Mr. Deputy Speaker : The subject for debate is fire safety. I advise the House that the Adjournment debate is a Government debate, but it will be appropriate for the 11th report of the Regulatory Reform Committee, Session 200304, to be taken into account. That Committee was, and still is, chaired with distinction by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). I call the Minister to open the debate.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Phil Hope) : I am delighted that we have secured this debate on fire safety. I welcome the opportunity to debate that important subject and am glad that there are so many hon. Members here to consider all the issues.
In the light of our proposals to reform fire safety law, the Regulatory Reform Committee, in its 11th report of the 200304 Session, asked for a debate on fire safety in the context of fire and rescue service reform. I echo your comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the Committee will welcome this further opportunity to examine our proposals. Indeed, to help it, we have sent a draft of our response to its report.
Latest statistics show that there were 284 accidental fire deaths in dwellings in 200304 and some 8,200 injuries. The main cause was the careless handling of smoking materials. In other premises, there were 18 deaths and 920 injuries. Many of those fire deaths were preventable. That is why fire and safety service reform is so important.
In recognition of that, the Government have set targets that will, from 1 April, be formally incorporated in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's public service agreement with the Chancellor. Our national target is to reduce by 20 per cent. the number of accidental fire-related deaths in the home by 2010, with no local fire and rescue authority having a fatality rate, from accidental fires in the home, that is more than one and a quarter times the national average. An element of the target does relate to arson, which I will deal with later.
The national house fire death trend is down from its peak in 199798, when 385 accidental dwelling fire deaths and some 10,200 injuries were recorded. In commercial premises, too, accidental fire deaths are down from a peak in 200203 of 26 deaths, and injuries are down from a peak in 199697 of 1,300 injuries. Clearly, however, there is still much to do. Prevention is
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obviously the key, as many people die before fire and rescue service personnel are called out. The new legislative framework recognises that. Not only are we reforming fire safety law as it applies to business through the regulatory reform order, but the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 places fire prevention at its heart. The promotion of fire safety is now a core duty of fire and rescue authorities.
Changes in behaviour are vital. Simple measures taken by households, such as smoke alarm installation and regular smoke alarm maintenance, will help to reduce the number of fire deaths and injuries. Smoke alarm ownership now stands at around 80 per cent. compared to only 8 per cent. in 1988. That is partly due to regular publicity and television campaigns sponsored by the ODPM.
Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): On the subject of smoke alarms, how satisfied is the Minister that the alarms have working batteries in them? Is it not important to convince people that they should go for electrically wired smoke alarms, rather than battery-operated ones?
Phil Hope : My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. My very next point was that we need not only to increase ownership, particularly among the most vulnerable, but to ensure that existing smoke alarms are fully functioning. Later I will talk about some campaigns that the Department is running, one of which is called "Push the Button! Not your Luck". That is all about testing smoke alarms to ensure that they contain a working battery. As we know, families may, stupidly, take the batteries out to put into toys, particularly at Christmas, when there is greater vulnerability, and not replace them. His point about the hard wiring of smoke alarms, which he knows is part of the building regulationsevery new house has to have a fully-wired smoke alarmgoes some way to addressing the issue.
Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): The Minister will be aware that recent regulations introduced by his Department make it more difficult for householders to carry out modest electrical wiring installations in their own homes. Indeed, they require them to hire external contractors or, alternatively, to pay an inspection fee to the local authority. Does he not think that that is likely to deter householders, especially the poorest, from hard wiring smoke alarms?
Phil Hope : The hon. Gentleman is referring to the part P of the building regulations, which have recently been introduced and come fully into force on 1 April. There is a transitional period at present. His assertion is utterly wrong.
Part P provides new safety measures. If a person is putting new wiring into, say, a kitchen or a bathroom or outdoorssomewhere where there is waterwe recommend that they use a qualified person, somebody with a competent person certificate. If they wish to do the work themselves, they can. They can use their neighbour, who might be an amateur electrician or somebody who puts in kitchens. We are simply saying that, under the new regulations, they must have the work checked by the local authority building control to
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make sure that it has been done safely. In that way, we will reduce the number of deaths and injuries not only from electrocution but from fires created by faulty electrical installations, particularly in high-risk areas such as kitchens, bathrooms and outdoors.
Phil Hope : The point about the part P regulations is that any additional wiring put into a householda brand new circuitshould be done by a competent person to ensure that it is done safely. It can be done by somebody who is not competent, although I do not recommend that it is, but that person must inform the local authority and have the work checked to make sure that it has been done properly and safely. The hon. Gentleman, like others, would not want faulty electrical installations to give rise to even more deaths and injuries. He will want to do something to reduce them.
Andrew Bennett : Does the Minister accept that the part P regulations should not apply to smoke alarms, because they should not be installed in a kitchen or a bathroom, where they can go off, giving false alarms? When people get false alarms, the natural thing is to take the battery out and stop the alarm working. Smoke alarms should go to the point closest to the kitchen but outside it.
Phil Hope : That was a helpful intervention. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We recommend that smoke alarms be fitted near to those points. I would go further and say that not only should there be one downstairs but, in multiple-floor housing, one upstairs as well, so that there is early warning if a fire breaks out. The installation of working smoke alarms has the greatest chance of preventing deaths, most of which occur late at night. Unfortunately, people are often already dead before the fire rescue service turns up, because they have died from smoke inhalation.
Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West) (Lab/Co-op): The Regulatory Reform Committee has not spent much time on this point, but, as it has been raised, I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister answered a question about small operators doing small jobs, which they can apparently continue to do under the regulations. Is he satisfied that local authorities will be able to cope with the requests from small businesses doing small jobs to certify their work and will a fee be involved?
First, if somebody adds, say, an extra socket to a line, excluding kitchens and bathrooms, where there is extra risk, they do not need to notify the local authority or use a competent person. Such minor alterations and repairs are not notifiable, so a large majority of the jobs that ordinary householders do in their own home are not touched by the regulations.
If householders are putting in a new circuit throughout their house, or something of that kind, they should use a competent person, or notify the local building authority, so that the authority can come in and check that it has been done safely, the householder and their family are safe and those who rent or buy the house subsequently can rely on its safety.
An electrician who does regular work during the year will join a competent persons' scheme. That will require a fee of about £300 per year depending on the nature of the work. Given that the electrician is doing hundreds of jobs every year, that cost is marginal to total annual earnings. If the person is doing a one-off job as an electrician, they can notify the local building authority. The local authority's building control inspector will then inspect and charge a fee, the level of which will depend on the amount of work. If it is a small and simple piece of work, it will require less of an inspection, so less work will be involved than in, say, inspecting the wiring of an entire house. Therefore, the fee set by local authorities will be affordable and done per item if the person undertaking the work is not a competent person. I hope that that clarifies the position.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Does the Minister agree that such regulation is important? The kitchen and the bathroom are two rooms in which people tend to do their own work, putting up new kitchen units, wall cupboards, shower units or whatever. There is a high risk in those areas. Unless cables are properly buried at the right depth in the wall and run vertically rather than diagonally or horizontally, those cables can be breached.
I bring to hon. Members' attention a tragic case that took place last year. A diagonal wire was put up with a magnetic knife rack. The screw from the end of the knife rack touched the wire for a number of years. It took the coating off the cable. A lady who was put something away from a dishwasher put her hand on the knife rack while touching the dishwasher and died of electrocution. She was the daughter of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge).
Phil Hope : The hon. Gentleman gives a good example of how tragedy can strike. While I do not want to go into the specifics of that case, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) has been directly involved with the Department in promoting the new part P regulations.
The reason that we are introducing the regulations is that 10 deaths and 750 injuries a year result directly from faulty installation and fixed electrical wiring in places such as kitchens and bathrooms. The regulations allow individuals to do the work but insist that they have it checked to ensure that it is done safely. That is an entirely sensible measure. A full regulatory impact assessment was done on the part P building regulations. The measures that we are taking to prevent people dying
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from electrocution or fire from faulty electrical wiring are absolutely right and sensible. I know that the rest of the country believes that they are the right way forward.
Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon) (Lab): I appreciate the Minister's point and am keen to avoid such tragedies. Given that kitchens are often a source of fire, does he not want to promote smoke alarms for kitchens with hush buttons, so that, if someone sees the toast burning, they can press the hush button and carry on? They can keep their smoke alarm and keep themselves protected without having the annoyance of the alarm going off all the time.
Phil Hope : A number of innovative approaches to community fire safety are being developed. My hon. Friend has named one. I will say something later about a different fire alarm that is suitable for houses with deaf people in, where light is obviously the key way of alerting someone who is unable to hear a fire alarm going off.
Often, automatic fire alarms in public buildings are responded to as a result of people cooking toast, which sets the alarm off. We need to find ways of dealing with those circumstances, so that we prevent fires and we make a response in the most efficient way that will reduce the number of fires.
Mr. Hammond : I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I do not claim to be an expert on the part P regulations. To go back to where we started, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) suggested that it would be good to encourage people to hard wire smoke alarms. Accepting that smoke alarms should not be in kitchens or bathrooms, will the Minister confirm that hard wiring one outside a kitchen or a bathroom would not give rise to the need to pay a building regulations inspection fee? If he can give that assurance, we have closed this little loop.
Phil Hope : The hon. Gentleman does not seem to appreciate that the hard wiring of smoke alarms in new properties covered by the regulations will be undertaken by people who are competent. Those competent persons are qualified under the various regulations and approved by the competent persons' scheme to do precisely that. Because the costs are spread out over the whole year, they are marginal. I do not believe that the cost of the competent persons scheme is any barrier whatsoever to the fitting of 10-year smoke alarms in new properties, any more than are the building regulations we have at the moment.
Last year, the Department announced a four-year, £25 million fire prevention initiative in support of such measures. Over 1 million vulnerable households are to be offered help and advice to reduce the risk of fire in the home, backed up by the installation of free 10-year smoke alarms. Local fire and rescue services have already purchased several thousand of those smoke alarms, and are identifying at-risk households in their area to offer free installation.
Some of the work on smoke alarms is innovative. The Cheshire fire and rescue service, in conjunction with the Deaf Support Network, have identified over 250 households which require smoke alarms tailored for
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deaf and hard of hearing persons. I am pleased to say that Cheshire will start its installation programme later this monthsomething I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be particularly pleased about.
To help establish and to develop community fire safety programmes more generally, some 26 fire and rescue authoritiesthose with above average accidental fire death ratesare receiving funding amounting to some £400 million over three years from the Government's community fire safety innovation fund to support their local initiatives. It is no surprise that that funding has been well received. It pump primes fire and rescue services to shift their efforts towards fire safety.
Last year, Cheshire ran a safer Cheshire project to cold call 40,000 homes in vulnerable areas to offer free home fire safety checks. Humberside fire and rescue service has targeted funding at fire safety advice to children at key stages 1 to 3, with appropriate materials. The Department is evaluating the work of those fire and rescue services in receipt last year and this year of community fire service innovation fund money to establish the range and nature of activities undertaken, and to develop good practice models in community fire safety projects. Once we have established good practice, that can be rolled out to other fire and rescue services across the country.
Ms Drown : I would be grateful if the Minister told me whether that funding can also be used for fire suppression methods. If that is the case, what is the Government's view on some of the newer methods, such as water mist systems and sprinklers? I ask because the Wiltshire fire service was one of the services that introduced sprinklers into social housing, and a recent fire in one such houseit had spread from outsidedid minimal damage. The fire service reported to me how glad it was that sprinklers were there, because otherwise there could have been extensive damage and, for all we know, loss of life.
Phil Hope : Each fire and rescue authority is looking at the needs of its own area and determining what priority it should give to home fire safety risk assessments or to spending money on more smoke alarms. I know, for example, that the Merseyside fire service has issued many thousands of free smoke alarms, so its priority might be in another area. Whether a fire suppression method might be something that an individual fire and rescue authority wants to look at is a matter for that authority.
