incrimination. As I understand the position, the reason why somebody being question by the police is entitled to have a solicitor with him is because he may incriminate himself by what he says. I see the noble Lord nodding, and I think we are in agreement. Subsection (4) of this clause specifically says that the answers which are given are not admissible in evidence against him in either criminal or civil proceedings. I think I have spoken long enough in reply to the debate on this Amendment. For the reasons I have given we do not think it is desirable, and I must ask the Committee to reject it.

2.48 p.m.


I think the Minister's reply shows up the defect in the words which this Amendment seeks to leave out. These words not only enable the fire inspector to exclude from the interrogation those people who the Minister fears might be the sort of people who would intimidate the person being questioned, but they also enable the fire inspector to exclude from the interrogation people whom the person being questioned wants to have present, such as a parent or the employer, or whoever it may be. Surely what we want here, if we want anything at all, is a form of words which allows the inspector to exclude from the interrogation persons other than persons whom the person being interrogated wishes to have present at the interrogation.


I should like to make a brief comment here. I think it is difficult, not only for noble Lords interested in the drafting of legislation but also for the draftsman himself to try to take account of motive in the circumstances we have been discussing—of whether somebody who was apprenhensive that a manager or senior employee might be present would or would not wish that other person to be present. It might be difficult to contain that thought within the precision expected in Parliamentary drafting.


Before we finally come to a decision on this point, may I say that I wonder whether we are not in danger of getting into some kind of legal crossfire here. Can my noble friend enlighten the Committee as to what kind of rank the inspector has, and if the person concerned does not wish a particular inspector to become involved in this has he a right of appeal to a higher authority on these grounds?


I cannot without notice, give the noble Lord a complete answer to that question, but I think that what noble Lords opposite are apprehensive about is the way in which the inspector, who will normally be a member of the local fire brigade or the local authority, which is the fire authority (he may be a civilian employee) uses the power that he has. So, whether or not a more senior officer could be sent for, it would not quite meet the anxieties of noble Lords opposite.


I find myself in something of a dilemma. On the one hand, as the noble Lord, Lord Foot said on the previous Amendment, in a thin House of this kind there is little point in seeking to divide on a matter of this sort. On the other hand, I have to say, with great respect to the noble Lord, that none of the answers that he has given on this point has satisfied me in the least. Most of them have been answers, if I may again say with respect, which it astonishes me to hear fall from the lips of a Minister of the Crown. Its actual application in fire inspections is perhaps not terribly important, but the point we are discussing seems to me to be one of the greatest importance for the liberty of the subject. What are the answers? We have been told that these words appear in the Factories Acts and in the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act. Well, if they do, perhaps they ought to be taken out. In any case, as one noble Lord said, we are not talking about shops and offices and factories; we are talking about people's homes and semi-domestic situations.


And—with great respect to the noble Lord—all the other premises which are covered under the Bill.


Very well; if that be the explanation, let the domestic ones be excepted from this clause. We are talking about a clause which could be applied to people's homes, and I am astounded that it is treated so lightheartedly. It is said that there have been no complaints. Even if there have been no complaints, why should we have to create a law that would enable it to be done? Surely the whole bias of the tradition of English legislation on this matter is that the safeguard should be on the side of the subject, not of the fire inspector.

It was suggested in the course of the little debate we have had—the nearest thing, if I may say so, to a respectable argument—that it could, in conceivable circumstances, be necessary to protect the employee by removing a bullying manager. But when it was suggested that the words should be adjusted to make it clear, no, the noble Lord prefers language which leans over too far in the direction of officialdom. In order to cope with this possible necessity to protect the employee against a bullying manager, it opens the door wide to a bullying fire inspector. I used the words "licensing third degree", and I repeat them. Nobody thinks to-day that fire inspectors are going to use these methods, but under this clause in the future they could. These words would enable the sort of thing that we detest and abominate in this country to be done under the power of this Bill.

