HL Deb 18 May 1971 vol 319 cc299-322

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received—(Lord Windlesham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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

LORD CROWTHER moved Amendment No. 1: Page 11, line 17, at end insert (" or consists of premises of any other description prescribed for the purposes of this subsection ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we turn now from In Place of Strife to what I hope will be sweetness and light on the subject of fire precautions. With the permission of the House, I should like to make a very few remarks on the first four Amendments taken together. These are paving Amendments to Amendment No. 14 which is in my name, and which is a complete redraft of Clause 19. I call these paving Amendments because, although they come in the Bill before Clause 19, logically they are dependent upon the Amendment to Clause 19 which I shall move in due course. When that moment comes, I shall attempt to explain to your Lordships how it comes about that such a long and technical Amendment stands in my name on the Marshalled List. I do not want to anticipate more than a very small part of what I shall say then, and it may be enough to say now that, through the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, I have had the benefit of the expertise and drafting skill of the officials of the Home Office.

I do not wish in any way to suggest, either now or later, that Amendment No. 14 will turn out to be acceptable to the noble Lord. I do not know what he is going to say on it. But I think I can assure noble Lords that if Amendment No. 14, when its turn comes, is accepted, then the words contained in these first four Amendments will be necessary in Clause 8 in order that the Bill shall hang together. The course that I would suggest to your Lordships, and which may meet with your Lordships' approval, is that these four Amendments should be accepted at this stage. If, in due course, Amendment No. 14 is accepted, then these Amendments will prove to have been necessary. If, on the other hand, Amendment No. 14 is rejected, then it will always be possible on Third Reading to take these Amendments out and to restore the Bill to its present wording. I think that is the only explanation that I need give of all four Amendments, and I therefore beg to move.


My Lords, these Amendments, Nos. 1 to 4, as the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, has explained, hang together, and pave the way for the proposed new Clause 19 which stands in his name on the Marshalled List as Amendment No. 14. As the noble Lord has said, we thought it right to undertake the drafting of these Amendments ourselves, partly in order to assist the noble Lord and partly to ensure that if the Amendments proved acceptable to the House they would be in a form which satisfied the draftsman.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 2.

Amendment moved— Page 11, line 18, leave out (" a part so used ") and insert (" such a part ").—(Lord Crowther.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 3.

Amendment moved— Page 11, line 21, leave out (" so used ") and insert (" in question ").—(Lord Crowther.)


My Lords, before the Question is put I think it would be helpful if the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, could indicate whether, having given these facilities to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, he thinks it is advisable, on balance, that we accept the Amendments. He ought to give us some guidance, surely, even though he does not take responsibility, or his Department does not, for these Amendments.


My Lords, I am proposing to speak at a little length on the new Clause 19 and to spell out the Government's attitude then, but it is one of neutrality on this particular clause and the consequential Amendments, both before it and after it, which are down in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD CROWTHER: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 4.

Amendment moved—

Page 11, line 21, at end insert— (" For the purposes of this subsection a description of premises may he framed in any of the ways mentioned in section 1(4) of this Act.")—(Lord Crowther.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

7.26 p.m.

LORD WINDLESHAM moved Amendment No. 5: Page 11, line 23, leave out (" the occupier proposes").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House I propose to speak to Amendments Nos. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 together, since all hang together. Noble Lords may remember that in Committee my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross tabled a number of Amendments which would have placed on " any person ", rather than the occupier, the duty to inform the fire authority of proposed changes concerning premises having a fire certificate. He explained that this was intended to close what he considered to be a loophole enabling people to get round this obligation. The occupier, for example, might get someone else to do the work for him, and so avoid the obligation to notify the fire authority.

After further consideration and discussion with my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, I think we can amend the Bill so as to meet his point. The effect of these Amendments now proposed is to place on the occupier a duty to give notice to the fire authority " if it is proposed " (that is, by anybody) to make any of the changes under Clause 8(2)(a) or (b). It is difficult to conceive, however, that an occupier would be unaware of such substantial changes in his premises no matter who proposed to make them, and it is therefore right that the duty to notify should still rest on him. But the changes of the kind envisaged in Clause 8(2)(c) are somewhat different, because the occupier of the certified premises would not necessarily know if someone else in the same building were to begin storing large quantities of inflammable materials, and the risk to the means of escape from the certified premises could well be considirable. We therefore propose that the duty to notify this kind of change should rest not only on the occupier, where he is responsible, but also on any other occupier in the same building who has accepted contingent responsibilities under the fire certificate by virtue of Clause 6(5), which deals with people who have a contingent responsibility of this nature. Such a person, too, will now be under a duty to notify the fire authority direct of any change he makes in his own part of the relevant building of the kind envisaged in Clause 8(2)(c).