I will be speaking about sprinklers as a prevention method later. Obviously, the issue of cost and how many sprinklers could fit into a particular household with the money we are making available would be matters for those local authorities.
In addition to those funding streams, the Government's National Community Fire Safety Centre's national campaigns raise the profile of fire safety through the media to highlight our core message of prevention, detection and escape. This year, the centre will run its regular smoke alarm maintenance campaign, which focuses on that simple message about checking batteries once a week and replacing them once a year.
Another example of the fire safety message reaching the public was a recent partnership between Tyne and Wear fire and rescue service and Metro Radio and
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Magic 1152. The "Dying for Chips" fire safety advertisement brought home the importance of safe cooking. I am sure that hon. Members will have seen the fire and rescue services taking around their demonstration van about how a chip pan fire can start and how it can quickly be dealt with. Such messages are important in reducing the risk of death and injuries and preventing fires in the first place. The advert won the London International Advertising Award for "Best Station-Produced Radio and Public Service Commercial", beating off competition from the United States and Germany.
I turn now to arson. Our target is to reduce the number of deliberate fires by 10 per cent. by 2010. More than half of the primary fires attended by the fire and rescue services are started deliberately and many of them involve abandoned vehicles. Deliberate fire setting represents a significant drain on fire and rescue authority resources. Many local authorities now have good measures in place to tackle abandoned vehicles. I am pleased to say that the number of deliberate vehicle fires attended by the fire and rescue service in England in the year ending March 2004 fell by 13 per cent., after a long and frightening upward trend.
The Government have introduced new regulations enabling vehicles of no value, which comprise the majority of abandoned vehicles, to be removed by local councils after 24 hours. Other new powers enable local authorities to clamp and to remove unlicensed vehicles and to tighten vehicle registration procedures, so that those who dump cars can be tracked down and prosecuted.
The recent publication of the fire and rescue service national framework enhances our commitment to fire prevention, and it will be the subject of a further debate in the House next week. It sets out the Government's priorities and objectives for the fire and rescue service and what fire and rescue authorities should do to achieve them.
The national framework also sets out the support that the Government will provide. We will provide strategic direction while ensuring that authorities continue to make local decisions. The framework gives details about integrated risk management plans, which fire and rescue services are required to produce and to maintain. As part of their IRMP, they must include details for enforcing fire safety legislation in their area, making use of the risk-based inspection guidance that we have issued to them.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend the Minister is making a good case for the importance of prevention. Some of us who debated the Fire and Rescue Services Bill know that the regionalisation of some services, particularly fire control, had implications. Before we go any further, can we possibly have the publication of the full business case behind the view that it is cheaper and better to provide fire control services at a regional rather than a local level? He knows that that debate is taking place in my
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own authority in Gloucestershire. We are somewhat hamstrung by not knowing the full figures, because they will impact on how the fire service is organised.
Phil Hope : My hon. Friend is more than welcome to access all the material presented. Unfortunately, he cannot have the material that for commercial reasons must remain confidential. The outline business case has been made available to the chairs of fire and rescue authorities, in order that people can understand the whole case. I will make sure that my hon. Friend gets the full seminar presentation, because it made clear how having regional control centres will make for a more effective service. Any resources saved can be put back into fire safety in the way that he and I would like to see.
The case made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is irrefutable. We are going forward with a clear timetable and by full consultation with all relevant bodies. The delivery of regional call centres will improve response and effectiveness, while saving resources that can then be redeployed. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) that we are well aware of the concerns voiced by him and others who have made representations, but the case is strongI will not repeat the history of it nowfor moving in the direction that we are taking.
I emphasise that the fire and rescue services must include in their integrated risk management plans details for enforcing fire safety legislation in their areas, making use of the risk-based inspection guidance that we have issued to them. Taken together, all of that can be used to advance the prevention and risk-based approach introduced by the 2004 Act.
The Audit Commission is implementing comprehensive performance assessment plans for English fire and rescue authorities. The assessment will test the progress and capability of each authority in delivering a modern fire and rescue service and in meeting local community needs.
It is not only legislation that is directly related to the fire service that has an impact on fire safety. Early in 2004, the Government began a fundamental review of the fire safety aspects of the building regulations and the supporting document, approved document B. The review is considering fire safety in all types of buildings, including residential premises, schools and warehouses, and will draw on the findings of recent research and experiences. We expect to publish a revised draft of the document for consultation in the spring. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) that the part B regulations in particular will consider the role that sprinklers might play in a package of measures for prevention and risk reduction.
Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab): While he is on the subject, will the Minister clarify the role of the Department for Education and Skills in respect of
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sprinklers in schools, and tell us how any announcements that it may make will relate to the announcement that he will make in the spring?
Phil Hope : Indeed. My hon. Friend has pressed me and other colleagues hard on this matter. He is right that the installation of sprinklers in schools is being considered by the DFES, which has the lead on that issue. We understand that it will shortly issue new guidancebuilding bulletin 100, for the insiders who need to know the technical detailswhich will specifically address the issue of designing against and managing the risk of fire in schools. The part B document that we will publish later this year, hopefully in spring, will be cross-referenced with that guidance, so that the two go hand in glove.
Ms Drown : On the issue of schools, it has been interesting to get feedback from the fire service in Wiltshire. When it approaches schools that are being built under the private finance initiative in the county and asks, "What are your responsibilities if part or all of the school burns down? You need to replace the school, or parts of it, don't you?", the debate quickly moves on to sprinklers. Straight away, all PFI schools in Wiltshire install them. They are doing the risk assessment. I hope that those lessons might be learned by the non-PFI schools.
Phil Hope : That is helpful. Wiltshire fire and rescue service does an excellent job with fire safety measures, and I am delighted to hear about the initiatives that my hon. Friend describes. All that evidence and experience is being fed into the part B review and the DFES guidance, which will be issued shortly. We want to draw on best practice.
As well as the areas that I have described, the Government are, where appropriate, regulating to deal with fire risk in residential premises. The Housing Act 2004, which was given Royal Assent in November, replaces the housing fitness standard and the houses in multiple occupation fire safety legislation with the new housing health and safety rating system.
The last piece of the jigsaw that I will describemy hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) will be glad to hear me get to thisis the regulatory reform order, which focuses mainly on non-domestic premises, and covers the common parts of purpose-built flats and houses in multiple occupation. Existing fire safety law covering non-domestic premises has developed over many years, often in response to tragic fires in which large numbers of people lost their lives.
Most general fire safety legislation addresses the consequences of fire by requiring fire precautions, mainly making provision for safe escape in case of fire. However, the existing regimes do not generally address the problem of fire itself, or seek to prevent fires from occurring. The approach that we have taken in the
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regulatory reform order has been to seek ways to address the problem of fire at source. Prevention of fire reduces the likelihood of people being harmed and has a beneficial effect in other areas, such as the damage caused. We are carrying through the old adage that "Prevention is better than cure". I think that hon. Members will agree that that is appropriate.
Numerous pieces of legislation currently place fire safety requirements on the owners and occupiers of premises. Those legislative measures overlap and cause confusion to many businesses. For that reason, we believe that the regulatory reform order presents a good opportunity to bring as much fire safety law as possible into one piece of legislation. It has been a huge task. We appreciate the frustration from some quarters that the order is not yet in force. However, it is our duty to ensure that the legislation is workable and correct and that the guidance to support the order is ready.
Subject to the ironing out of several technical points, the order will shortly go back before the Regulatory Reform Committee and the equivalent Committee in another place for its second period of parliamentary scrutiny.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): On the issue of the technical aspects of the regulatory reform order, I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that, in article 31, entitled "Prohibition notices", the definition of houses in multiple occupation refers to the Housing Act 1985. Of course, the Housing Act 2004 has been passed. I assume that he will wish to have a look at how the order relates to the Housing Acts when he takes it back to the House. As I am sure he is aware, the 2004 Act expands the definition of a house in multiple occupation. Indeed, it allows local authorities to engage in licensing activities.
Phil Hope : My hon. Friend has put his finger on an important point. That is one of the technical points that we have had to take account of during the passage of the regulatory reform order. I am glad to be able to tell him that it has been amended to take account of the Housing Act 2004. That is the kind of technical point that we need to keep in our sights, so that the order is as accurate, up to date and useful as possible.
Mr. Hammond : Will the Minister clarify the procedure for an order under the Regulatory Reform Act 2001? He said that the order would now go back to the Select Committee for a second period of scrutiny. Will it then be reviewed by a Committee of the House, in the way that any other statutory instrument would be? In other words, will the rest of us have any further opportunity to scrutinise it?
Phil Hope : The hon. Gentleman asks me about parliamentary procedure. He will be glad to know that, unlike him, I have been focusing on the substance of the debate about regulatory reform orders rather than the processes. However, I will ensure that he gets a full answer to the question that he has raised.
Phil Hope : I was going to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley. My understanding is that the
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order will go back to the Committee that he chairs, will be given a thorough review on the second scrutiny by members of all parties and will come back to the House.
Mr. Pike : It will be considered by my Committee and we will issue a report. The order will not be debatable on the Floor of the House unless my Committee divides. It will be decided forthwith. I will explain why my Committee recommended that we have this debate when I make my speech, assuming that I will be called.
We believe that it is right that the person in control of a premises where people go to work or visit should accept responsibility for the safety of those people. It is right that we should seek to prevent fires from occurring, and to minimise the effect of those that do occur. Fire prevention should be of equal importance to ensuring safe escape. We are seeking not to detract from the role that fire precautions play, but to enhance the role of fire prevention.
The flexibility of the new regime will allow fire safety solutions to be tailored to the circumstances of each business. Through that and through the reduction in the burden of overlapping and conflicting legislation, we can reduce red tape and costs for business, as well as reduce the cost of fire and the deaths, damage and injury that it causes. We can not just maintain existing protections but, through reducing the risk of fire, enhance them. That is a high aspiration. I believe that it is achievable, as I am sure my hon. Friends do, but it is taking time and I hope that it is worth the time and effort.
The Committee's initial report on the order expressed concern that the regime of IRMPs required by the national framework might be simply an administrative tool, and insufficient to ensure that the fire and rescue services enforced the regulatory reform order properly. I assure hon. Members that the national framework has sufficient legislative back-up to ensure that the new fire safety regime works better than the current arrangements.
The RRO will place duties on businesses and fire and rescue authorities to enforce its provisions for inspection and appropriate action where shortcomings are found. The Fire and Rescue Service Act 2004 gives the Secretary of State the powers to ensure that the local service is in no doubt about what is required of it. We have used those powers to require a local authority to include a risk-based inspection regime in its IRMP. Such a regime must form an integral part of the overall strategy for the protection of the community. If inspection or evidence showed that an authority was putting lives at risk by failing to establish a proper enforcement regime, the Act gives us the power to direct it, although it would only be as a last resort.
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The measures I have mentioned, together with recognition of the wider role of the fire service in dealing with accidents and emergencies that are not fire-related, go a long way to creating a modern prevention-based fire service.
Andrew Bennett : I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend. I hoped he might say something about candles. When the Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister looked at the fire services, I was surprised to hear from one of the chief fire officers that he believed that candles were a growing threat. They are used in a lot of religious festivities and, increasingly, in the home. A candle coming into contact with someone's clothes can cause serious problems.
Phil Hope : My hon. Friend is right to emphasise candles as a cause of deaths and injuries from fire in many homes. The fire and rescue authorities I have visited have shown me many examples of that. For instance, leaving those little tea-lights lit on top of a television can cause it to melt, or even explode. Anyone who has been through a demonstration of a "flash-over" will know that it is terrifying. Within seconds, what seems to be a small fire in the corner can engulf a whole room in an inferno of flame.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the risk from candles at celebratory events. I was pleased to be in north London at Diwali to emphasise the importance of the safe use of candles at a time of religious celebration. The same is true at Christmas, when many people have candles in their home. People buy candles to put in children's bedrooms. We should ensure that ordinary safety activities such as blowing out a candle before going to sleep, and not leaving a lit candle in a room unattended, are understood. Many of the fire safety messages that children are now being taught in school focus specifically on those activities.