I confess that I am very disappointed that the noble Lord has given us such a completely blocking answer to this Amendment that he appears to be unwilling to open his mind to the very serious and deep-reaching principle that is behind it; that is to say, that legislation of this kind should not be drafted simply for the convenience and protection of officials but that it should bear in mind the liberty of the subject as well. I deeply regret that I do not feel able to withdraw the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

2.55 p.m.

LORD FOOT moved Amendment No. 16: Page 26, line 39, after ("ask") insert ("and as are reasonably necessary for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of this Act").

The noble Lord said: I, too, should like to follow what the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, said in closing just now. I, too, am deeply disappointed at the lack of response that we are getting from the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. It is not only disappointing but rather surprising, because I would think the noble Lord's natural bent of mind to be wholly sympathetic to the arguments we are addressing to him. On this particular Amendment I am afraid I shall get the same sort of answers as we got to the earlier Amendments. Therefore, I shall be fairly brief.

If your Lordships look at Clause 19(1)(b) you will see that an inspector who enters premises in the way we have been talking about, then has the power to make such examination and inquiry as may be necessary to verify certain matters; to identify the owner and to ascertain who has the management of the premises, and then to ascertain whether the fire certificate is being complied with, and so on. Then in paragraph (d) it is there provided that the inspector has power to require any person whom he has reasonable cause to believe to be the owner or the occupier of the premises or to be a person employed to work therein or otherwise having responsibilities in relation thereto, to answer "— and I leave out the parenthesis we have been talking about, such questions as the inspector thinks fit to ask and to sign a declaration of the truth of his answers".

The Amendment that I am proposing would be to insert certain words after the word "ask", so that it would then read that he can require this person, to answer such questions as the inspector thinks fit to ask and as are reasonably necessary for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of this Act.

My point is very similar to the one I was making upon my first Amendment; that is to say, that the inspector ought not to be free to ask any question he thinks fit to ask. He ought to be obliged to limit his questions to those which are relevant to his enforcement powers under the Bill.

I have no doubt that I shall get the same sort of answer from the noble Lord to this Amendment as I got on my first Amendment. I have no doubt he will tell me, "You need not worry. It does not mean what it says. It does not have the meaning it appears to have. If you look right back at the beginning of paragraph (b) you find that the inspector has power 'to make such examination and inquiry as may be necessary' ". I expect that the noble Lord will argue to us that those words, to make such examination and inquiry as may be necessary govern the whole procedure thereon, with the result that the inspector cannot ask a question which is not necessary.

If the noble Lord uses that argument to me, or even if he goes further back to his original case, that all this is governed by the provision that it must he for the purpose of the execution of this Act, then I say why not make it explicit? Why not put it beyond doubt? I suggest that it is open to very considerable doubt as the Bill now stands. I think it is very much in doubt as to whether or not he is entitled to ask any question he pleases, whether it be rele- vant to his inquiries or not. All my Amendment does is simply to require that he shall not be entitled to demand an answer to a question which has nothing whatever to do with the enforcement of fire precautions, and things of that kind.

My Amendment would in no way reduce the inspector's powers in their proper exercise. What it would do is to make it perfectly plain that the inspector is not entitled to go beyond his proper duties. The matter is the more serious on this account: that if a person fails to answer a question he then commits an offence under subsection (3), for which he is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50. If he says to the inspector," I am not going to answer your question ", then the inspector can prosecute him for refusing to answer. Would it be a defence under the Bill, as it now stands, for a person who is called upon to give an answer to any question that the inspector thinks fit to ask, to say, "That was an improper question"? I suggest that it would not, because the questions which are admissible are any questions that the inspector thinks fit to ask.