This new arrangement will not catch an occupier of another part of the relevant building with no contingent responsibilities under the fire certificate. It would be unreasonable, if not impractical, to lay a duty on an occupier who has no concern whatsoever with the part of the building needing a fire certificate. But the lire authority will doubtless watch out for possible risks of this kind in the course of routine inspections; they have the necessary powers of entry to the whole building for this purpose. My Lords, this is an improvement to the Bill. It is strongly supported by the largest fire authority in the country, and I hope that it will commend itself to your Lordships. I beg to move.


My Lords, it is only right that I should say a word of thanks to my noble friend for this series of Amendments. It is one of the privileges of a Member of your Lordships' House that one can have access to noble Lords in their Departments, and there was indeed a very full and extraordinarily helpful discussion with my noble friend and his officials in which I took part. It is as a result of that that these Amendments have been put forward, and I most heartily endorse them. They meet I think not only one but about two or three of the points that I raised at Committee stage. and they seem to me to be a balanced proposal which tighten things up a little bit without, on the other hand, laying any intolerable burden upon somebody who in substance should not be subject to it. I should therefore like to endorse what my noble friend has said, and I very much hope that the House will agree with these Amendments. Once more I would thank my noble friend for his co-operation in seeing that they have been brought forward.


My Lords, before we leave this Amendment (we are on Report, but I think that as the mover of an Amendment I am enabled to speak a second time) perhaps I may say that representations have been made to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State by the British Hotels and Restaurants Association on the subject of what constitute or do not constitute " material alterations " under this clause of the Bill, Clause 8. This matter was discussed in Committee on an Amendment put down by my noble friend Lord Crowther, but I should just like to repeat that we are anxious that occupiers affected by the Bill should not be burdened with unnecessary notifications to the fire authority of changes in the furnishings and decorations of their premises. A Government Amendment to Clause 8 in another place had the effect that any changes have first to be considered in relation to the premises as a whole and in relation to the normal conditions of use as explained to and seen by the fire authority's inspector at the time the fire certificate was issued. Furthermore, these changes have to be " material ", that is to say, they must affect the means of escape and related fire precautions approved by the fire authority for the purpose of the fire certificate.

Since the occupier will have a copy of the fire certificate, which carefully defines these matters, we do not think there should be any difficulty in practice in deciding what is a material change for the purpose of Clause 8. We do not think that the refurnishing of hotel bedrooms would be a material change since this would not affect the ability of guests to reach the door of their bedrooms in an emergency and so gain access to the corridor outside. Normal redecoration of the premises to the same specification as before would not seem to be material. On the other hand, if a ballroom were redesigned internally, with substantial new screens and so on to create a particular effect, which in some way obstructed the means of access to exits, this would be a material change on which the fire authority would like to be consulted. But if there is any doubt in the hotel industry, or elsewhere, we hope that the fire authorities will be notified so that their advice can be taken.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for this explanation. I agree that it is quite impossible in a Bill, or in any document, to define every way in which a change might be material. I am sure that the words the noble Lord has just said will be helpful in deciding doubtful cases.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

7.32 p.m.

LORD WINDLESHAM: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 6.

Amendment moved— Page 11, line 24, after ("(a)") insert (" it is proposed ").—(Lord Windlesham.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD WINDLESHAM: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 7.

Amendment moved— Page 11, line 26, after ("(b)") insert (" it is proposed ").—(Lord Windlesham.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD WINDLESHAM: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 8.

Amendment moved— Page 11, line 30, after ("(c)") insert (" the occupier of the premises proposes ").—(Lord Windlesham.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD WINDLESHAM: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 9.

Amendment moved—

Page 11, line 39, at end insert— (" (2A) If, while a fire certificate is in force with respect to any premises not constituting the whole of the relevant building, any person who as occupier of any other part of that building is under section 6(5) of this Act responsible for contraventions of any requirement imposed by the certificate proposes to begin to keep explosive or highly flammable materials of any prescribed kind anywhere under, in or on that building in a quantity or aggregate quantity greater than the quantity prescribed for the purposes of this subsection as the maximum in relation to materials of that kind, that person shall, before the carrying out of the proposals is begun, give notice of the proposals to the fire authority; and if the carrying out of the proposals is begun without such notice having been given, that person shall be guilty of an offence.")—(Lord Windlesham.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD WINDLESHAM: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 10.

Amendment moved— Page 13, line 23, after (" (2)") insert (" (2A)").—(Lord Windlesham.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

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

7.35 p.m.