Jim Knight : To add to my hon. Friend's list, there was a tragic fatal fire in my constituency following Halloween, after night-lights were left burning inside pumpkins overnight. The details of the cause are yet to come through, but it is clear that Halloween is another festival we should watch out for.
Phil Hope : Absolutely. That is why we do not just come out with the fire safety messages at one time of the year. The message needs to come out repeatedly, because we need to heighten awareness. I have been to many classrooms and watched some of the excellent work that the fire and rescue authority staff do there. The children fully understand their message and go home as little fire safety ambassadors. As a result, not only they but their older brothers and sisters, their parents and their grandparents will behave more safely.
Phil Hope : That might be a helpful contribution. I am sure that candle manufacturers are aware of the risks that their products might pose for people who misuse them and that they are always mindful of the issue of safety advice.
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To conclude, our reform of fire safety legislation represents the biggest change in 30 years, and the transformation of the fire and rescue service is the biggest such change for more than half a century. We are convinced that the way to save lives is to embed the risk-based approach in all activities, be it the use of candles or the use of smoke alarms. We can do that by requiring businesses to undertake and to act on risk assessments and by ensuring that our fire services have enough resources, share good practice and use the best practice available. We have introduced a comprehensive package of reforms, which is designed to drive down fire deaths and injuries and to create a modern, prevention-based fire and rescue service fit for the 21st century.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in the debate. It may be helpful if I first outline the responsibilities of the Regulatory Reform Committee, because I am sure that most hon. Members do not know how it functions.
I have served on the Committee since it was established in 1994 in accordance with the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, which was passed by the Conservative Government. At first, the Deregulation Committee, as it was, had a Conservative Chairman. It carried on after the 1997 election, but after the passing of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, which was completed just before the 2001 general election, it changed its name to the Regulatory Reform Committee.
There are two elements to the Committee's procedure. One applies when the Government lay a proposal before us. In that case, we have longer to look at the proposal. We can take evidence and have the Minister before us. It all depends how simple or complex the proposal is. The other element applies where the Government have considered a report by the Committee; they can then introduce a proposal.
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) asked about debate in the House. The proposal can be debated in the House only if the Committee divides on it, although there has been a Division on only one occasion, and that was on the check-off provisions. In such cases, there can be a debate in the House for half an hour. If the Committee says no and the Government still go ahead, there can be a debate in the House for an hour and a half. However, that has never happened. In fact, in such cases, the Government have withdrawn their proposal as a result of the evidence taken by the Committee.
Mr. Hammond : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his clarification of how the system works, but is he not just a little concerned that when the statutory instrument goes down the regulatory reform route, rather than the conventional route, the usual suspectsthose of us who deal regularly with issues relating to fire, and who will be in Standing Committee next week debating the national frameworkdo not have an opportunity to look at these weighty and important matters? The Committee has done an excellent job, as I shall say in a moment, but it seems that that arrangement has slightly disjoined this particular regulation from the overall framework.
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Mr. Pike : There was considerable opposition when the Conservative Government passed the original Act, and the Labour Government amended it. However, the arrangement is not a fast track; it is a second track, and there is full scrutiny. In all fairness, however, I must say that the participation of Conservative members of the Committee is almost negligible. I have raised the point in the House on one or two occasions and expressed concern that hon. Members who have been appointed to the Committee have not come along. That is not my responsibility. It is not the most exciting Committee for the purposes of attracting hon. Members to serve on it, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, having heard me say so on other Committees on which we have served. The procedure, however, exists; it is agreed by Act of Parliament and we must work with it. I must recognise that my role is to take an objective view as the Committee works within the powers laid down by the Act.
Mr. Pike : I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, which is true. If some of the items that we deal with were tagged on to a Bill in a clause, they would receive no consideration, but we can take evidence and consider them in detail. They are given greater scrutiny by a limited number of people, which I think is the point that the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) was making. It was not in my power to determine that; we must work within the Act of Parliament.
Richard Younger-Ross : I tend rather to concur with the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge. If the Committee should divide on the matter it might find, because a lot of work has been done on fire and rescue in recent months, and because we debate the framework next week, that its response was well received by hon. Members who wanted further to examine the provision in the House.
Mr. Pike : It is not for me to decide whether the Committee should artificially divide to permit such a debate, but I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. We have considered that on one or two occasions, although we have never done so. The option exists; if we wanted to provide for a half-hour debate in the House we could, in theory, do that.
The only time in my 22 years in the House that I ever drew a high place in the private Member's Bill ballot I introduced a Bill on fire prevention, which unfortunately was prevented from making progress by the usual suspects on the Conservative Benches, who traditionally used to block private Member's Bills on a Friday. I am sure that I do not have to name them, because everyone knows who I mean.
The Committee called for this debate, in paragraph 58 of our report, because the proposal was the biggest that we had ever had before us, whether as the Deregulation Committee or under our present title. The Government proposal contains 52 articles and five schedules, so it is quite substantial. It would amend or repeal 79 separate items of legislation.
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We held two evidence sessions in June 2004 with experts including the Fire Brigades Union; the Minister was our final witness and that evidence session was very useful. The Committee thought it appropriate to deal with the proposal under the regulatory reform order procedureand recommended thatbut because of its scale we thought that there should be an opportunity for more Members of the House to debate it. We therefore suggested that it should be debated in Westminster Hall, which we thought the most appropriate venue, or in the Chamber, because that would in theory provide every hon. Member with the opportunity to take part in a debate, time permitting. The Government responded positively to that suggestion, which is why we are here this afternoon. We should commend the Minister for that.
The order is intended to bring about a thoroughgoing consolidation of existing legislation on fire safety, thereby reducing the regulatory burdens on business caused by the overlap of current multiple fire-safety ratings and their related enforcement authorities. The order will replace the existing legislation in England and Wales and, for the first time, establish a single regulatory regime for fire safety in all non-domestic premises, based on the principle of risk assessment and with a single enforcement authority in each area with responsibility for fire safety. The Committee also said that Scotland should, if possible, be dealt with according to a similar timetable and with a parallel arrangement. That way we can have the same arrangements at the same timeas near as possiblein England, Scotland and Wales.
Article 9 of the order introduces the principle of risk assessment which underlies the Government's intended future approach to fire safety legislation. That requires that in respect of all premises covered by the order:
The order defines the terms in the following ways. We raise the question of "premises", which is to say any place, including any workplace, any vehicle, vessel, aircraft or hovercraft; any installation on land, including the foreshore and other land intermittently covered by water, and any other installation; and any tent or moveable structure. Obviously we believe that the Government need to address those points, and it has to be clearly understood exactly what is being covered there.
"Responsible persons" means any employer with a control of a workplace, any other person with that responsibility or in any other case the owner of the premises. Again, the order is making an important point. "Relevant persons" is any person who is lawfully on the premises or any person in the vicinity who is at risk from a fire on the premises.
Ms Drown : My hon. Friend is emphasising, I believe, the need for further guidance on some of these issues. An issue that has been raised with me is large, single-storey premises. New premises of that sort have to have
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sprinklers, but existing ones do not, and the responsible person might have to make a judgment about that. Guidance to encourage the use of sprinklers in those large buildings would be appreciated by the fire service. Firefighters are relevant persons, so this may be an issue of protecting them in the event of a fire.
Mr. Pike : My hon. Friend makes a valid point. It is indeed the reason we wanted to have this debate today. The Government and the Secretary of State will be able to consider the points made today before they make their proposals. My Committee will also consider any points raised; hopefully the Government will have addressed them. I am going to list the particular points that the Committee said we needed guidance on. My hon. Friend will find that the point she just raised is covered there. Her query is perfectly valid because these issues are important.
Everybody in this Room has the same objective: we want to reduce the risk of fire, and the risk of injury and loss of life as a result of fire as far as possible by taking necessary steps for protection. We have no difference with the Government, and this is not a political issue; we all have the same objective. It is just a matter of making sure that we get it right.
What are we asking of the Government? First, that the Secretary of State should be required to provide guidance to responsible persons and to enforcing authorities as to what the words "where necessary" mean in articles 13 and 14 of the draft order. That was one of the items. Secondly, that the draft order should be amended to provide that firefighters receive the protection provided by the order when they are on premises carrying out fire authority duties other than firefighting. That touches on one of the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) was making. It is not just when they are dealing with a fire that they need protection; they must also be protected when they are doing other work.
Mr. Hammond : Will the hon. Gentleman clarify what he just said about when firefighters are doing other work? My understanding is that the Committee recommends that protection should be extended to firefighters when they are not fighting fires, but that it accepts that they should be excluded from the definition of relevant persons when they are fighting fires. Have I misunderstood that?
Mr. Pike : A firefighter present at a fire is a relevant person, because a relevant person is any person who is lawfully on the premises or any person in the vicinity who is at risk from a fire. Therefore, if the firefighter is there fighting a fire, he is a relevant person; if he is there at any other time, doing fire prevention work or any other work, he is not covered. We believed that that was a loophole and that the protection should be extended. Certainly fire officers go into premises on many occasions when there is no fire. We do not want there to be a fire every time they are on a premises.
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We also believed that the draft order should be amended to give a clearer definition of a place of safety. In the interests of clarity and to ensure that the underlying intention was properly carried into effect, we agreed that the draft order should be amended to place a duty on the Secretary of State to issue guidance to fire authorities on their enforcement of the order's provisions and to monitor their enforcement activity, allowing the Secretary of State to direct them in that activity.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) would have liked to take part in this debate, but he is involved in the Third Reading debate on the Railways Bill and cannot be with us. He submitted a great deal of evidence to the Committee and was particularly concerned that the Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989, which implemented the recommendations of the Fennell report on the King's Cross fire disaster, should be retained in the order. I understand that the Government will respond to that concern positively, to ensure that no loophole exists that would allow a recommendation following that appalling tragedy not to be taken into account.
We also said that the application of the order to fire protection systems in houses in multiple occupation should be clarified. One of my hon. Friends asked about the latest legislation. As the Minister said, that point has already been taken into account. We also felt that the power to amend the principal provisions of the order by a subordinate provisions order should be subject to the affirmative procedure. That falls into line with one of the first points made in intervention by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge, who said that we should have an opportunity to debate these matters. The negative procedure means that there is sometimes a chance that amendments to an order will not even be spotted or considered. However, that is for the Government to determine. Finally, the Committee thought that the Secretary of State should be placed under a statutory duty to issue guidance on the implementation and interpretation of the order.
I know that many hon. Members want to speak, so I shall bring my remarks to a close. These are important issues, and my Committee has no great argument with what the Government want to do because we all want to achieve the same objective. We gave the proposal thorough scrutiny and paid it a great deal of attention, and we made our proposals in a positive way. This debate is helping my Committee and the Government to come to a final decision on the proposals. There is concern that these proposals are not being implemented. At the end of the day, they would enhance people's safety. We would not want any tragic deaths or injuries to arise from undue delay in parliamentary procedure. Having said that, we have to scrutinise these issues properly and fairly.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Before I call the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), I must respond to the concern expressed about how the House considers draft regulatory reform orders. I refer those hon. Members who are interested to Standing Order No. 18, which describes in detail the way that the House considers these matters. The House is grateful to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) for giving direction earlier in his speech.
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I welcome this debate, because it gives us an opportunity to review both the order and the Committee's report on it, as well as the wider issues of the Government's fire safety agenda. I congratulate the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and, through him, the Committee on their excellent job. The report highlights the areas of a weighty, complicated draft order on which we need to focus.