If the words in the Amendment are inserted in the Bill, then they will make it perfectly clear that if a person refuses to answer a question because he considers that it is improper and he is then prosecuted for it, he will be able to say in his defence, when he is brought before the court and charged with having failed to answer a question, "But it was an improper question. It was not a relevant question. It was a question that the inspector was not entitled to ask." In those circumstances he would be afforded a defence. I suggest that the proper construction of the Bill as it stands is that if an inspector goes in and asks somebody a wholly improper question which has nothing to do with the matter in hand and the person refuses to answer, then, theoretically, the inspector can prosecute that person and it will not be any defence to say that the question was irrelevant, because the Bill states precisely that the inspector can ask any question he thinks fit. For those reasons, I again suggest that nothing would be lost in the enforcement procedures if these words of mine were inserted. Indeed, the rights of the individual and the rights and powers of the inspector would be precisely defined so that everybody knew where he stood. I beg to move.


The questions asked by the inspector will have to fall within clearly defined limits. It is not right to say that any question which he feels inclined to ask can be put. The limitation in the opening words of Clause 19(1), "for the purpose of the execution of this Act" of course applies to Clause 19(1)(d), as I have already explained. Furthermore, Clause 19(1)(d) itself limits the inspector's questions in two further ways. First, questions can deal only with the matters specified in Clause 19(1)(b); that is, to verify a belief that the premises are covered by the Bill, to identify an owner or occupier or a person having overall management, or to ascertain that the provisions of the Bill and the regulations made under it, or the requirements of the fire certificate if one is in force, are complied with. Secondly, those questions can be asked only in connection with the premises which are covered by the Bill, or which the inspector has reasonable cause to believe are covered by the Bill. Therefore, there already exist the limitations contained within the subsections of Clause 19 to which I have referred.

Let me say a word or two in reply to the strictures made by Lord Crowther at the end of the discussion on the last Amendment and by Lord Foot in moving this Amendment. Of course, it is right that the Government collectively and myself personally are concerned to see that excessive powers are not given to officials in this Bill or in any other Bill. We are agreed on that; and I should like to apologise if, in the heat of debate with the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and others, I gave any impression other than that. Our concern is their concern, and so it always must be in a debate of this sort. My difficulty has been—and I cannot believe that I am the first person to find myself in this position—that I do not agree with their Amendments. These are the words they have chosen to express their concern, and it seems to us that the words they propose to put in the Bill are, on balance, less desirable than the words which are already in the Bill.

But let me say here and now, if I have not made it clear before, that I will certainly study this debate. I will consult my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and my colleagues in the Home Office. I will consult with the officials concerned, and we will go through this Part of the Bill, Clause 19 in particular, for I think it has been the focus of the apprehension expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. If between now and Report stage we can find some way to meet the general concern that has been advanced, I shall certainly be very ready to do so, and I should like to have that on the Record at this stage.


I thank the noble Lord very much for those words—for which, if I may say so, we have been waiting for a very long time without hearing a mutter. May I also commend to him, as he confronts the officials of the Home Office in the course of that examination, a story which is told of a previous Home Secretary. Sir William Harcourt, who, on appointment to that Office, is said to have summoned the officials and said, "Gentlemen, my job is to make sure that you gentlemen are not hanged from lamp-posts in Whitehall".


May I also thank the noble Lord for his assurance? That is the first bit of encouragement we have had in the discussion on this clause, and I am very grateful to him. It offers a ray of hope. If I may say so, when the noble Lord comes to read this debate again, particularly when he reads the speeches that we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, I think he will be persuaded that, intellectually, the balance of the argument is on this side of the Committee, and I hope that he will be able to persuade his own officials at the Home Office likewise. In the circumstances, and in view of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


As I said in moving Amendment No. 2 Amendment No. 17 serves the same purpose as that Amendment, and since I withdrew that one on the assurance of the Minister I do not propose to move this one. May I add that, in view of the assurance we had a minute ago from the Minister, I do not propose to move Amendments Nos. 18 and 19.


As my noble friend Lord Crowther has withdrawn his Amendment, I do not move Amendment No. 20.

3.10 p.m.

LORD FOOT moved Amendment No. 21: Page 27. line 24, at end insert— ("Provided that no person shall be convicted of an offence under this subsection unless it is proved that the inspector had previously warned that person that any failure or prevention or obstruction as aforesaid might make him liable to a fine.")

