HL Deb 06 February 1985 vol 459 cc1062-3

2.57 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to encourage those who use gas appliances to employ only trained and qualified personnel for their installation.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1984 prohibit any person, paid or unpaid, from working with gas unless he is competent. The Health and Safety Executive will be publishing a leaflet aimed at householders and all who use gas, drawing attention to the main points of the regulations and stressing that only people with adequate technical knowledge and experience of the type of work may work with gas.

The British Gas Corporation's own publicity campaigns also emphasise that only competent people shall install or service appliances or systems. Their craftsmen are all trained.

The Confederation of Gas Installers maintains a register of over 10,000 installers, approved to its standards of competence. This scheme is widely publicised, including by the British Gas Corporation.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for his helpful reply. The figures he has given are encouraging. Is he aware that, despite what he has said and despite the fact that installers are trained for the work they are supposed to carry out, there are a great number of people who not only instal their own appliances, but also change their appliances, thereby perhaps causing explosions?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the new regulations have extended a specific statutory requirement of competence to personnel working on all types of gas fitting work. Previously a statutory requirement of competence existed only for work with the installation of pipes and appliances. I think that we need to see how the regulations now work out in practice.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his helpful reply, but may I ask him two questions? In regard to the application of the regulations, is it not a fact that it can be found out that they have been breached only after the event, when perhaps somebody has been killed? Is it still the Government's intention, as was made clear during the progress of the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill through this House in 1982, to introduce a stringent and strict licensing scheme for gas installers, as is the case in the United States, Canada and many of our European neighbours? Is it still the Government's intention at some stage to bring in such a licensing system?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, as I said, I think that the regulations are a step forward. They extend far more widely than the previous regulations and, notwith standing the noble Lord's comments, we must see how they work out in practice. In reply to his specific second question, I would say that licensing is one option for control; but as the 1984 regulations have come into effect only recently—indeed, part of them come into effect only during this month—we need to assess their effect before taking any further view on licensing.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, does the Minister accept that sometimes the safety aspect of this matter is carried just a little far? For example, this week in my own little flat I needed to have a small asbestos pad placed at the back of the gas fire. I went to the showroom to try to buy it and was told that I could not fit it myself but that it had to be fitted by a qualified gas engineer. He arrived a few days later. I got the bill this morning, which was for £1.15 for the little asbestos pad and £18 for five minutes' work by the qualified engineer. I think this is an aspect which should be looked into as well.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think nonetheless that the noble Lord would agree with probably all other noble Lords in the House that qualifications are desirable. So far as the bill which reached the noble Lord is concerned, I wish him the best of luck with that.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, are the gas industry running into some trouble? They seem to be digging up the streets all over London at the present moment.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think that that falls a little wide of the original Question.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister what publicity will be given to the regulations which I understand are coming into force this month?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, they will be given wide publicity through the Department of Employment and the Health and Safety Commission and Executive.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, could they not be asked to include that with the bill once or twice, so that everybody is aware of it in the easiest possible way?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I shall draw that interesting suggestion to the attention of my right honourable friend.