We had a little exchange about the procedure earlier, and I am somewhat concerned by what I have heard. The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) suggested that there should be an artificial division in the Regulatory Reform Committee, but the solution is exactly the one that the Committee has adopted where a matter is complex and would bear some additional scrutiny by people who are particularly interested. Apart from myself and the hon. Gentleman, as Opposition spokesmen, we have other people in the Room who have specialist knowledge of, and interest in, aspects of fire safety. The Committee can ask the Government for a debate and ensure that, with a three-hour debate, we get more scrutiny by the House than we would have managed had this been an ordinary statutory instrument, when we would have got just 90 minutes. We may have ended up, via a tortuous route, with a rather elegant solution.
I intend to raise a few salient points about the Committee's report and the draft order, and then look more widely at the Government's approach to the broader issues of fire safetyalways bearing it in mind that some of us will be in Standing Committee next week, covering the same ground again when we consider the draft national framework.
The draft order is entirely consistent with the Government's wider approach, moving from a prescriptive to a risk assessment-based approach. That is clearly focused on the safety of people rather than the protection of buildings, which is the traditional way of drafting fire regulations in this country. In scrapping fire certificates and imposing a general duty on responsible individuals to carry out risk assessments and act on them to ensure the safety of relevant persons, it is undoubtedly opening the way to ending an unnecessarily bureaucratic approach to fire safety, where things are done simply because they are in the rule book, even when they have no particular relevance to the situation in question. This will allow a more flexible and tailored response. I welcome thatit is the right way to go.
Reading the Committee's report, I detected that, in some cases, it is precisely the Government's more flexible approach that gives the Committee cause for concern. Broadly speaking, we support this move to a goal-based system. I note that it shifts the burden from one of inspection, which was a tick-box approach for building occupiers, to one of judgment, which is a much more onerous burden on occupiers. Looking at the burden that this imposes on business, we must be cognisant of the fact that calling the fire brigade to do a fire inspection and issue a certificate is an easy way to
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discharge a responsibility. The responsibility that is being imposed on building occupiers will be much more complex and continuous.
I suspect that, in practice, insurers will play a large part in the regime. They will obviously want to ensure that building occupiers are acting appropriately, both in terms of their liability should there be any deaths or injuries and in protecting the buildings themselves. Can the Minister tell us whether there has been any discussion with the insurance industry about its role and how it expects to interface proactively with building occupiers?
I will make two other points in passing. The first is that the measure is a centralising one. The order sweeps away many local Acts that impose local solutions, some of which are admittedly outdated, and imposes instead a uniform regime across the country. I will say nothing more on that point. The second is that I want to draw the Committee's attention to regulation 45, which requires local authorities to consult
Mr. Hammond : I stand corrected, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I am in Westminster Hall, I find it difficult to remember that it is the House. I find it even more difficult when we are at two removes from the main Chamber. However, I will do my best.
I draw the House's attention to regulation 45, which requires local authorities to consult fire and rescue authorities on building regulation applications. If the Minister speaks again, I would be interested to hear his comments on the issue. The regulation seems to cut across the thrust of the order, in that it is a form of certification, inviting the fire authority to consider the plans and tick the box to say that they comply. There is a danger that occupiers will feel that, having had that input from the fire authority as a statutory consultee, they are not required to go any further, the consultation having discharged their obligations. I am not a lawyer, but I suspect that, if a case came to court where the question was whether the building occupier had properly provided safety measures or precautions, the fact that the fire and rescue authority had signed off the safety measures as part of the local authority's procedure for building regulations might weigh heavily in the equation.
Jim Knight : I am trying to think through the hon. Gentleman's argument and ask him to dwell for a second on the difference between the fire authority approving the building regulations and its being consulted on them. As I understand it, the fire authority will be consulted by the local authority, not asked to approve the regulations.
Mr. Hammond : The hon. Gentleman is right, of course, but I suspect that many occupiers will take the view that, if the fire authority has been consulted and has no objection to the plans, that is tantamount to approval of those plans. I raise the issue because,
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reading the document for the first time, it struck me that that regulation went in the opposite direction to the Government's general thrust.
Richard Younger-Ross : I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. There is an apparent contradiction, but is there not a difference between the construction regulation, which exists under building regulations, which are not being repealed as part of the orderand the professional advice and approval that is given to the person constructing that building to ensure that they comply with the regulationsand the running of that building on a day-to-day basis, including the assurance that staff can evacuate it safely? That would include the position of furniture, the closing of doors and so on.
Mr. Hammond : The hon. Gentleman is right. The point is that the regime should assess the risk and respond to it. This leftover from the existing regime goes the other way and is bound to be treated, as such things are, as meaning that a set of rules should be applied and that a set of drawings should be examined to see whether there are a certain number of exits and to check the distance from the furthest point to the stairwell.
Mr. Hammond : No, I am not suggesting that at all, but I understand that it is proposed that fire authorities should be consulted by local authorities. I simply make the point that, with the certification regime having been abolished, it is slightly odd for the fire authorities to have to comment on individual applications. That is not a point on which I wish to dwell, but something to which I wanted to draw the Committee's attention, to see whether anyone would pick up on itand indeed they have.
Paragraph 104 of the Committee's report mounts quite a serious challenge to the Government's view that integrated risk management planning will deliver an effective enforcement regime. The Minister referred to that in his speech and the Committee will want to consider the issue when it deliberates on the order again. However, it is important to note that there are doubts about the effectiveness of IRMP in delivering the required enforcement regime.
The Committee suggests that the Secretary of State should be required to issue guidance and to monitor enforcement regimes. However, I would not advocate that route. We must be clear who is responsible for the discharge of a fire authority's statutory duties. Is it the fire authority or is it the Secretary of State? The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 already gives the Secretary of State pretty substantial powers of intervention. On many matters it is debatable whether the balance of responsibility for the discharge of functions has already gone too far. I would much prefer a regime in which legal responsibility and public accountability were clearly with the fire authorities. Authorities would be left to do what they have to do and would be held to account if they failed to discharge their duties.
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I should also like to draw the Committee's attention to paragraph 77 of the report. The hon. Member for Burnley has already talked about provisions being made where necessary under articles 13 and 14. The Committee was concerned about a possible dilution of existing safety standards for equipment and buildings. Things that must currently be provided in every case would have to be provided only where necessary as a result of the risk assessment to provide the appropriate levels of safety.
I understand entirely where the Committee is coming from, but without the discretion that is being introduced we might as well have a prescriptive rule-based system, rather than a goal-based system. If there were a move to overlay the risk assessment-based system with a set of prescriptive rules that applied in every case, the balance of regulatory burdens would change considerably. Occupiers of buildings would not only face many of the burdens that they already facesometimes they are required to make provisions that are not necessary on a proper judgment of the riskbut would have to make and continually revise risk assessments, and do what they required.
Ms Drown : I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. We want to make things as easy as possible for people who are charged with making establishments safe. Does he appreciate the point that people look to further guidance on these issues; otherwise, we have people up and down the country reinventing the wheel because they do not know exactly what some of the terms mean? Sometimes, that additional guidance is helpful.
Mr. Hammond : Yes, my next sentence was going to be that if there is guidance, it needs to have a very light touch. I am concerned to draw attention to the danger that starts with saying that we should scrap the prescriptive regime and introduce a case-sensitive, responsive regime. Then, we say, "Hang on a minute, we do not really want people not putting these fire doors in, or leaving these fire extinguishers out, so let us require them in be put in anywayin every case". We will have piled burden upon burden, instead of stripping some of them away. It is very important that we do not fall into that trap.
Mr. Pike : Surely the hon. Gentleman realises, having read that section of the reportwhich he obviously has donethat it was based on the evidence of the chief fire officers and the FBU. I understand his concern, but the danger is not a lowering of standards which puts things at risk. This is a difficult place in which to draw the line.
Mr. Hammond : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right, but with the greatest respect to the FBU and the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association, I point out that their position is to say that they do not really care about a bit more of a burden on businessquite rightly, as their job is to look at these matters from a fire safety perspective. The FBU has a campaign for a target of zero fire deaths. If one were seriously to pursue such a target, huge additional burdens would need to be imposed. This is about balance. As is obvious from its very name, the hon. Gentleman's Committee must, when considering any legislation, have in the forefront of its mind the balance between the good that will come
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from it and the additional burdens that it will impose. In this case, the fact that a raft of prescriptive burdens is being removed is encouraging It may allow the new duties to be imposed with a reduction in the overall burden. However, if we go back and start reapplying some of those prescriptive rules, we will squander some of that benefit.
I would like the Minister to clarify firefighters' status as relevant persons. The hon. Member for Burnley gave an explanation in response to an intervention which, I have to say, was diametrically different from my understanding that firefighters are generally excluded from being relevant persons. The Committee's concern was that in certain circumstances, where firefighters are not fighting fires, they ought to have the same protection as any other relevant person in the building. However, the Committee accepted that the responsible person could not have the same duties to firefighters who were actively tackling a fire as to people who were in the building for other purposes. Could the Minister clarify that point?
Phil Hope : The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; the draft order was defective, in that firefighters were excluded whatever they were doing. The revised order has ensured that a firefighter will be protected as a relevant person, except when there to fight the fire. The draft order will be amended to remove that anomaly, and a firefighter will be treated as a relevant person when not engaged in emergency duties. They might be engaged in giving information, or something of that kind. I hope that helps the hon. Gentleman.
Ms Drown : Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that this sends out a message that not everything could be done? Fleur Lombard was a firefighter who died in the Avon area, in a large single-storey premises. It was as a result of that fire that regulations were introduced to ensure that there were sprinklers in large retail premises. That will save firefighters' lives. They are worthy of us doing everything that we can to save them, as well as other people, including when they are fighting fires. Does he agree that we should do everything possible to protect their lives too?
Mr. Hammond : Of course, the hon. Lady is right. We should do everything that we can to protect firefighters' lives. The obligations of fire authorities under health and safety legislation are clearly directed at doing just that. It may be that such obligations would dictate that firefighters did not go into a building to try to extinguish a fire where lives were not at risk but property was, precisely because the building was not deemed safe to enter. However, it would be impossibly onerous to impose on occupiers of buildings a duty to ensure the safety of a person who had deliberately gone into a burning building to try to extinguish a fire. The regulation as the Minister has explained it is right. This outbreak of consensus is very disconcerting, and I cannot quite get used to it, but I am sure that we will find something to disagree on later.
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The Committee was concerned about the scrapping of the Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989. The hon. Member for Burnley said that he understood that the Government were going to respond positively to that concern. That gives me slight cause for concern. I share concerns about sub-surface railway station safety, and I will say more about that. The regulations were introduced in response to a specific fire in a specific location, and sub-surface stations, like factories and offices, all have different characteristics. I hope that the Minister will assure us that, although the Government will retain some of the prescriptive regime, they will ensure that risk assessment overarches it, so that the different characteristics of different stations are taken into account.
Will the Minister also tell us what the Government are doing about firefighting in sub-surface stations during a chemical or biological situation? I understand that the chemical suits that the London fire brigade has are not compatible with its breathing apparatus, so the duration underground would be extremely short20 minutes. If there were the unfortunate coincidence of a fire and a chemical or biological incident in an underground station, firefighters would be unlikely to get down to the scene, bearing it in mind that they would have to rely on non-mechanical means of transport, have any useful dwell-time down there and get back up again within that 20-minute resilience period. I am sure that the Minister is aware of that, and I know that the problem has arisen due to the incompatibility of equipment in the incident response units, but will he tell us what the Government are doing to ensure that the problem is resolved and firefighters are capable of dwelling at the scene of an underground fire with biological or chemical aspects?