The noble Lord said: On this Amendment I cannot take exactly the same course as my noble friend Lord Crowther did with his Amendments, because it raises a slightly different point and I should like to say a few words upon it if I may. Your Lordships will see that under subsection (3) of this clause a person commits an offence in certain circumstances, first of all if he: without reasonable excuse… fails to comply with any requirement imposed by an inspector under subsection (1) above "— and that, as has already been pointed out, includes failing to answer a question. Secondly, a person commits an offence who: prevents, or attempts to prevent, any other person from appearing before an inspector or from answering any question to which an inspector may, by virtue of that subsection, require an answer".

Thirdly, a person, commits an offence who: intentionally obstructs an inspector in the exercise or performance of his powers or duties under this Act.

Then it goes on to provide what the penalties will be.

My Amendment is to insert at the end of that subsection the words: Provided that no person shall be convicted of an offence under this subsection unless it is proved that the inspector had previously warned that person that any failure or prevention or obstruction as aforesaid might make him liable to a fine.

I put down this Amendment to avoid the possibility of a person's inadvertently committing an offence and rendering himself liable to a fine because he does not know that it is an offence to refuse to answer or to fail to answer the questions, or to prevent somebody from answering a question. The object of the Amendment is to secure that people do not unwittingly commit an offence. A precedent for this warning procedure is in the Road Traffic Act 1967, where a person who is taken to the police station and asked for a sample of blood or urine must be warned that if he fails to give the specimen or refuses to do so he renders himself liable to a penalty. I suggest that for the protection of the individual this proviso should be written into the clause so that the person must be warned by the inspector that the failure to answer renders him liable to a penalty. Nothing is lost by including this proviso. It does not put the inspector at any disadvantage if he gives this warning at the beginning of his interview. I suggest that unless this warning is given there a successful prosecution cannot be brought. I move the Amendment.


While I am sympathetic with what lies behind the words of the noble Lord, there are some practical implications which need to be taken into account. The general assumption in numerous Acts where offences are prescribed is that those concerned should be expected to know the law. There seems to be no particular reason why an offence under Clause 19(3) should be regarded as so exceptional that a caution has to be administered by an inspector in the way that a police officer gives a caution in interrogating somebody suspected of a criminal offence. The terms of the Amendment would place a heavy burden on the inspector. We must remember that inspection under Clause 19 is made for the purpose of obtaining information so that the fire authority may be satisfied as to the safety of persons on the premises in the event of fire. In these circumstances the need to consider proceedings against anyone under this clause will rarely arise, and the inspector would be in a difficult position if on each and every occasion when he spoke to somebody he had to utter a cautionary form of words, as is envisaged by the Amendment. That would be the only course that he could adopt, because he would not be able to decide in advance which answer was true or false or which question was likely to be answered or not answered.

I am inclined to think that a caution which always prefaced an inspector's conversation would be regarded as rather threatening, rather formal; that it would tend to make the staff suspicious and perhaps even resentful, and so it might have the result of creating unnecessary friction and destroying the good relationship which an inspector normally builds up over a period of time. These are practical implications which one has to keep in mind when considering whether a change of this sort would be a desirable innovation.


I should have thought that there would not be a great practical difficulty. It would not be until the interviews became "sticky", and the person being questioned was found to be unco-operative, that the fire officer would give this warning. He would give the warning and then continue with his questions. Surely the justification for this, and for the road safety exception to the rule that everybody is supposed to know the law, is that in these two situations you have people, fire officers and policemen, who would know that the person concerned was liable to commit an offence without realising that he was doing so. Therefore it seems fair that the officials should give the warning to try to prevent an offence being committed; which would be much better than prosecuting someone after he had committed an offence.


