|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
I take my hon. Friends point, and I recognise that mobile homes and caravans are a particular issue, as hon. Members have highlighted. We need to recognise the context: 22 million households, mobile homes and other places of abode use gas appliances. I suppose that we have to recognise that we
have an encouraging, improving record, but we must also recognise that we cannot desist in our efforts to ensure that gas safety improves. The gas industry, gas safety campaign groups, and a host of other people, including many hon. Members, have helped to achieve that improved record, and I pay tribute to them for those efforts.
However, as my hon. Friend explained, the Health and Safety Executive figures refer specifically to deaths related to gas installation work, and do not take account of carbon monoxide incidents arising from other fossil fuels. Those other incidents are no less important; they, too, involve human suffering. More needs to be done to improve public awareness of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning from all fossil fuels, and to raise awareness of the benefits of using carbon monoxide alarms in the home. I shall come back to that subject.
Although the legal framework has provided a context for improving gas safety over the years, unfortunately there are still cases in which the law has not been followed. Sometimes gas fitters are not registered or competent to carry out gas work safely. As has been said, sometimes landlords do not take their gas safety responsibilities seriously, and sometimes members of the public attempt do-it-yourself gas work, with dangerous consequences, or fail to get their appliances properly maintained by competent installers.
When things go wrong and there are serious breaches of the law, enforcement action will be taken. Gas safety cases make up about 8 per cent. of all prosecutions brought by the HSE. They involve actions against landlords, individuals and installers. Registration with the Council for Registered Gas Installers, or CORGI, is a legal requirement for anyone installing or repairing fittings or appliances in homes. The aim of the gas installer registration scheme is to improve standards in the industry, and to help the public find and use safe and competent tradespeople. The HSE will hold all installers, registered or unregistered, to account for their actions if their work is found to be dangerously incompetent. If someone is not registered, it does not mean that the HSE will not pursue them if their work is dangerously incompetent.
Some landlords and people undertaking gas work who have blatantly failed in their responsibilities have ended up in prison for causing deaths from dangerous gas appliances. Recent HSE initiatives against unregistered gas installers have led to the courts imposing sentences that generate significant local and national publicity on gas safety issues. Of course, that strengthens the deterrent to others who might think that they can install gas appliances. Sentencing is obviously a matter for the judiciary and the courts within the legislative and regulatory framework set by Parliament. Ministers and the HSE agree that the sentences or fines for health and safety offences can be too low, and do not always reflect the seriousness of the failure, as my hon. Friend has said.
I should like to express my sympathy to Mr. and Mrs. Worswick for the protracted proceedings in their case, and for what was undoubtedly a wholly inadequate outcome, given the terrible circumstances of their daughters death. As my hon. Friend may be aware, we have tried to introduce legislation to increase sentencing powers through the private Members Bill
route. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) is yet again to introduce a Bill to increase sentencing. If successful, it will raise the penalties for health and safety offences, and will make imprisonment more widely available for serious offences.
I hope that all Members of the House, including those who raised technical or procedural issues to talk out a similar Bill that was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) will think seriously before they do so again. We want to see the Bill enacted.
I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak that the Department of Health is committed to helping prevent deaths caused by carbon monoxide poisoning and to raising awareness of the dangers of poisoning. The chief medical officer has made a point of regularly bringing the issue of CO symptoms to the attention of the medical professionfor example, through his regular updates. The Department of Health recognises, as my hon. Friend indicated, that more needs to be done, working with the medical community, to raise their awareness of CO poisoning, and to provide practical advice on recognising symptoms to help them better diagnose CO poisoning. This is important, as CO poisoning can sometimes be confused with other ailments, such as flu. Recognising the symptoms of CO poisoning is not always easy.
I welcome the Department of Healths decision to put out a call for funding research into carbon monoxide poisoning. Research undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive as part of its 2006 review of the domestic gas safety regime suggested that problems with chronic carbon monoxide poisoning may be more widespread than anticipateda point made by my hon. Friend. The new Department of Health call for research asks for proposals to investigate the incidence of carbon monoxide poisoning, both acute and chronic, and further work to help define the extent of the population at risk who use cooking or heating appliances that are faulty or installed incorrectly.
Mr. Kemp: Will the Minister convey my thanks and the thanks of many fire authorities in Britain for the help that the HSE has recently given with the production of 400,000 leaflets to raise awareness of the dangers of the silent killer, so that when fire checks take place in local communities, people also get information about the dangers?
The research will also call for proposals to assess the number of people experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning by looking at how many are admitted to hospital suspected of non-lethal poisoning, plus the number subsequently diagnosed. This will cover carbon monoxide poisoning from gas and other fossil carbon-based fuels. The results from the proposed research will help to give us better evidence on what is happening with CO exposure and inform us about what more needs to be done.
I emphasise that although the evidence shows that the existing arrangements have helped to improve
safety standards, the Government accept that more needs to be done. I welcome the new industry initiatives to exercise leadership in raising public awareness of the risks of other fossil fuels, as well as gas. As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, these other fuels also present CO risks. The messages are similar to those for gas, and the public need to be fully aware of them.
My hon. Friend raised specific issues, which I shall try to deal with. I shall follow up and write to him about those that I cannot cover now. We need to
reinforce the message that householders should arrange to have their gas appliances regularly checked for safety by a CORGI-registered installer. Gas appliances should always be used correctly. They should never be used if there are any signs that they are not working. Approved carbon monoxide detectors with an audible alarm are highly recommended