I want to touch on an area that the hon. Member for Burnley did not mention directly: the extension of duties and obligations beyond responsible persons to third parties. The Committee concluded in paragraph 119 of its report that it was appropriate that third parties should be capable of prosecution if they failed to secure safety, and that raises a few questions. Under the existing regime, a court can order, for example, that the terms of a lease be varied to allow alterations to a building for fire safety purposes. The proposal under discussion states that without any intervention by the court, a third party could be vulnerable to prosecution for having failed to do something that another person requires to discharge their duties as a responsible person. I am sure that the example that the Committee and the Government have in mind is the landlord of a building. As I understand it, both the report and the order are silent on the question of cost.
How is the third party to recover the cost of complying with the requirements of the responsible person? In the case of a landlord, it might be thought that that was something he had to take on the chinafter all, he gets the rent. However, there could be cases in which the third party burdened with a requirement is not the landlord in receipt of rent. For example, many escape routes in buildings that were built in the 1950s and 1960sI can think of one not too far away, just across the riverexit via escape routes in other buildings, or perhaps across roofs. I can envisage a situation where a responsible person, having carried out
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his risk assessment, determines that he needs works done on an adjoining building over which he has no control, and notifies the owner of those premises that such works must be carried out. Will the Minister confirm that such a situation is properly provided for with some kind of formal procedure, and that there is a means by which the third party can recover the cost of complying, or indeed any loss that he suffers if compliance with the requirements disadvantages his building? We will need that reassurance if we are to accept such a wide extension of the scope of the regulations.
The hon. Member for Burnley rightly anticipated the Opposition's support for the Committee's recommendation that the articles designated as so-called subordinate provisions, in which future changes can be made by delegated legislation, should be subject to the affirmative procedure rather than the negative onealthough not, as he suggested, because we might miss them if they were negative resolutions. I assure him that we trawl the negative resolutions assiduously, but it is not always possible to secure a debate on matters subject to negative resolution. The affirmative procedure guarantees that there will be a debate.
In the Department's own explanatory memorandum, the power is mainly seen as enabling the Government to respond to changes coming from Brussels in the form of EU directives. Anything that weakened the power of Parliament to scrutinise measures affecting the lives and the safety of British people would be strongly resisted by hon. Members on this side of the House. The Minister shakes his head, but he will find that that is the view of many Members on both sides of the House, and of many people outside this place.
I was going to touch on sprinklers, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I see that there is greater knowledge on the subject among Labour Members, and I defer to that. If any issues remain outstanding when the hon. Members for South Dorset (Jim Knight) and for South Swindon (Ms Drown) have finished their contributions, I will try to raise them.
I have a specific question for the Minister regarding the order. I note that article 58 amends the Caravan Sites Act 1960. I do not have a copy of the Act to hand, but the amendment may be intended to remove the statutory separation distances between caravans which were originally imposed for fire protection purposes but have come to have a secondary purpose, in that they affect the way that residential caravan parks are laid out. I have a rather large number of residential caravans in my constituency, which may surprise some Members, and I would be interested if the Minister clarified that point.
I have set out the reasons why we support the order, in broad terms. It is a sensible measure, in line with the less prescriptive and more risk assessment-based approach. As long as policy is moving in that direction, and it is safety-driven, the Government will have our broad support on such matters, as they have had our broad support on the modernisation agenda. However, the Minister opened the debate by talking about issues well outside the regulatory reform order, such as the broader issues of the Government's fire safety agenda. He touched on some areas about which
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I am concerned and to which I shall return, as it is not obvious that the Government are moving in the right direction to improve fire safety.
Concerns have been expressed about IRMPs. I remind the House that they were at the heart of the modernisation approach that the Government espoused after the Bain report, during the firefighters' dispute of 200203. Modernisation was presented as the way to save money to meet the firefighters' pay settlement without reducing fire safety; indeed, fire safety was to be improved. On the face of it, that was a sensible proposal, but we are now in the second round of draft IRMPs, and I understand from the Minister for Local and Regional Government's response to parliamentary questions that, so far, no fire authorities have dropped the two, two, four shift pattern, although that was one of the economy measures at the heart of the modernisation programme, which was to deliver improvements.
I understand also that no fire authority has proposed in its draft IRMP 2, or in its IRMP 1 for that matter, the redeployment of fire appliances from one fire station to another at night. In the debates in the Chamber during the firefighters' dispute, an example given of a way to save money and improve services was that fire appliances based in business districts in the day would decamp with their crews at night to the outer suburbs where the risk is greater, but no such proposal has been made, according to the Minister for Local and Regional Government's answer to my parliamentary question.
I understand also that no beds have been removed from night-time manned fire stations, although one of the issues at the heart of the reorganisation of the fire service was to get away from the culture in which the night shift is all about sleeping rather than doing a normal turn of duty focused on community safety.
The public will need to be reassured that the modernisation proposals that will deliver the savings to pay for the firefighters' pay settlement will be delivered, because in many areas there is no sign of that happening yet. The Minister is well aware that in the absence of those savings there will be financial pressure on fire and rescue authorities. Clearly, when those authorities are working under serious financial pressures, they are not best placed to respond as they would like to Government exhortations to focus on improving safety and reducing deaths.
Mr. Hammond : It certainly will not include any cuts in funding for fire and rescue services. I think that the Minister is referring to the James report. He will know that the savings that it identified could be made in local government, and we will encourage and assist local government in making them. Some of them were identified by Gershon and are definitely not double countedthe James report figures include the Gershon savingsand they will remain within local government for the improvement of front-end services, not sequestered by central Government. That is at the heart of the Minister's misunderstanding of how James went about his work.
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Jim Knight : Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, in this case, the savings would be generated not by central Government, but within local government? In the context of IRMPs and asking fire authorities to make savings, the Governmentand I think that the hon. Gentleman would support them in thisare not issuing a direction that fire authorities must do x, y or z. There may be guidance or examples of thinking that they want to move towards. He is not suggesting that there should be direction about exactly what should happen, so I am a bit confused about what he is proposing.
Mr. Hammond : I am simply noting that the key pillars of the modernisation policy have not been delivered yetperhaps they will come. That may say something about management, unions or the way that the Government have managed and partially financed the process. However, if the hon. Gentleman reads the statements made in the House during the firefighters dispute, if he listens to what the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Local and Regional Government said about modernisation and how it would change the operation of the fire service both to make firefighters' better paid and to improve fire safety, and if he checks the answers to parliamentary questions that I have received over the past couple of weeks, he will see that as yet those benefits have not been delivered.
It is for the Minister, not me, to say why that is the case. Hopefully, he can reassure us that in the next roundIRMP 3we will start to see some of those savings coming through. Fire authorities will then be able to repay their transitional money, which they have no idea how they will repay at the moment because they are not getting any savings to enable them to do that.
In his opening remarks the Minister mentioned domestic accidental fire death targets with a great fanfare. He said that the target of a 20 per cent. reduction in fire deaths over the 11 years to 2010 will form the basis of a new public service agreement with the Treasury. That is good, but unfortunately the old public service agreement that the ODPM had with the Treasury had a target of reducing accidental fire deaths in the home by 20 per cent. over the five years to 2004a target that the Government have lamentably failed to achieve. The Minister told me previously that the original target was being changed because it proved too difficult to meet. The Minister for Local and Regional Government told me on another occasion that changing a 20 per cent. reduction to be achieved by 2004 to a 20 per cent. reduction to be achieved by 2010 was not a relaxation of the target.
I will leave hon. Members to draw their own conclusions, but I would say to the Minister that the situation is difficult because the target lies at the heart of the debate. Everything that the Government are doingmoving to a people-centred rather than a building-centred system, and having a risk assessment-based systemis geared to saving lives. To have the Government at the same time significantly lower the target that they set themselves for reducing accidental fire deaths in dwellings sends out a very mixed signal.
The Minister mentioned arson. Those targets have been downgraded, too. The target in the 200506 draft framework was originally to achieve a 30 per cent. reduction in deliberately set fires by March 2009. That target has now become a 10 per cent. reduction in
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deliberately set fires by March 2010. That is relaxation on a pretty massive scale. I have had an exchange about that with this Minister and with the Minister for Local and Regional Government. The latter told me quite clearly that the reason for the reduction in the target was
However, the Government's own arson control forum document says that in 2003 there was a 9 per cent. fall in the number of deliberate vehicle fires. It is not clear to me that an increase in deliberate vehicle fires is the reason that the Government have had to relax their arson targets. I would be grateful if the Minister tried to square what his colleague told me last January with what the ODPM arson control document says.
Jim Knight : I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, because I would love to hear his conclusion, but does he think that the target should be tightened and made tougher or, like his colleagues in the shadow health team, does he not believe in targets?
Mr. Hammond : I am happy to set targets, if that is the way that the Government assess it is best to work. However, there is no point them setting a target if they say to the House a couple of years later that it is too difficult to achieve so they have downgraded or dropped it. To change the target that is at the heart of the fire reform modernisation programme seems to send a mixed message about the Government's commitment to fire safety as the key driver in that agenda.
I also want to say something about regional management boards and regional fire control rooms, which were raised by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). There is a considerable degree of scepticism among members of fire and rescue authorities and among the public at large about whether reducing the number of fire control rooms from 49 to just nine to cover England is about improving safety. That project is progressing under great secrecy. The Minister has said again today that he cannot give details about the procurement project because it is commercially confidential.
Mr. Hammond : Well, the Minister says it is true, but on the one hand we have the Freedom of Information Act, while on the other we have the increased use of public-private partnerships, in which everything that happens is commercially confidential, so we cannot find out what is going on. Fire and rescue authorities cannot find out what the project is going to cost and they do not know what their ongoing revenue costs will be. There is a blight on their ability to plan, a blight on staff morale, and a real danger that between now and 2007 some authorities will find it very difficult to recruit or retain the staff that they need.
The Government have been told in no uncertain terms in the only place where they have asked the question that there is no appetite for regional government in this country. They should now abandon the plan to
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reorganise the fire service on the lines of the Government offices for the regions. We have no objection at all to fire authorities co-operating and working together collaboratively, but that must be in units that make sense in operational terms, not in arbitrary Government office regions.
I end by asking the Minister a specific question about dual fuel vehicles. I was sent some information about an incident that occurred in NorfolkI am sure that he is aware of this casewhere firefighters arrived at the scene of a vehicle fire and, fortunately, were advised by the driver, who was present and conscious, that the vehicle was fitted with dual fuel. They retired just in time to be at a safe distance when it exploded. No markings are required on dual fuel vehicles, of which the Government now operate a fleet.
Will the Minister give the Committee two assurances? First, will he see whether there is a need for visible marking on dual fuel vehicles to protect firefighters at the scene of a fire? Secondly, if there is such a need, will the Government lead by example in the interim before such marking can be mandated and ensure that their fleet of dual fuel vehicles is appropriately marked?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Before I call the next speaker, I point out that we have approximately an hour and a quarter left in this debate. I believe that the House would wish the Minister to have 10 minutes to reply to the debate. We have not even run out, as it were, of Front Benchers at this stage. Hon. Members should bear that in mind when they address the House.
Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): This debate is extremely important and I am pleased that the Government have chosen to initiate it. In fact, it is such an important issue, I am surprised that it is only Labour Back-Bench MPs who have bothered to turn up to debate it.
I must report to the Minister that my constituents in Tower Hamlets are extremely concerned about fire safety. Those fears are the result of proposals to move one of two fire engines from Bethnal Green to outer London. It is natural that many residents have concluded that their protection from fire risk has been halved. For a variety of reasons, that is not the case, not least because in Tower Hamlets we have the best response times of any borough in London. None the less, there is the risk that fire protection may be reduced, and that is what I am here to talk about.
I place my remarks in the context of the Government's key proposal for fire safety, which is to move towards a risk-based approach. That means that fire resources must take account of communities that are most at risk, and it means moving away from using resources for the protection of buildings, for example, if those same resources could protect people instead. Most people would think that that is common sense, and I do not disagree. What I disagree with, and what my constituents are wholly opposed to, is the idea that fire safety in one residential part of LondonBethnal Greenmight be reduced to increase fire safety in another residential part of LondonSurbiton.