May I adopt those two arguments? They were the ones that I was going to use in reply to the Minister. I do not think that there is the practical difficulty of which the Minister speaks. I do not foresee that a general warning would be given at the beginning of every interview; I do not think that that would be necessary. All that is necessary is that where a person refused or failed to answer a question, the inspector should say to him. "I think, for your own protection, you ought to know, and I am required to tell you, that you are under a duty to answer these questions; and you commit an offence if you do not do so". I do not see that there is any necessity for a general caution or warning at the beginning of every interview.

So far as I know, under the Road Safety Act this has proved a very valuable method in preventing people from committing an offence inadvertently. The noble Lord said that he thought that most people would realise that it is the law of the land. But take the illustration used by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, of a Spanish kitchenmaid being interviewed by an inspector. Is she to be expected to know that if she does not answer questions she is liable to be prosecuted and fined £100? Take the case of a minor, a child, or anybody who is not particularly well educated. I claim that even a solicitor would be surprised to find a provision of this kind in a Statute. Far from people being likely to know that they are committing an offence, I should have thought that it would be highly unlikely. If the noble Lord were able to give me some little help by saying that he would look at this point again, I would be content to withdraw the Amendment.


There may be some way of meeting this point through administrative direction issued by the fire authorities. I would certainly be willing to look into this matter, without giving any specific assurance at this stage, and see what can be said on Report.


In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.21 p.m.

LORD FOOT moved Amendment No.22: Page 27. line 25, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (4A) below").

The noble Lord said: May I take Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 together. They cover a point very similar to the one we have been discussing and I will not take up any more time of the Committee on them, because of the assurance the noble Lord gave me a moment ago. If he will tell me that he is willing to look at this matter again, to see if it can be dealt with administratively, then I am quite prepared to withdraw the Amendment. I beg to move.


I am certainly willing to look at the points covered in Amendments Nos. 21, 22 and 23 together as they are all related.


In these circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clauses 20 to 32 agreed to.

Clause 33 [Amendment of Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963]:

3.23 p.m.

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved Amendment No. 24: Page 33, line 36, at end insert: () in subsection (2) the words following 'prescribed' in the second place where it occurs shall be deleted; () after subsection (2) there shall be inserted as subsection (2A)—

'(2A) On receipt of an application for a fire certificate with respect to any premises the appropriate authority may require the applicant within such time as they may specify—

  1. (a) to furnish them with such plans of the premises as they may specify; and
  2. (b) if the premises consist of part of a building, to furnish them, in so far as it is possible for him to do so, with such plans of such other part or parts of the building as they may specify;
and if the applicant fails to furnish the required plans within that time or such further time as the authority may allow, the application shall be deemed to have been withdrawn at the end of that time or further time, as the case may be.'

The noble Viscount said: Your Lordships will remember that part of my Amendment No. 7 proposed an Amendment dealing with the submission of plans. This related to Clause 8 and my noble friend Lord Windlesham said he thought it was inappropriate that applicants for the change of condition of notice should submit plans. He said at the same time that the Bill provides for the submission of plans under Clause 5, when the original application for a fire certificate is made. He also mentioned that there are two other statutory provisions under which people may apply for fire certificates. One is the Factories Act 1961 and the other is the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963.

Section 40 of the Factories Act enables the Department concerned to make regulations whereby plans have to be submitted with an application for the first fire certificate. Section 29(2) of the 1963 Act enables the Department concerned to make similar regulations. Unfortunately, the Departments have not made any regulations. The result is that when they are considering applications for fire certificates, they have sometimes to go so far as to draw the plans themselves because they are not supplied, and there is no procedure by which they can ask for them to be supplied. This seems to me to be an absurd situation. Here we have a provision in the Bill where a certain part of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963 is being amended, and it would seem to me—and I respectfully suggest to your Lordships that it is sensible—that we should take the opportunity to put right what has so far apparently gone wrong.