LORD WINDLESHAM moved Amendment No. 11: Page 20, line 25, leave out first ("section") and insert ("subsection ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, it might be convenient to speak to Amendments Nos. 11, 12 and 13 which are grouped together on the Marshalled List. These are technical, drafting Amendments concerning the Cinematograph Act of 1952, and the Cinematograph (Safety) Regulations of 1955. The first two Amendments enable Clause 12(11) Ito be brought into operation on a date different to the rest of Clause 12. The object of this is to preserve, for the time being, the application of the Cinematograph (Safety) Regulations 1955 to the cinematograph exhibitions to which they at present apply.

The third Amendment amends the Cinematograph Act 1952. Clause 12(11), by implication, repeals Section 2(1)(a) of that Act. However, other provisions of that Act refer to regulations made under Section 2(1)(a). Paragraph (a) of the new subsection clarifies the effect of Clause 12(11) by repealing the references to Section 2(1)(a) or regulations made by virtue of that provision. Regulations made under Clause 12(11) will be able, if so desired, to preserve the application of the existing Cinematograph (Safety) Regulations 1955, so that the effect of the repealed provisions can be preserved or changed in the light of future policy.

Paragraph (b) of the new subsection has the effect of ensuring that the licensing authorities powers under Section 4(2) of the 1952 Act in relation to the imposition of special requirements relating to cinematograph exhibitions for children will be exercised, inter alia, with regard to any relevant fire safety regulations made under Clause 12 of the Bill.


My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether it is intended that, under the appointed day provision at the,end of the Bill, the present subsection (11), and the new subsection to be inserted by Amendment No. 13, should be brought into force at a different date from the rest of the clause? Is that the point of Amendment No. 12?


My Lords, it is to enable that to happen if is is desirable to do so.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD WINDLESHAM: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 12.

Amendment moved— Page 20. line 27, leave out (" section") and insert (" sub-section ").—(Lord Windlesham.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD WINDLESHAM: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 13.

Amendment moved—

Page 20, line 29, at end insert— (" () In consequence of subsection (11) above—

  1. (a) the following provisions of the Cinematograph Act 1952 (which relate to the power of the Secretary of State to make safety regulations) are hereby repealed, that is to say section 2(1)(a) and, in section 5(1), paragraph (c) from the words "and regulations" onwards, paragraph (d) from the word " except" onwards, and the proviso; and
  2. (b) in section 4(2) of that Act (control of cinematograph exhibitions for children), after the word "1909" there shall be inserted the words "and any regulations made or having effect as if made under section 12 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 ".")—(Lord Windlesham.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 19 [Powers of Inspector]:

7.38 p.m.

LORD CROWTHER moved Amendment No. 14: Leave out Clause 19 and insert the following new clause:

Powers of inspectors

("19.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, any of the following persons (in this section referred to as " inspectors") namely an inspector appointed under section 18 of this Act and a fire inspector, may do anything necessary for the purpose of carrying this Act and regulations thereunder into effect and, in particular, shall, so far as may be necessary for that purpose, have power to do at any reasonable time any of the following things, namely—

  1. (a) to enter any such premises as are mentioned in subsection (2) below, and to inspect the whole or any part thereof and anything therein;
  2. (b) to make such inquiry as may be necessary for any of the purposes mentioned in subsection (3) below;
  3. (c) to require the production of, and to inspect, any fire certificate in force with respect to any premises or any copy of any such certificate;
  4. (d) to require any person having responsibilities in relation to any such premises as arc referred to in paragraph (a) above (whether or not the owner or occupier of the premises or a person employed to work therein) to give him such facilities and assistance with respect to any matters or things to which the responsibilities of that person extend as are necessary for the purpose of enabling the inspector to exercise any of the powers conferred on him by this subsection.

(2) The premises referred to in subsection (1)(a) above are the following, namely—

  1. (a) any premises requiring a fire certificate or to which any regulations made under section 12 of this Act apply;
  2. (b) any premises such as are mentioned in section 10(1)(a) of this Act;
  3. (c) any premises to which section 3 of this Act for the time being applies;
  4. (d) any premises not falling within any of the foregoing paragraphs which form part of a building comprising any premises so falling; and
  5. (e) any premises which the inspector has reasonable cause to believe to be premises falling within any of the foregoing paragraphs.

(3) The purposes referred to in subsection (1)(b) above are the following, namely—

  1. (a) to ascertain, as regards any premises, whether they fall within any of paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection (2) above;
  2. (b) to identify the owner or occupier of any premises falling within any of those paragraphs;
  3. (c) to ascertain whether, in the case of any premises to which section 3 of this Act for the time being applies, any person has the overall management of the building constituting or compromising the premises and, if so, to identify that person;
  4. (d) to ascertain, as regards any premises falling within any of the said paragraphs (a) to (d), whether the provisions of this Act and regulations made under section 12 thereof are complied with, and, where a fire certificate is in force in respect of any such premises, whether the requirements imposed by the certificate are complied with.