I shall use this opportunity to explain to the Minister the grave concerns of my constituents, and add some more general comments about the new measures the
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Government are implementing nationally to make people safer in their homes and to raise the protection of firefighters.
I begin with the new requirement for authorities to draw up community safety plans based on risk assessment. I understand the need for the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority to review fire risks in London. I understand that it wishes to redeploy its available resources as efficiently as possible to give greatest protection to the greatest number of people. However, I strongly disagree that redeploymentremovalof a fire engine from Bethnal Green will secure that aim. The draft London safety plan states:
Everything the authority has done and all the information it has gathered showing where people are most at risk builds up a profile of a constituency that almost exactly fits the description of Bethnal Green specifically, and Tower Hamlets more generally.
Tower Hamlets has more fires than any other borough. Bethnal Green station is one of the borough's busiest and Tower Hamlets fire station responds to more emergency calls than any other borough in London. Of all deaths in fires, 62 per cent. occur in flats and Tower Hamlets has a high number of high-rise flats. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) will outline some of the statistics relating to disadvantaged communities, but the LFEPA recognises that deprived communities and those with high levels of social housing are exposed to the greatest fire risk.
Tower Hamlets has a larger proportion of residents living in social housing than any other London borough, and it is also the most deprived borough in London. I am delighted that the Government committed themselves to spend so much money when they announced £25 million in capital grants to English fire and rescue authorities to target disadvantaged homes to ensure that they have fire alarms and better protection from fire.
However, the aspect of the plan that concerns me most is that fighting fire in high-rise blocks is very different from firefighting in ground floor properties. One only has to ask the firefighters to learn that. It requires an element of common sense. When people arrive at the scene of the fire, they can obtain water immediately to tackle the fire at ground level. It stands to reason that that will be easier and quicker than trying to access someone on the 17th floor of a tower block. Given the extra staffing levels required to reach a fire in a high-rise block, the arrival of the first fire engine does not necessarily mean that firefighters can reach the point of entry and deal with the fire.
The draft London safety plan states that it is possible to improve the attendance time of the second fire engine in some areas by slowing it down in others, but information is lacking about the fact that people in high-rise blocks already have to wait longer for fire crews to arrive at their front doors. That is the specific point that I make in my submission responding to the LFEPA's consultation. It hinges on the levels of fire and risk in Tower Hamlets associated with the density of the population and the extra fire risk of living in high-rise
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blocks. It is also difficult to gain access to high-rise blocks. As anyone who has tried to find their way into an estate in Tower Hamlets will know, it is incredibly difficult to get there. Ordinary road layouts do not present the same problems for firefighters.
I understand that the Minister must delegate safety plans to local authorities, which know their local areas. I am sure that it is recognised that the people who know the local area best are local residents and local firefighters. Those people need to be satisfied that their legitimate and genuine concerns, which I share, have been fully considered.
I therefore request, as I did in my submission, detailed work on the risks associated with fire in flats and high-rise flats in particular. That should cover engine-to-fire response times for high-rise flats and the effect of increased response times for the second engine on whether enough firefighters can reach fires on high floors with the right equipment. The point is to assess the subsequent impact on risk to life.
In my view, the full impact of the proposal to remove the second pump from Bethnal Green cannot be quantified without more detailed research. I therefore ask that no decision to remove the engine should be taken before the research findings are known, analysed and made available to local residents and firefighters. I ask the Minister to give that serious consideration, because nothing could be more serious to local residents.
I want to mention the protection of firefighters and to raise their inclusion in the definition of persons protected under the draft order. The issue has been raised already, so I shall not go into it in any detail. I welcome the Government's positive response to the request of the Fire Brigades Union and others. However, firefighters risk their lives whenever they go into a burning building. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) pointed out, there is a need to consider legal protection for firefighters whether they are at work in a firefighting role or not.
As to wider fire safety measures, among other things, the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 puts community safety at the heart of what the fire brigade does. I welcome the fact that local fire authorities are receiving new money and extra money from the Government to promote fire prevention measures, whether they bring about an increase in the use of smoke alarms in disadvantaged households or improve community education, so that communities can increase their protection.
Arson is an important issue in areas such as Bethnal Green. The Government's target of reducing deliberate fires by 10 per cent. by 2010 is welcome, as are the new powers that they are discussing to permit the removal of cars with no value. Most cars that are set on fire fall into that category.
My final comment is that nowhere is the fire services' wider role as the guardians of community safety better illustrated than in Tower Hamlets. They do a fantastic job and deserve our thanks. One way to thank them would be to consider my request seriously.
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Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): It is appropriate that I should follow the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), because my father was an auxiliary fireman between 1939 and 1945, and I understand that he was based at the Bethnal Green fire station. I was brought up with stories of Bethnal Green and east London, as well as of firefighters' hard work and the risks that they took, particularly during the war and the blitz. That always gave me a respect for the fire and rescue service. The service is of a very high standard and has a very good record.
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) spoke about who was in charge at fires and about the risks faced by property owners in terms of their duty towards firefighters. There are two reasons why there are very few deaths on the job among British firefighters. First, we have some of the highest fire safety standards in the world; indeed, in the past, we have had the highest standard in the world. Secondly, there is the level of training in the fire service and the skill of the officer in command in determining whether a firefighter can go into a building. I understand that the injury rate for firemen in the UK is second to none.
I note the point that you made earlier, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about time, and I can assure you that I shall be briefer than the official Opposition spokesman. Of course, some of those who sat on the Committee that considered the Fire and Rescue Services Bill might say that that does not necessarily mean a lot, but I shall try to keep my remarks fairly brief. I am aware, of course, that there is a chance of a vote before or at 5 o'clock.
I want to start by going in the reverse direction from the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge and making some general comments before tackling the nubthe reform of existing legislation. Fire safety awareness starts at a young age, because it starts with education. When we were small children, most of us will have had some fascination with fire. It might have been a fascination with candlesperhaps with shaping the tops of themor with seeing what burns in a corner of the garden.
When I was 14, we made Airfix models of fighter planes from the second world war. We would set fire to the tip of one wing, put a string on the other and whirl the plane round, with bits of black plastic flying off in all directions. We never managed to set fire to anything, but we made a black mess in quite a few places. Children have a fascination with fire, so it is important that, in talking about fire safety, we should also talk about education.
Richard Younger-Ross : I had no difficulty getting on to it; the computers in the Library work wonderfully. I did not manage to explore all of it, because life is short and I have other duties. However, I wanted to look at the design and engineering section. I thought that it would be fascinating and that I could look at sprinklers and stuff about design and fire engineering. Sadly, there was only one entrythe national anthropometry survey
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of female firefighters. I suspect that the design, safety and engineering section needs a little adding to it, although I am not saying that the survey is not important. It is an issue and it is good to know that the ODPM is taking seriously the need for appropriate equipment for female firefighters.
A number of pages on the site give good safety tips. As time is short, I will not go through all of them. There is a list of the top 10 safety tips. All the different sections about fire safety need to be made widely available. I hope that there will be a programme and that the Government will consider how to spread the good word on fire safety.
I talked about children. When searching the internet, I came across one site called "Kids Fire Safety Tips". When I first looked at it, I thought that it would be a very interesting and exciting site. It could be developed and give some thought to the Minister. It is a website that kids log on to. It has wonderful things on itBuzzy the Smoke Detector, Reddy the Fire Extinguisher, Squirt the Water Drop and others. It goes on for a number of pages. It is, in part, interactive. If we are to engage young children, we need to find things that they can relate to. The internet is one thing on which they can interact with issues to do with fire safety and which could be used as a tool for parents and teachers of younger children in schools.
Continuing that theme, I also found that in the USperhaps there are some here, although I am not sure; the Minister may correct methey do fire demonstrations on portable homes. One site from Dubuquewherever that isin the US says:
"Many children have a fascination with fire. A lot of adults do, too. But firefighters say that children need to be taught at an early age about fire safety, and parents should learn along with them."
"his dream is expected to become a reality. Rosenberg City Council recently authorised building and buying a portable fire safety house, which is used to teach young people about home and fire safety."
I am not asking the Minister to respond to that point today, but perhaps at another time he could consider whether we could explore that sort of education programme to ensure that children's fascination does not lead to fire.
I also looked at internet sites on the south-west. One would expect that one of the greatest educators about fire safety would be the experience of fire. I was horrified to find that that is not always the case. That highlights the task that may lie ahead. One internet site dealt with
"Perhaps unsurprisingly, perception of possible risk of fire in the future was also slightly higher than average . . . Whilst claimed knowledge levels of possible causes of all types of fire was comparable to the total sample, respondents in the SWBD were considerably less likely than the total sample to carry out any action to reduce the risk of fire at night."
I will touch on an issue that the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge mentionedfire trends. Sadly, the ODPM website does not have the same amount of data that the Minister has at his fingertips. The campaigns are working. We have talked about the reduction in arson over a period in the past year. However, although a lot of work has been done on accidental fires, the figures on the ODPM website on malicious fires for road vehicles show that, between 1991 and 2001, their number doubled. Indeed, the doubling has occurred almost since 1997: the figures rose from 39,000 in 1991 to 79,000 in 2001, but they were only at 42,000 in 1997.
That chart shows an increase in the number of malicious fires in dwellings, in other buildings and outdoors. That could partially be explained by what the Strathclyde fire authority told me when I visited. Youths are not only setting fires but setting them deliberately to ambush the fire engine when it arrives. They will set them up in a narrow place and then physically attack the fire engine. We can talk about fire safety and review all the regulation in the world but, unless we can tackle that increase in crime, much of it will be to no avail. Unless we are able to tackle attacks on fire crews, the recruitment of firefighters will not be sustained.
Jim Knight : There is a point that I am compelled to make. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about Strathclyde, but firefighters are generally highly trusted public servants, particularly in areas of deprivation and among disaffected people. I commend to him the work of the Cheshire fire authority, which has an active young people's organisation delivering messages not only about fire, but antisocial behaviour. That work is positive and it has a positive potential for fire authorities, particularly given the change in emphasis towards community fire safety.
Richard Younger-Ross : I take the point, and I am sure that the work of the Cheshire fire authority is as the hon. Gentleman says. Many other fire authorities are the same. Devon has cut arson successfully. Having been able to secure funding, it would like more funding. Hintplease continue that funding, so that it can continue that work.
If we consider the consequences of arson, we are looking at 100,000 fires a year, 100 deaths a year, 2,500 injuries and a total cost to society, according to the reports that we have been given, of £2 billion. I appreciate that the Government are tackling that problem and we would support them to reduce it further.
We have heard about the general aims of regulatory reform. I will not repeat what the Deputy Prime Minister said, because it has been well laid out by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). My background is in architecture, and I used to have to wade through a plethora of different fire regulations, depending on which building I was working on, to find the right set of regulations for the design of that building. The regulations did not all marry up: the standards for some buildings could be slightly different from those for others.
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Therefore, we welcome the work to reduce some of those regulations to one document, which will be a reference point. However, I am not sure that we go far enough and I urge the Select Committee to do more in the regulatory review. Perhaps at a later date, if it can bear to come back to fire again, it will consider what other regulations we can bring together.
The order deals mainly with non-domestic regulation, but domestic regulation should also be considered. We have passed regulations in respect of the Housing Act 2004, there are the building regulations and there are other regulations relating to the design of buildings, which can be conflicting and confusing to designers. It is partly because of that possible confusion that I disagree fundamentally with what the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge said about consulting the fire brigade on applications under building regulations.
I used to work in an architect's office as an architectural assistant. When I took the drawings into the building control, it would look at the regulations. The matter would then be referred on. For some buildings, there would be another meeting with the fire officer.
