HC Deb 15 December 1986 vol 107 cc390-1W
Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further steps he has taken in the light of his statement on 3 July about the fire at Hampton Court palace on 31 March; and if he will make another statement.

Mr. Ridley

The damaged part of the building has been made safe and weatherproof. The Property Services Agency has been working in close co-operation with English Heritage and other experts to rescue as much as possible from the debris, and to protect or remove all artifacts which can be saved and restored, including nearly all the Grinling Gibbons carvings which will be repaired separately. Work is progressing on the detailed plans for re-building and restoration. Tenders for the main contract will be sought towards the end of 1987. Meanwhile, work on the restoration of stonework damaged in the fire has already started. The palace is open to the public, who can visit the great majority of the public rooms.

Work has been proceeding as speedily as practicable to ensure that the lessons learned with regard to autornatic fire detection systems are put to good effect in protecting the palace, and other historic buildings, against the possibility of further such accidents.

Sir John Garlick, in his report which was the subject of my statement on 3 July, recommended a number of technical improvements to the existing automatic fire detection system which he considered would achieve the most immediate improvement in security against fire. All the control panels have now been modified in accordance with these recommendations so that switches cannot be left in the 'reset' condition; lockable covers have been installed; and a memory facility has been incorporated. Work is either completed or in hand on all other recommended improvements.

I have received further detailed advice from my officials on the design, installation, and commissioning of the automatic fire detection system at Hampton Court palace.

This has confirmed that the design specification was consistent with the relevant British standards at the time. It is now evident that the problems of handing over a system of this size and novel technical development were under-estimated and the procedures were not sufficiently clear. The lessons we have learned will be applied at Hampton Court and at other buildings for which my Department is responsible.

Sir John Garlick also recommended that there should be more effective fire drills involving the fire brigade and the staff responsible for the supervision and maintenance of the palace. Following further discussions with the fire brigade, this recommendation has been fully implemented. Improved fire drills have already taken place and arrangements have been made for more effective training, including the provision of more comprehensive advice on the efficient operation of the automatic fire detection system.

Sir John Garlick's recommendation that there should be an operational audit to check technical systems of this kind in operation after installation is of more general relevance. The Property Services Agency is currently undertaking such checks of the automatic fire detection systems installed in other buildings on the Government's estate, and considering whether such systems should be installed in buildings which have none at present.

Copies of Sir John Garlick's report have also been sent to other interested bodies, including English Heritage, the Historic Houses Association and the National Trust, so that they can consider its relevance to them.

In addition to his more technical recommendations, Sir John Garlick made a number of recommendations for improving management arrangements within Hampton Court palace, and suggested that consideration should be given to merging the custody guards and warders who are presently employed by the Property Services Agency and by DOE (Central) respectively. As a first step, the operational instructions to the custody staff and other staff are being thoroughly revised.

I have also studied the conclusions and recommendations in the Garlick report relating to wider issues of responsibility and accountability, and I am considering further the scope for closer co-operation between those concerned with the management of the palace.