(4)An inspector shall, if so required when visiting any premises in the exercise of powers conferred by this section, produce to the occupier of the premises some duly authenticated document showing his authority.

(5) In the case of premises used as a dwelling or premises of any other description prescribed for the purposes of this subsection, no power of entry conferred by subsection (1) above shall be exercised as of right unless twenty-four hours' notice has been given to the occupier; and for the purposes of this subsection a description of premises may be framed in any of the ways mentioned in section 1(4) of this Act.

(6) A person who—

  1. (a) intentionally obstructs an inspector in the exercise or performance of his powers or duties under this Act; or
  2. (b) without reasonable excuse fails to comply with any requirement imposed by an inspector under subsection (1)(d) above,

shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50.")

The noble Lord said: Those of your Lordships who were present when the Bill was considered in Committee will remember that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and I moved between us no less than ten Amendments to this clause. It was made clear then, and I should like to make it clear again, that our purpose was neither to be hostile to the Bill in general, nor wrecking to this clause in particular. It is obvious that the purpose is to extend the general system of regulation and certification of premises, which already applies to a large part of the industrial and commercial world, to a number of additional premises of which perhaps it is generally accepted that hotels are the most important. This is a necessary and, as tragic events since the Committee stage have illustrated, an urgent problem. Perhaps I may venture to claim that I have more reason than any Member of your Lordships' House or, indeed, of the other place, to know how necessary and urgent it is, because I have been in the agonising position of finding myself carrying the responsibility in-chief for a company that owned an hotel which burned to the ground. and in which a large number of people lost their lives. I know when that happens with what agony of mind one searches one's conscience and asks oneself whether there was anything done that should not have been done, or left undone that should have been done and might have prevented such a tragedy. Had one done one's duty? It would have been an enormous comfort in circumstances of that kind to have had a clear definition of the minimum duly—and one would always hope to go further—and a clear definition and certification of where one's duty lay.

I have reason to believe that soon after this Bill is enacted into law regulations will be prescribed by the Home Secretary for hotels; and, so far as I am concerned, the sooner the better and the more stringent the better. There was a distressing report in one of the Sunday newspapers to the effect that in the course of consideration the proposed regulations for hotels had been somewhat watered down out of consideration for some sections of the hotel trade who claim that they are unable to incur the necessary expenditure. I sincerely trust that that report is incorrect. I urge the noble Lord. Lord Windlesham, and his colleagues at the Home Office, not to be too tender on those sections of the hotel industry that claim that they are unable to meet necessary expenditures for the purpose of safeguarding human life. The most stringent regulations, within the rules of reason, that the Home Secretary sees fit to promulgate will be accepted and welcomed by the greater part of the hotel industry. Nor was it the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Foot and myself seriously to alter this particular clause. The purpose is to deal with the powers of inspectors. It is clear that these powers must be effective for their purpose. It is also necessary to assert that in that process they should interfere as little as possible with the essential rights and liberties of the citizen.

This is the more necessary because the premises to which this Bill are to be applied include a number of premises that are used for domestic and semi-domestic purposes—it is the homes of people with which we are concerned. We felt that, with his eye very properly on effectiveness, the draftsman of the Bill in its original form had been a little too careless of the rights of individuals. We thought it was possible to re-draft these powers of inspection, without any reduction in their effectiveness, so that they would set limits on some of these dangerous potential invasions of liberty. It is, after all, the certainty of regular inspection that is going to lead to compliance in the overwhelming majority of cases, and not the battery of legal powers with which the inspector may be armed. None of our ten Amendments was acceptable to the noble Lord, none of them was passed; but the noble Lord undertook to consider the arguments that we had advanced and to see whether the Bill could be, or should be, amended to take account of them. I should like to pay tribute to the spirit of accommodation and liberality in which that consideration has been carried out.

There are two separate points. First, how, if our arguments are to he accepted, could they best be embodied in the Bill? After consideration by those skilled in these matters the conclusion was arrived at that the best way was not to amend words here and there but to substitute a fairly complete new drafting of the clause for the original, and that in so doing it would be possible to accept the purpose of—I think I am right—nine out of ten of the Amendments. I must make it clear that the purpose of this Amendment is that of the noble Lord's and myself, but the language is that of the experts to whom, through the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, I have been given access. I do not know what the noble Lord is going to say; but I am sure that he will agree that, if it is to be done, this is the way to do it. The second part of the consideration that the noble Lord has given is to whether it should be done at all, whether the arguments should be accepted. I am not privy to the conclusions that he has reached except for the remark: that he made a minute ago, that his attitude was one of neutrality. I shall wait and see.