It is not, as was described earlier, a question of following rigid rules. Fire officers have rules, but they also have a lot of common sense and flexibility in applying regulations. One of the curses of architects, particularly in London, was that they would go to see a fire officer one week, the officer would then change and they would be told that the designs that they drew up no longer applied. Fire officers are experts and can help an architect to structure the building to ensure that it is safe when it is inhabited. That is different from the maintenance of the building, which I understand is largely dealt with by the current regulatory review.
I have several concerns. One is the removal of certification. It sounds straightforward and we have been given figures. We are told that, if certification is removed, it will save business £137 million a year, or whatever it may be. I wonder whether the figures stack up and whether we have considered the actual cost to business of the removal of certification.
When the certificate is ready, the fire officer comes and looks at the building and one knows that the building complies. The certificate says that there is the right number of fire doors and the right fire extinguishers in the right place. One can discuss options with the fire officer. Again, as I said, fire officers are flexible. It is not all written down in black and white. On occasions, they will listen to alternatives.
If we want to train or increase the level of training of people in business, particularly small businesses, so that they have a better understanding of the risk of fire and the same level of knowledge of their building as the fire officer, we will put a heavy time and training burden on them. Small and medium-sized businesses have the greatest difficulty in undertaking risk assessment on health and safety and other aspects. Often they can achieve that only by bringing in experts to advise them, and such people often cost a great deal of money, in many cases more than the fire certificate would have cost in the first place.
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Therefore, I ask the Select Committee, in its second tranche, to talk to small businesses again and to ascertain whether the removal of certification is a saving or could be a burden. It sounds good, but I wonder whether the Committee has considered it fully.
Mr. Pike : Before the suspension, we were looking at whether my Committee would look closely at one or two points at the second stage. There are two things that I have to make clear. The Government must decide what to do with the order, taking into account any last-minute thoughts that they might have arising from this debate. We can take into account what has been said and anything else, but we have only one decision to make. Either we approve it, or reject it. We cannot amend it. I would like the hon. Gentleman to be clear on that.
I need to correct something I said earlier. I am a supporter of the programming of legislation in this House, and I inadvertently gave the wrong time. If the Committee divides on a proposal, the debate is an hour and a half. If the Committee rejects, and the Government go ahead, it is three hours.
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge asked about onus-based legislation. On general principle, I accept that we should move to onus-based legislation. I was briefly trying to test whether the onus-based approach is entirely the right way forwardwhether the whole onus should be on the employers, rather than having a system where there is a certificate that still places an onus on businesses to take charge of the evacuation of their buildings under the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997. The European legislation referred to earlier is also onus-based and puts responsibility on the employers. I am not saying that that responsibility and onus on employers should not be there.
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I need to correct my own figures on cost savings. I had two wildly different figures in front of me and the Minister might, with some prompting, be able to say which one is correct. The figure I gave was a third, entirely spurious, figure. The business savings are estimated, according to the debate note that we were given, at £1.7 billion. However, the previous note I read, which comes from the Health and Safety Bulletin, estimates it at £1.65 million. Whether it is the million or the billion, however, I come back to whether the cost saving is adequate. It is a large factor, and if it is the billion, it is far easier to justify. The figure I originally saw was the million, and it was that which led me to question whether the saving would not actually be outdone by the extra burden of the onus-based regulation.
I thank the hon. Member for Burnley for his clarification in the second intervention. It is obviously sad that we do not have in this debate an opportunity to amend the legislation. Perhaps the Minister will take note of that, look at what is being said today, and ask the Department and the civil servants responsible for this legislation to research those figures, so that he is sure in his own mind that the measure will achieve what it says. That is the main purpose of my questioning.
I promised that I would be brief, and I will not go into a lot of detail on the other issues I was going to address. I make a brief point about sprinklers, however. The Minister referred to building bulletin 100 earlier and he used the term "best practice" in respect of sprinklers in schools. I hopeperhaps this is the prescriptive part of methat we could legislate through the building regulations to ensure that there were sprinklers in schools. Not only does that have the potential to save life, but it will save property. From what the hon. Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) was saying earlier, it is seen by the private finance initiatives as a way of saving money, because of the insurance costs saved by putting sprinklers in.
I would go further than schools, though. We have to look at houses in multiple occupation, residential care homes and new build, and we should consider the practicality and costs being borne for retrospective fitting in some circumstances.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I will attempt to be brief. I welcome the regulatory reform order for the way it pulls together so much earlier legislation, which, in many instances, pointed in different directions depending on which part of what legislation one read. The Fire Safety Advisory Board, the Regulatory Reform Committee and the ODPM should all be congratulated on the work that they did in pulling all those Acts together. As memory serves, the proposal did not surface during the course of the firefighters' dispute; there has been a suggestion that it did, but that is not borne out by the facts.
During my brief but astounding period as fire services' Minister, there was substantial debate about whether there should be a fire services Act, or whether it
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was possible to pull together all the legislation through regulatory reform orders. A number of people believed that it was not possible to move forward without primary legislation, and that the regulatory reform route would not work. What we see before us today demonstrates that that honestly held belief was not well founded. Not only does the regulatory reform method appear to have worked well, but it has had the added benefit of delivering succinct and compact new legislation. Fire legislation ought to be as much about fire prevention as about putting out fires. It is important that both the fire service and the legislation are moving in that direction.
With regard to the principle of risk assessment embodied in the order, I was enlightened a little while ago by the fact that, although the exact locations of accidental fires are not predictable, one can predict roughly where they will occur and, sadly, the groups of people who will be affected. For example, the likelihood of dying in a domestic fire is five times higher for those who are 80 years or older than for those in the 3059 age group. One might say it is also a class issue because children in the lower social classes have a death rate no less than 16 times higher than those from the higher social classes. People in the poorest 10 per cent. of electoral wards are five times more likely to be injured by fires than those in the richest 10 per cent. It is therefore possible not only generally to assess risk, but to say what we ought to do significantly to increase protection for those groups whom we know to be at a greater risk from fire.
I shall quote one or two reports that have appeared in a paper in my part of the world over recent months and years. One headline says "House Blaze Kills Pensioner", and goes on to explain that the incident occurred
Another headline reads "Garment on heater sparks fire in flat", and tells of how a family had to evacuate a Gosport flat. Another article reports that a pensioner from West End, near Southampton, "took a bedtime sedative" and did not hear the smoke alarm going off. Yet another report says that two wheelchair-bound pensionersa 91-year-old man and an 89-year-old mandied in a fire at a nursing home. Another relates how a housebound person receiving meals on wheels died in a house fire. Another headline reads "Pensioner's body blocked out rescuers". That person, also wheelchair-bound, collapsed in the back door of her blazing home in Woolston in Southampton, meaning that rescuers were unable to open her door.
I do not mention those terrible accidents with any sense of pleasure. Each was an individual tragedy, but each demonstrates the veracity of the fact that risk assessment can show where fire services should be engaged and what they should be doing in addition to putting out fires, in terms of the new roles set out in the order.
In that context, it is particularly important to consider homes where a number of people are living together, whether they be residential homes, care homes or houses in multiple occupation, of which Southampton has a substantial number. I draw hon. Members' attention to the read-across that the order has with the Housing Act 2004. In an earlier intervention I mentioned the definitions in that Act, and the need to ensure that the read-across was as accurate as possible.
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That read-across, which can be used increasingly to ensure that a proactive fire safety regime for HMOs is in place, will deal with a high-risk group of people. We all know from experience how vulnerable such people are, either because of the way they live or, unfortunately, because the houses are not fully safe for such numbers. On HMOs, section 10(2) of the Act says:
The other point related to the Act is that the definition of an HMO has been expanded to include houses where students live, which were previously defined as single households. Given the conditions in which many students live, they are, I am afraid, another high-risk group. The Act also requires local authorities to set out licensing for HMOs with more than two storeys and five or more people living in them. In areas of high housing pressure local authorities may undertake full licensing of all HMOs, even if they fall outside that definition.
Those two definitions cover precisely the categories that I mentioned as having a high fire risk. It is important that, as local authorities introduce their licensing, the read-across of the new regulatory reform order into the implementation of the Housing Act is carried out, and proactive fire safety for HMOs can be undertaken as part of that. Since a number of local authorities will, for the first time, have a full and accurate picture of HMOs, it would be an omission not to follow that up by ensuring that the fire and safety regulations in those HMOs are applied in full.
Finally, I add that if a landlord consistently failed in their proper dutyrunning an HMO in a reasonable mannerthe local authority could use its power to remove their licence to run such a house. I would include in "a reasonable manner" the risk at which some landlords are putting their tenantsof being injured or, in some tragic cases, dyingas a result of the way that a house is maintained.
I welcome the regulatory reform order, which marks an important new stage in the way that the fire service operates. I look forward to this positive way of saving an appreciable and increasing number of lives, as a result of fires not breaking out at all, rather than because firefighters are rushing to rescue people who have been engulfed in fires after a failure to take preventive actiononce it is too late.
Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab): I draw the House's attention to my entry in the register as a director of the Fire Protection Association. I have various other non-registrable interests in fire safety which can be accessed via my website at www.jimknightmp.com, since I have been interested in this subject for a considerable time. Principally, this was after learninga number of years before I came into Parliamentthat most fire deaths were preventable through the use of fire sprinklers. My interest in sprinklers has largely drawn me into what I fear many colleagues in the House regard as a slightly dry cul-de-sac.
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I welcome the regulatory reform order; despite the reluctance of the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) to praise it, the debate has shown that we all agree that this is a good move. Something that replaces 60 separate pieces of legislation with a single document must be welcome. I note that the debate pack that the Library, with its usual assiduousness, produced for us, describes that legislation as being the result of the piecemeal response to tragic accidents. In many ways it is my desire to move away from what I would describe as stable-door legislationthat which responds to tragedieswhich makes this debate important to me.
My interest had, happily, not been informed by personal tragedy, or even constituents' tragedy, but that changed at the end of October last year when Laura Meadows, aged six, and her aunt Mary Meadows, aged 13, died in a house fire in my constituency. Four days later another constituent died as the result of an accident with an electric blanket. The previous year, Dorset had had only four fire deaths, and suddenly within a week there were three in my constituency.
I saw the effect that those deaths had not only on the families but on the communities involved. It raised a number of additional questions, which I will touch on if I have time. In essence, none of those three deaths would have occurred had the houses in question had sprinklers. I am working with housing providers in my constituency to see how we can encourage the greater use of sprinklers in domestic premises. Smoke alarms are very important, and I agree that it is important that they are hard-wired, and that people check their batteries where they are not hard-wired. In some cases, they give people more time than sprinklers. However, in most cases having an automated firefighter on the premises is the most effective way of dealing with a fire.
I do not want to say that passive fire protection such as fire doors and fire walls does not have its place; it certainly does. However, we should be focusing on sprinklers when it comes to fire safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) read out a series of press stories about the tragedies caused by fire. I occasionally come across a press story that talks about the success of sprinklers. There was one such story in Swansea in autumn last year, where lives were saved as a result of sprinklers being installed by a housing provider.
Richard Younger-Ross : The hon. Gentleman said that he did not want to pass over the role of passive protection. However, one of the problems with passive fire protection such as fire doors in houses is that home owners prop them open. As soon as the kitchen door is propped open, a fire, once started, will spread rapidly through the house. Education can help to alleviate that, but such actions will always be human nature.
Jim Knight : The hon. Gentleman is right. We have to try to understand human nature in such cases. That was certainly the case in the tragic Rhode Island nightclub fire a year or two ago: many of the deaths were caused by the crush of people trying to get out of the premises by the way that they had come in rather than by the fire exits. Again, human behaviour had not been properly accounted for.
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The Government have an increasingly good record in this area. I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Fire Services Bill; I supported that, and I support the approach of integrated risk management plans. Moving to a risk-based system will result in a better deployment of resources, and it appears to be developing new roles for firefighters.