I am really speaking to both this Amendment and the following one, because the point is exactly the same. I suggest that we should make a small 'amendment to the Bill which would bring it into conformity with what is already in Clause 5, so that all the people who make application for fire certificates under any of these three Acts ease the work of the fire authority concerned—and, I have no doubt, expedite the procedure in regard to their application—by supplying plans. That is all that these two Amendments say. I hope that, in view of what my noble friend has already said, he may feel inclined to say that there is something good in what I suggest. I beg to move.


I can reply quite briefly to my noble friend on these two Amendments. I am advised that these are outside the scope of the Bill. They are substantial Amendments to the two Acts to which my noble friend has referred: namely, the Factories Act 1961 and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963. Whatever the arguments for and against the submission of plans to fire authorities, which we were debating earlier in connection with this Bill, it would be wrong to place Amendments of this sort in this Bill, which would change substantially the content of the two Acts in question. It would have to be done by amendment to those two Statutes rather than by an Amendment to this Bill.


I am sorry that my noble friend takes that line and, with respect, I do not think it will do. The principle as enunciated in the Bill seems to me to be perfectly plain: that on the original application for a fire certificate under this Bill plans have to be submitted. If my noble friend does not want it put in the Bill, what about the Acts to which I refer?

Section 29(2) of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963 says: An application for the issue of a fire certificate with respect to any premises must be made to the appropriate authority in such form as may be prescribed by order made by the Minister and state the greatest number of persons employed to work at any one time in the premises or proposed to be so employed and such other (if any) particulars as may be so prescribed, and, if regulations made by the Minister so require, must be accompanied by such plans of the premises as may be specified in the regulations. The section in the Factories Act is remarkably similar. Is my noble friend saying that the Government still continue to refuse to make regulations? There is nothing to prevent them from doing so. If they will not have my Amendment in the Bill, will they make regulations under those powers? The thing would then be perfectly all right without need of amendment. But he gives no undertaking on that.


I am certainly willing to look at that point. But we are debating the Fire Precautions Bill. To ask suddenly if regulations have been made under two other Statutes seems to me to be irrelevant to our proceedings. I will, however, look at the point to see whether I can tell my noble friend anything on Report. But to attempt to alter in a substantial way regulations dealing with premises under cover of the Fire Precautions Bill, which is the subject of our Committee stage proceedings to-day, does not seem to me to be a correct way of going about things. But I will look into whether regulations have been made, or could be made.


That is a very acceptable offer, but it seems to me to be inconceivable that when they read the two Amendments standing in my name it never occurred to my noble friend's Department to see whether they had ever made regulations under these other two Acts. That it should come as a surprise to my noble friend is absolutely astonishing. I shall certainly amend the Long Title and move these Amendments again if I cannot get an assurance from my noble friend that something will be done under the existing powers. I really cannot see any difficulty about this. The Long Title can be amended, and everything will be perfectly in order.


I do not think this is a point on which we should detain the Committee. I have said earlier that I am willing to meet my noble friend on other points which we shall be considering and discussing together, and we can certainly include these on our agenda.


In that case. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 33 to 36 agreed to.

3.32 p.m.

LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 26: After Clause 36, insert the following new clause:

Loans to meet expenditure to reduce fire risk on Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments. . The purpose of expenditure for or towards which loans may be made under section 4 of the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 and section 1 of the Local Authorities (Historic Buildings) Act 1962 shall include—

  1. (a) the taking of steps necessary to obtain a fire certificate under this or any other Act; and
  2. (b) any other works necessary to reduce the risk of spread of fire in buildings of architectural or historic interest in respect of which such loans may be made whether or not fire certificates may he required."

The noble Lord said: I beg leave to move this Amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Beswick. He had anticipated that this Amendment would have been called much earlier, and he regrets that, as a result of the late sitting of the Committee, he has been called away. The purpose of the Amendment is reasonably clear. Historic buildings, almost by definition, are an above-average fire risk. Also by definition they are unlikely to be owned or maintained by wealthy commercial concerns. This Amendment is moved in particular because the Youth Hostels Association of England and Wales have a particular and expensive problem with 29 hostels actually listed, and another seven on the supplementary list of buildings of architectural and historic interest. They are uneconomic to run, and those who maintain them are deserving of support, and this is recognised to varying extents by local authorities, who are empowered to make grants or loans.