I hesitate to detain your Lordships longer, but I think it is necessary that I should save you the trouble of collating these two clauses and say briefly how the new draft differs from the old. In the new draft, subsections (1), (2) and (3) replace the old (1). In the main that is simply for clarity of drafting. In the new draft the operative words are put in subsection (1) while the application provisions are separated into subsections (2) and (3). In the original they were all in the same subsection. There are also some substantive changes in these three new subsections. One is in the introductory words. The original said: for the purpose of the execution of this Act ".

These words were criticised by Lord Foot as being a little imprecise. They have been changed in the new draft to so far as may be necessary for that purpose

which I think is satisfactory. Another change is that the words " at any reasonable time ", defining the time at which the inspector may use his powers, which originally covered only the power of entry, is now applied to all his powers. That seems to be an improvement. The old subsection (1)(c) disappears. This is the subsection that empowered the inspector to take a police constable with him in certain circumstances. We criticised that as being likely in some domestic or semi-domestic situation to cause unnecessary alarm and terror to some people. In the new drafting that has disappeared.

The old subsection (1)(d) has disappeared entirely. This was the subsection which provided detailed and far-reaching provisions as to the conduct of interrogation. It seemed to be unnecessarily detailed, and to embody two provisions which seemed to be objectionable: one was the power of the inspector to require answers to be given, statements to be made, under penalty; secondly, it gave the fire inspector powers to require that nobody other than the person he was interrogating should be present at the time. The noble Lord said that that particular clause had been put in to protect, as it might be, a subordinate employee of the hotel from being intimidated by the presence of the manager. I see the strength of that; but the clause could also be used in the opposite sense of depriving the person interrogated of help to which he might be entitled from, say, his legal representative. The old subsection has now disappeared. The new(c) is the old (e) without change; the new (d) is the old (f) without change. The old (g) has disappeared since the words contained in it are now the opening words of the new clause. That deals with subsection (1).

Subsections (2) and (3) I have already mentioned. They are now separate, and they do not differ in content from parts of the old subsection (1). Subsection (4) in the Amendment is the old (5) without change. The new proposed subsection (5) is one of the most important. It replaces and widens the scope of the former sub- section (2). This is the requirement of notice before an inspection can be carried out. The original draft required 24 hours notice to be given when the premises to be inspected were a dwelling. I moved an Amendment in Committee in an attempt to extend that to everything in use as sleeping accommodation. The noble Lord resisted that Amendment on the ground, which I now readily accept, that that was too wide; that it would make it cover, say, a dormitory in a boarding-house of a school where it is particularly necessary that there should be the power to inspect without notice and where the amount of privacy disturbed is minimal.

One can compile an ascending scale of rights to privacy with dormitories at the bottom. Next would come staff accommodation which is shared, and for which, since it is provided by the employer, the employer has the responsibility and can reasonably be expected to inspect without notice. Next comes the hotel room let by the night; there is some right to privacy, but usually there is little private property in the room and therefore the consideration that arises in connection with possible disturbance to property does not arise strongly. Next comes the hotel room let for longer periods, which to some extent approaches in status the occupant's home. Finally, at the top of the scale would be the residential club, in which a room may be the only home that the occupant has and where the whole of his personal property is to be found.

Clearly nobody would claim that those categories at the bottom should be subject to notice. Most noble Lords would agree that when you get to the top of the scale of invasion of privacy it is a very serious matter and should not be permitted lightly. The difficulty is to know where along that scale to put the requirement of notice. During consideration of this matter it was thought that it would be almost impossible to import words into the Bill that would define adequately where the distinction should be made. The solution that the Amendment proposes is to empower the Secretary of State to prescribe whether or not, and whether to some of them and not to others, this requirement of 24 hours' notice before privacy is invaded should be necessary. I am indebted to the noble Lord and his colleagues for that solution to the problem, but I am entirely happy with it.

The new subsection (6) replaces the old subsection (3). This is the offences clause. The old clause created three offences. One of these disappears—the offence of trying to prevent anyone else from answering questions and that is adequately covered in the general provision against obstruction. The other two offences remain—the one of intentionally obstructing is unchanged; the one of failing without reasonable excuse to comply with the requirements remains, but omitting the words in parentheses in the original, the words in parentheses after "excuse " being " proof of which shall lie on him ". Both the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and I took objection to that. I have had my attention drawn to the fact that under Section 81 of the Magistrates' Courts Act of 1962 the onus of proof in a magistrates' court is in any case on the defendant, so it would not matter whether the words in parentheses were in or out. But appeals may be taken, and it seems to me better that if any individual citizen is taking a matter of this sort on appeal to a higher court he should he able to rely on the general rule of law that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty and he should not have these words in the Statute staring him in the face.