In Weymouth, firefighters are now knocking door to door to talk to residents about fire safety and to check whether they have alarms installed. I know of one circumstance in which a firefighter refused to leave an elderly person's premises until the housing association, which was the landlord, had come to the house and sorted out the problem with the smoke alarm which so alarmed him. That is positive and I hope that we will further develop that risk-based approach in the revision of part B of the building regulations by insisting on sprinklers where possible in high-risk properties such as high-rise flats, residential homes and so on. I look forward to being delighted when that is published in the spring.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) mentioned the requirement for sprinklers to be installed in retail premises over 2,000 sq ft, which was included in the building regulations in 2000. That was to be commended. I was also pleased that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, as part of the Labour party's national policy forum, agreed that we should encourage the use of sprinklers in heritage buildings. The need was pointed out last weekend by the Northumberland fire, which took place largely in the roof. It is possible to put in sprinkler systems to prevent that sort of thing happening and to protect our national heritage.
It is time to go further. A number of myths about sprinklers exist. I have entertained the House before by talking about those: they cause water damage; they accidentally go off; they all go off at once; they are obtrusive; and they leak. Recently, an issue was made out of whether the piping might leak. An issue was also made out of the idea that the water pressure would not be right, but we managed to resolve that matter with the water industry. I will not further delay the House by dealing with those myths individually, but I will say that the debate pack includes a useful rebuttal.
One of the key problems is cost. The ODPM's analysis says clearly that the cost-benefit analysis has been done, which means that many domestic premises do not pass the test. For that reason a challenge has been issuedled by the broadcaster Nick Rossto the industry to produce cheaper sprinkler systems, and I am optimistic that it will produce a better response. We already have one installer in Rochdale who can do new premises for under £1,000. I think that we can halve that if we take an imaginative approach to the British standard which is used in this case.
Ms Drown : Does my hon. Friend think it strange that people might consider spending £1,000 extra on carpets for their new-build home but they would not consider spending that on sprinklers? This is part of the challenge that we need to address. There may be a case for piloting different schemes and perhaps having sprinklers only in the key at-risk rooms. Will my hon. Friend join me in pressing the Minister to consider getting more people to think about the issue so that more sprinklers are installed?
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Perhaps the situation will be similar to that with digital hearing aids, which initially cost the NHS thousands of pounds, until it said that it would provide them in every area. The use then went up by so much that the cost dropped right down, and the product became something that was available to everyone.
Jim Knight : I agree with my hon. Friend. There is a place for piloting, particularly in respect of retro-fitting. It is a difficult area. Few people would argue that all domestic properties should be retro-fitted at a strokethat would fall on the wrong side of any cost-benefit analysisbut there may be ways of piloting measures in order to accelerate the roll-out.
There are economic savings to be made, on rebuild costs and on insurance, if the insurance industry wants to go there. There are also environmental savings from fire prevention which are not measured. There are design freedoms that can be gained from the installation of sprinklers to make buildings more practical and enjoyable for those who use them.
What is the Department doing to continue to assess the efficacy of sprinklers and the cost-benefit analysis of their use? I say to othersthe water industry, housing providers, householders, the fire safety industry and insurance companiesthat we can come together, as indeed many do, in the National Fire Sprinkler Network. If we know that there is a will on the part of Government to move on this matter, we can accelerate the welcome trend in the reduction of fire deaths.
Phil Hope : I am not sure whether time permits me to complete my winding-up speech before a possible vote in the main Chamber but I do not wish to diminish all of the contributions by rushing through. We have had a wide-ranging debate, covering many aspects of fire safety, which I am pleased about.
It is good to see so many Labour Members interested in this important issue. Many have spoken with a great deal of passion and commitment, citing examples from their constituencies of individuals or families who have been touched by the tragedy of a death or injury from fire. I am reminded of the conversations that I have had with leading members of the fire rescue services across the country that fire is one of the most devastating types of injury. It is not possible to recover from a fire injury in the way that it is possible to get over something like a broken leg. The injury is so profound that it lasts a lifetime, and if one gets burnt when one is young a series of skin grafts looms ahead over the years.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and his Committee for all the work that they have done so farthe job is not finished yeton the regulatory reform order. We are grateful to him and his Committee and I hope that he will relay our thanks. It
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is sometimes not the most glamorous of jobs. The fact that he and his Committee have worked so assiduously on the detail has without doubt contributed to a much more thorough-going and useful change to the legislation. I am glad that between us we have clarified the procedure for what happens to the order as it emerges from the Committee.
One point that my hon. Friend raised that I wanted to mention was the production of guidance. It is important that once the order comes into place those affectedthe responsible personshave a clear idea of what is required of them. We shall produce guidance to that effect. We are committed to producing that guidance for the public at least 12 weeks, or three months, before the order comes into being. That will give those affected by it sufficient time to know what is expected of them and how to go about complying with those regulations.
My hon. Friend also mentioned, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), the question of houses in multiple occupation and how the order relates to them. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test was right to point out the issues connected with the wider group of people involved. He mentioned students and others who are in accommodation of that kind. We have accepted the principle of the argument that, where a common fire precaution extends beyond the common parts of domestic premises in multiple occupation, the maintenance requirements should cover the precaution as a whole and not just the parts in common areas.
We take the view that that principle should apply to all types of premises that contain shared dwellings. It should apply not solely to HMOs, but to purpose-built flats and so on. We have not limited amendments in the draft order solely to HMOs, which is the point that my hon. Friend pressed. I am pleased to be able to respond so positively to his experience. As he represents a university town, I am sure that that is of particular interest to him as a constituency Member.
I want to put on the record my hon. Friend's record as fire services Minister. I have been privileged to carry that role forward since his time in office. In a way, we are seeing the fruits of much hard digging and labour some time ago. It is my privilege to present those results to the House.
Mr. Hammond : Will the Minister clarify the point that he has just made about obligations relating to shared or common detection and firefighting equipment? Who will be the responsible person? Will the responsible person for the common parts have a duty that extends into the individual dwellings, or will the occupants of those dwellings be responsible people in their own right?
Phil Hope : The hon. Gentleman made a similar point earlier in regard to third parties. I was going to come to that in a moment. It is true to say that third parties will be responsible. To some extent, they will not be in a position to reclaim costs. He mentioned an adjoining building which somebody has to use to escape. It will be up to the person responsible for that building to ensure that it is maintained in a way that enables that to happen. Any costs to that effect may be claimed against tax relief in the usual way, but a third party would certainly be a responsible person were they responsible for the egress or exit route of somebody in the neighbouring building.
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Mr. Hammond : The problem with that is that, as I understand it, under the present system, the court would become involved in such a situation. To take an extreme example, what is to happen if the responsible person in a building determinesas a private citizenthat, as a result of his risk assessment and his analysis, he needs the next-door building to be demolished. Surely the Minister is not saying that the person who owns that building is obliged to comply without any possibility of compensation?
Phil Hope : The private householder will have a duty to co-operate, although they will not be the responsible person. If such measures are required, that person will have a duty to co-operate with measures to ensure that the responsible personthe second party, as it werewas able to comply with the regulations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) made an impassioned speech about the future of fire safety in her constituency. She spoke powerfully on behalf of her constituents. I want to assure her that the London fire safety plan is about increasing fire safety, not reducing it. That is the essence of the IRMP approach. She is right that local people, including herself as constituency MP, need to know that their concerns about a variety of risks can be satisfied in the current consultation.
My hon. Friend has made strong representations on behalf of her constituents. Being a Member who enters into active and constructive dialogue in the way that she does makes that task a lot easier when we consider the issues. She is a powerful champion for the people of Tower Hamlets whom she represents. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) makes a remark from a sedentary position. My hon. Friend's contributions on behalf of her constituents make a genuine and real difference to their future and quality of life, including the services that provide and ensure safety in her constituency.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) has a high reputation, not just in Committee, but in the Tea Room and everywhere else he can buttonhole me, for his knowledge of sprinklers. I promise that I shall visit his website, if he promises that he will visit minewww.philhope.org.uk. I thought that I should get that on the record.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that sprinklers are an important part of a package of measures to bring about fire safety. The part B review is under way, dealing with such matters as the role played by sprinklers. He has helpfully dispelled myths this evening, as he has done in other forums and venues. The challenge to reduce costs is a key part of the considerations and the cost-benefit analysis, which, as he mentioned, is critical to our judgment of the way forward in making building regulations.
Ms Drown : On the business of visiting websites, I extend an invitation to the Ministerand anyone elseto visit a demonstration house in west Swindon that has sprinklers in it. A fire can be lit within it without the sprinklers operating, and with the sprinklers. It is remarkable. If anyone has any doubts about the effects of sprinklers, they are most welcome to visit it.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset asked whether I will be reassessing any of the situation. He may be glad to learn that we are trying to ensure that we learn the lessons of the Rose Park tragedy in Scotland to see whether we can prevent similar tragedies . The Scottish Executive commissioned the Building Research Establishment, which has the sort of facility mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown), to study a replica fire under laboratory conditions and to examine the impact of potential improvements in fire safety measures for similar premises. We are on the case, with practical research and investigation, to ensure that we learn all the lessons and understand what works. We shall examine the outcomes of that work and consider what changes need to be made to part B of the regulations. In particular, the supporting guidance in the approved documents that accompany the regulations might be appropriate.
The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) mentioned a number of interesting points, particularly about the role that young people sometimes play in fire-setting. A strategy is emerging and there is a number of examples of very good practice, where fire and rescue services are dedicating activities to young people. I mentioned before the work done with children in schools and the curriculum packs that have been produced, but specific individual fire-setters have been targeted. If one imagines a pyramid of young people, most do not commit offences and can be educated at school, but at the top, there are a very few who carry out serious criminal activity. Can we intervene? Why do they get into that behaviour? What can we do to stop them?
There are some very good examples of interventions, such as the Phoenix project in Newcastle, and there is another example in the south-west. I know of firefighters who no longer play a role on a fire engine fighting fires, but have decided to work with young people. They have the ability to establish relationships. They are a uniformed organisation that is not the police, so young people are responsive to interaction with them. Because the firefighters' advice is rooted in their experience of fire and the impact of fire, it has a profound impact on some of those young people. Therefore, there is good practice out there, which I want to see promoted and developed throughout the service.
There was a small debate between the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge on cost and whether this was the right direction to travel. There is clearly consensus that it is the right approach. Just for the record, the net saving of £1.65 million a year cited in the regulatory impact assessment is the calculation derived in the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 from not having to produce a fire certificate. The actual savings are from £47 million to £137 million, but I was trying to distinguish between the package of savings and the specific item of not having to produce a fire certificate and the component of that that is a saving. Costs in there are low as well, but I wanted to be clear about the figures that the hon. Member for Teignbridge was quoting and tell him what saving is what.
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Phil Hope : In our view, the potential short-term new burden costs vary from a saving of £49 million to a net cost of £19 million. Those are the figures in the regulatory impact assessment. [Interruption.] I have two minutes left.
I have not addressed all the issues raised by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge. He knows that we will have another debate next week on the statutory instrument, so I hope that we will have a chance then to address the questions that I do not manage to answer now. I assure him, however, that the IRMPs are an effective regime to deliver enforcement. Although I understand the Select Committee's concerns about it, we believe that it is the right way forward. I believe that the hon. Gentleman agreed.
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There is a big difference between compliance with a court-ordered action and compliance at one's own cost with the demand of a third party. Is the Minister saying that every person will be under an obligation to comply with the demand of any responsible person placed on them at their own cost? Can he answer yes or no?
Phil Hope : Clearly, third parties have a duty to co-operate. A third party would be a responsible person to the extent that they are responsible for the safety of persons generally and would be treated as any other responsible person. The hon. Gentleman may not welcome that reply, but there it is.