The object of this Amendment is to extend the purpose for which loans can be made. Probably the Amendment would be the better if it also included the word "grants". Perhaps this point can be looked at later. My noble friend recognises that not much time has been given for consideration of the Amendment, and if assurances could be given he would be happy for me to withdraw it now. My noble friend would, if he was encouraged to do so, put it down again at the Report stage if that course was necessary, but it would be better still if the matter could be dealt with by the Minister to-day.


This new clause would have the effect of extending the loan-making powers under Section 4 of the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 and the Local Authorities (Historic Buildings) Act 1962 to include steps necessary to obtain a fire certificate and work to reduce the risk and spread of fire in buildings of architectural or historic interest. These Acts are designed to preserve certain buildings or historic interest. It is true that this Bill will cover a number of historic buildings if they are open regularly to the public, or if they have been converted in such a way that they come under Clause 3 of the Bill. This being so, it is conceivable that certain improvements in the fire precautions may be necessary before a fire certificate can be issued. The Amendment is based on the assumption that if, for other reasons, the State is empowered to make loans towards the maintenance of historic buildings, it should also be empowered to make loans towards the cost of any additional works in such buildings which may be necessary under the Bill. I am afraid that there are some practical difficulties here which I ought to itemise for the noble Lord.

The first one is that the purpose of the two Acts that I have mentioned, which are referred to in the Amendment, is quite different from the purpose of the Bill. There is, I think, an objection in principle to using an Amendment in an unrelated Bill to widen the scope of existing Acts. Secondly, even if this were not so, paragraph (b) of the noble Lord's Amendment, which refers to works necessary to reduce the risk of spread of fire", is related to the protection of buildings, rather than to means of escape for persons in buildings in the event of fire; and it is therefore outside the scope of the Bill. Thirdly, the reference in paragraph (a) of the Amendment to the provision for loans towards the cost of works needed to obtain a fire certificate under legislation other than the Bill seems to us to fall outside the limits of expenditure which have been approved in Clause 39 in another place.

Having raised some of the practical difficulties which I am afraid make it difficult for us to advise the Committee to accept this Amendment, let me go on to say that the general question of historic buildings and the way this Bill will affect them has received a good deal of careful consideration, and we believe that the position is secured under the provisions of Clause 43(2) of this Bill. The effect of that clause is that the Bill will not override legislation which is directed towards the preservation of historic buildings. If, therefore, a fire authority specified work to be carried out which conflicted with the legislation relating to the preservation of historic buildings, the occupier would be under no duty to comply with the fire authority's requirements. In practice, any possible conflict of this kind would doubtless be resolved in consultation between the owner, the fire authority, the local authority and the Government Department concerned.

We do not expect any serious difficulties, especially as the problem is by no means a new one to the Fire Service. Take, for example. a town like Brighton, with its very large stock of Regency buildings, which are classified under one or other of the two items of legislation I have mentioned. Therefore, I can say that we welcome this Amendment to discuss, at the end of our rather lengthy Committee stage, the position of historic buildings under this Bill. What it might perhaps be helpful for me to say to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, is that if the Youth Hostels Association, which he mentioned in opening, have a particular concern with this measure, the best course might be for us to arrange a meeting for them so that they can discuss the position of the actual building with i hose in my Department who are concerned with the fire precautions.


I very much appreciate what has been stated so fully and so clearly by the Minister. I would make it quite clear that the Youth Hostels Association believe that they have a considerable problem here. I am sure they will be delighted to take note of what has been said. I can only express the hope that something of great value to them will come out of it. Judging by the tone in which the Minister has spoken, I personally am quite encouraged to think that they may be able to find some solution to their problem. In the circumstances, in view of the very helpful reply that has been given, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clauses and Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.