The old subsection (4) disappears entirely. That is consequential upon the disappearance of the old subsection (1)(d) to which it referred. But in disappearing, it disposes, I hope, of a legal point about the admissibility of evidence that troubled the noble Lord, Lord Foot, but about which I am far too inexpert to be able to give an explanation. I apologise for taking up so much of your Lordships' time in this brief interlude in other matters. I commend this Amendment to your Lordships as being one that does not, to any extent that is worth mentioning, diminish the likely effectiveness of these powers of inspection, but does, I hope, successfully avoid any unnecessary trespassing upon the essential rights and liberties of the subject. I beg to move.


If the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, and the noble Lord, Lord Foot, are now satisfied that the liberty of the subject is adequately pro- tested, and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, thinks that the powers of the inspectors are adequate for the job they have to do, who are we to complain? I shall not go into the merits of this new clause at all except to ask one question relating to the figure of £50 which is brought from the old clause. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther, said that we should not be too tender on those who neglect their duties and endanger human lives. If they are awkward, or if they intentionally obstruct an inspector in the exercise and performance of his duties, they are liable to a fine not exceeding £50. I ask the noble Lord whether he is satisfied that this figure in all the circumstances is the right one. I see that in Clause 21 if a person improperly discloses information there is a fine not exceeding £100. In Clause 22 if there is any question of falsification of documents there is a fine not exceeding £400. Then in Clause 22(2) if a person with intent to deceive pretends to be art inspector he is liable to a fine of £100. It occurs to me that, bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, said about not being too tender on those people who deliberately obstruct the inspector in carrying out his duties, £50 as a maximum is probably too low.


May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, that I art relieved to hear him say that the Front Bench of the Opposition will not b e offering any opposition to this Amendment. I think it was on the Second Reading of this Bill that I said something about the noble Lord which he did not take very well, and I should like to take tie opportunity, if I may, of trying to make it up to him and express my great satisfaction that we have got at any rate his neutrality upon this Amendment. I do not want to say much more, because I am hopeful that there is not going to be any opposition to this Amendment, and if the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, is going to maintain this position of neutrality I hope we can get this Amendment through to-night.

Might I mention one matter which I raised in the earlier stages of the Bill and which is not met by this Amendment? I urged that in two particular cases it was desirable that something should be written into the Bill which would require that inspectors on certain occasions should give a warning to people whom they are interrogating that if those people fail to answer the question and remain silent, or if they give false answers to questions, they are rendering themselves liable to prosecution. I sought to draw some analogy with the Road Safety Act 1967, where, as your Lordships will remember, when a person is called upon to give a urine or blood test in a police station it is required that the police officer who is demanding the specimen shall warn the person concerned that if he fails to provide it he is committing an offence. The officer is required to give a warning lest that person should unwittingly commit the offence of failing to give the specimen.

I suggested that in this Bill there ought to be a comparable warning where there was a failure on the part of the person being interrogated to answer a question properly addressed to him by the inspector; or, where he gave information, that if the information he gave was false he rendered himself liable to prosecution. It was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that the general rule of law in this country is that everyone is assumed to know what the law is and ignorance of the law is no defence. I accept that as a general principle. It is inevitable in practice that one has to apply that rule in all ordinary cases. It would be intolerable if a person were entitled to say, " I did not know it was illegal to steal ". In all ordinary cases the presumption of law that a person knows what the law is should not be rebuttable; but there is one identifiable class of case where this presumption that a person knows what the law is, is neither necessary nor, I suggest, desirable.

That class of case is one where an official is conducting an inquiry, and the failure of the person being interrogated to assist in that inquiry is itself an offence. That is in a special category. It has two characteristics. The first is that in circumstances where a person is committing an offence if he does not answer a question, there is a particular likelihood that he will not realise that he is committing an offence in failing to answer the question. The second characteristic in this class of case is than it is very easy in circumstances of a confrontation between the interrogator and the person being interrogated, for the interrogator to give a warning that if the person being interrogated does not answer the question, or does not answer accurately, he is committing an offence.

I would have preferred that there should be something in this new clause which dealt with that point. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, was good enough to say when we were discussing this matter before that he would consider whether guidance could be given in the directions from the Home Office to inspectors in fulfilling the provisions of the Bill about this business of giving proper warning in suitable cases. If the noble Lord will confirm that that will be considered, I shall be content to accept this amended clause as it stands. If the noble Lord to-night feels able to take a position of complete neutrality towards this Bill, or possibly a position of benevolent neutrality towards it, all is forgiven and we shall no longer have any cause for complaint.

8.4 p.m.


I am grateful for what noble Lords who have spoken on this Amendment have said. The powers of inspection in the Bill as drafted are similar to provisions which are contained in the Factories Act, 1961 and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act, 1963. As I explained in Committee, the exercise of those powers, in the main by the same inspectors, has not given rise to any complaint. I do not think I carried the noble Lords opposite, Lord Foot and Lord Crowther, with me in that argument, but I still believe it has some validity.

The noble Lords who have just spoken argued with some force in Committee that this Bill is different from those earlier pieces of legislation in that, although private dwellings are excluded from the scope, it nevertheless applies to a substantial number of private homes in the form of flats in high buildings. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther, developed in some detail discussion on a second category of residential accommodation; namely, private rooms whether in hotels, clubs or residential hotels, which have taken on the character of a home. The new Clause 19 therefore redefines the powers of inspectors. Twenty-four hours' notice now needs to be given for premises in the second category—rooms in residential premises. Those in the first category, flats, are already covered.

The main changes, as the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, explained in moving this Amendment, concern the formal interrogation procedure and the presence of a police constable in addition to a fire inspector.. As I have said, no complaints have reached us on the way in which the existing powers of entry and questioning have been used, but in some instances (in the domestic or semi-domestic situation) we must accept that the formal interrogation procedure might appear to be unduly intimidating, particularly when applied to people in their own homes, even though in the case of some old and lonely people their home may amount to no more than a single room. In practice, an inspector's inquiries are normally conducted in a spirit of friendliness and cooperation, and in the rare cases where someone wished to be obstructive, the chances are that whether the formal interrogation procedure existed or not, such a person would persist in his obstinacy. In such a case I must point out that the new clause provides ample grounds for proceedings by virtue of subsection (6).

The other consideration is that the effect of the interrogation procedure in the original clause was to enable the inspector to arrive at the truth. The consequential Amendment to Clause 22 standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, takes care of this point by adding to paragraph (c) the offence of wilfully giving false information in reply to an inspector's inquiries. There is admittedly a tactical advantage in having in the Bill itself a statement of the formal interrogation procedure, and it must also be conceded that there is no longer an express power for the inspector to ask an overbearing employer to leave while he speaks to a member of staff who might otherwise be intimidated. But I think the resourcefulness and tact of the Fire Service will probably serve to outweigh these practical difficulties.

As for the police constable, it is only in rare cases that an inspector would exercise the power to take a police officer with him, and it must be admitted that in cases of serious obstruction the pre- sence of a police constable might not be conclusive. If the owner of a shady night club, say, still refused to adrait the inspector, albeit accompanied by a con-table, then neither would have power to force his way in and other means of enforcing the law would still have to be found.

Inspection is of course a crucial feature of this Bill and the powers of inspectors remain very considerable indeed. Under subsection (1) of Clause 19 as redrafted the inspectors may do anything necessary for he purpose of carrying this Act and regulatiorn thereunder into effect … at any reasonable time ". They may do any of the following things: enter any such premises … mentioned in subsection (2), … make such inquiry as may be necessary … require the production of, and to inspect, any fire certificate … and so on.

The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, asked me about the penalties for obstructing an inspector. I believe the situation is that under the Magistrates' Courts Act £50 is the standard level of penalty applied on summary conviction, but there is a whole range of penalties for obstruction. Obstruction is not a substantive offence. Where there is an offence of obstruction, which should not, incidentally, in itself of course lead to greater fire risk, the penalty is set at this standard level.

However, what we are concerned with here is one of the hardest problems of politics: of getting the right balance between the extent and exercise of powers by officials in the interests of the public good and the rights of the individual to privacy and not to be intimidated by officials, who should be given by Parliament only such powers as are absolutely necessary for the peformance of their duty. In the context of the wide range of fire safety precautions which the fire authority can impose under the Bill, I do not think there is any significant weakening that would be noticed by the Fire Service in practice; and if the House finds the Amendments acceptable, the Government are content to agree. Our position therefore, as I explained earlier in answer to an intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, is one of neutrality. The Amendments have been drafted by Parliamentary Counsel in order to assist the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, and to ensure that they are in an acceptable form. I can give the noble Lord, Lord Foot, on the Record the assurance that he asked for: we do intend in the Notes of Guidance which will be circulated to fire authorities with the Bill to make a reference to the desirability in certain circumstances for a warning to be given.

My Lords, at the back of all our minds, I think, as we debate the Report stage of this Bill is the recent hotel fire in London in which a number of people tragically lost their lives. We cannot claim that this Bill will prevent fires from occurring, whether they are in hotels or elsewhere, in the future. But it can make a considerable contribution, especially as regards means of escape. However, I might at this point say to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, that as soon as the Bill goes on the Statute Book we shall be consulting first with the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Councils and then with representatives of the hotel industry on the making of a designating order. There already exists a voluntary code of practice which has been agreed by the hotel industry. A Working Party has been sitting for some 18 months and their deliberations 'have now been concluded. A great deal of the spadework will, therefore, already have been done when the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Councils come to consider as a matter of urgency the question of hotels.

My Lords, we can all agree, therefore, on the need for urgency; and if it is the wish of the House, as I hope it will be, assuming that we finish the Report stage without any further need for reconsideration to-night, we would hope to take the Third Reading of this Bill on Thursday, the day after to-morrow, and return the Bill with Lords' Amendments to the Commons by the end of this week.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, defined his attitude to this Amendment as one of neutrality. He was evidently unwilling to attach the adjective " benevolent " to it, but I should like to attach that adjective, if not to his neutrality, at any rate to his course of action between the Committee stage and to-day. It would have been so easy for the noble Lord to do nothing. He was under no political or any other pressure that amounts to anything. It was simply a few lone voices on these Benches which led him to reconsider this matter; and we are—I and those who think with me in particular—most grateful indeed to him. We must not exaggerate the importance of this matter but I think it will stand as a good example, a small but good example, of productive co-operation in this House between individual Members of the House, the Minister in charge of a Bill and his officials; and if that be a good thing I would make it clear that the credit belongs exclusively to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 20 [Exercise on behalf of fire inspectors of their powers by officers of fire brigades]:

8.12 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move this Amendment. It is purely consequential.

Amendment moved Page 27, line 41, leave out (" (3) to (5) ") and insert (" (4) and (6) ").—(Lord Crowther.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 22 [Falsification of documents, false statements, etc.]:


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, explained, this Amendment also is consequential. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 28, line 24, inquiry ("Act,") insert (" or in response to any inquiry made by virtue of section 19(1)(b) of this Act,").—(Lord Crowther.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 28 [Power of county court or sheriff, where notice under section 3 is in force, to modify agreements and leases and apportion expenses.]:

THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (BARONESS TWEEDSMUIR OF BELHELVIE) moved Amendment No. 17: >Page 31, leave out lines 18 and 19 and insert (" to section 12 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971; ").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 17; and, if it is convenient to the House I should like to take with it Amendment No. 18. These Amendments, like those which I hope to move later, are necessary in order to relate this Bill to the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971, a consolidation measure which received the Royal Assent only last week. These Amendments might have been moved at the Committee stage but it had not by that time received the Second Reading in another place. Subsection (5) of Clause 28 of the Fire Precautions Bill as at present drafted is in terms of the older Scottish rent legislation. The Amendments repeat the same provisions as are already in the Bill in terms of the new 1971 Act.

The Rent (Scotland) Act 1971 does not come into operation until three months after it is passed; that is, until August 12, 1971. During this transitional period the old Statutes will remain in force. The references to them in the Fire Precautions Bill are maintained by the proviso which is contained in the latter part of the Amendments. My Lords, I beg to move.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend, if it is the case that all the rest of the Amendments are simply consequential and transitional and result out of the consolidation Act now becoming law, whether it might be possible to move them en bloc?


My Lords, it is certainly true that they are consequential, but I felt it only right to the House to try to explain the Amendments in a little greater detail.


My Lords, I would certainly have no objection if the noble Baroness wished to move the Amendments en bloc. I have previously been in the position she is in, of having to move Amendments because another Bill has become an Act in the interval, and having to follow on by amending the Act which has just been passed in order to make the two measures agree. I am quite willing to he as helpful as possible so that the noble Baroness does not feel any embarrassment at all.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I will put the current Amendment separately, and the rest en bloc.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move the remaining Amendments, Nos. 18 to 22 inclusive.

Amendments moved—

Page 31, leave out lines 21 and 22 and insert— (" 133(1) of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971; (d) subsection (4) shall be omitted:

Provided that until the said Act of 1971 comes into force this subsection shall have effect as if in paragraph (b) for the reference to section 12 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971 there were substituted a reference to sections 15(1) and 16(2) of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act 1920, and in paragraph (c) for the reference to section 133(1) of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971 there were substituted a reference to section 39(I) of the Housing (Repairs and Rents) (Scotland) Act 1954.")

Clause 34, page 34, line 32, leave out (" and")

Clause 34,page 34,line 33, after (" effect") insert (" until the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971 comes into force")

Clause 34,page 34,line 36, at end insert ("; and the provisions of Part III of that Schedule shall have effect after the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971 comes into force for purposes of the modification, in connection with certain provisions of this Act, of the said Act of 1971.")

In the Schedule, page 48, line 37, at end insert—