The number of incidents and casualties has continued to fall in the first two quarters of 2013-14. Many in the fire sector have at times argued for more regulation to require sprinklers in domestic properties and more commercial buildings. I note that many Members have stressed that today’s debate is not about that ongoing discussion across the sector. The Government’s position has been made clear a number of times. Since taking

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office in 2010, the coalition Government have been very clear about their policy on sprinklers, but I want to put it on the record again. Sprinklers work. We know that. No one can deny it. The myths around sprinklers have been well explained and debunked here today. They are an effective way of controlling fires and of protecting lives and property. That is why they are required, as hon. Members know, in certain higher-risk premises, under building regulations, and why all guidance that we make available to support compliance with the fire safety order highlights sprinklers as an effective risk-mitigation measure. It is right that it does so.

However, not all buildings carry the same level of risk. Those with responsibility for ensuring fire safety in their businesses, in their homes or as landlords should and must make informed decisions on how best to manage the risks in their own properties. More and more techniques are being developed in addition to sprinklers—the hon. Member for West Ham touched on some of them—which save lives. In speaking generically of “sprinklers”, other Members may have covered some of those.

In our commitment to be the first Government to reduce regulation, we have introduced the one in, two out rule for regulation, which the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse mentioned. I reassure him that I am coming to his point about business rates. Under that rule, when the Government introduce a regulation, we will identify two existing ones to be removed. The Department for Communities and Local Government has gone further and removed an even higher proportion of regulations. In that context, Members will understand why we want to exhaust all non-regulatory options before we introduce any new regulations.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse mentioned business rates for plant and machinery, and that the way in which sprinklers are assessed might act as a disincentive to installing them. Special rules to remove sprinklers from the rating system, outside the general principles relating to plant machinery, might raise issues of fairness and competition for all ratepayers concerning other building fire prevention measures, so it is difficult to see how we might take that idea forward. In addition, the Valuation Office Agency assesses rateable values independently of Ministers, and it is answerable to the courts. However, I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s comments about sprinklers and building protection mechanisms, and I will take that idea away and have a look at it. On cross-party working, which the hon. Member for West Ham mentioned, I am happy to discuss that and my response can be fed back to the all-party group.

There are always calls for Government to change building regulations, and that is often the default position of those who see regulation as an easy answer. As Members have noted today, however, it is not the only answer. We should intervene only if it is entirely necessary, and only as a last resort. As many Members have said, the core aim of today’s debate was not to call for regulation but to highlight fire sprinkler week. Although we have not carried out a fundamental review of building regulations for fire safety, we recognise that it is important to maintain and update standards. That is why we have commissioned the Building Research Establishment to look at a number of issues and to provide the evidence

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that we will need in future. No doubt, the use of sprinklers will form part of that work. We will ensure that experts from across industry and the wider fire sector, including organisations such as the Chief Fire Officers Association and the business sprinkler alliance, feed into those discussions.

Statistics tell us that someone is more likely to die in a fire if they do not have a working smoking alarm. That is why the Department continues to fund and support the “Fire Kills” campaign, which is designed and delivered in partnership with fire and rescue authorities. It is an excellent example of how awareness and education have influenced fire safety behaviour by providing basic fire safety information to households, in order to help them alter their behaviour and think more about fire safety as an important issue that may affect them and their families. I am pleased to see that the sector is adopting a similar approach to promoting fire safety benefits, with the creation of the first fire sprinkler week.

We all agree that a fire, whether small or large, can bring tragic devastation and loss to a business, affecting its employees, its contribution to the local economy and its ability to recover and to continue trading in the aftermath of such an incident. Members have given clear examples of that today. I welcome the recent publication of the two research reports sponsored by the business sprinkler alliance, which were undertaken by the Building Research Establishment and the Centre for Economics and Business Research. Those reports considered the environmental impact and carried out a cost-benefit analysis of fire sprinklers in warehouse buildings, which is the key focus of today’s debate. The principal conclusion of the research was that sprinklers are, on average, a cost-effective investment for warehouses that have a floor area greater than 2,000 square metres. Businesses must determine how best to comply with their statutory responsibilities in the knowledge of such information. Building owners, housing providers or home owners must be aware that other equally effective measures may be available, and such information may feed into their decisions.

We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation. It is clear that fire sprinklers work, and I am happy that the Government continue to emphasise that; I do not think there is any disagreement about that. Fire sprinkler week is an important part of the education process, which I hope will make industry, businesses and individuals more aware of what is possible.

I appreciate that there are differences of opinion about the costs of sprinkler systems. I spoke to Nick Ross, whose view is that a sprinkler system can be installed in a new-build house for as little as £600, and the industry will be keen to make a similar case to debunk some of the myths about cost. Research held by the Department shows that the cost per house is still in the thousands of pounds. I appreciate the argument that has been made about Wales, although no houses have yet been built under the new regulation. The cost of fitting a fire sprinkler system may affect house building—something we want to encourage—so we must wait to see what impact that regulation has.

I welcome the creation of fire sprinkler week, which is a good step by the industry, and I am sure it will help to raise awareness of the undeniable benefits of sprinklers.

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They enable householders, housing providers and building owners to make informed decisions about the fire safety measures that are appropriate for their circumstances. That extends beyond personal safety to property protection. The fire sector has a key role to play in helping building owners to make informed decisions about the fire safety measures that are appropriate for their circumstances. I urge the sector to continue to engage proactively with representative bodies for industry, commerce and housing providers, and to make the case for effective and proportionate fire protection. I encourage passive and active interventions in all areas of business and housing stock in England. I wish fire sprinkler week every success.

4.17 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick: I appreciate the Minister’s comments, and I will return to them at the end. Although several colleagues have generously congratulated me on securing the debate, it was secured collectively. The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) and I went to the Backbench Business Committee, on which we had an insider dealer—the chair of the all-party group on fire and fire safety, the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), who is not with us at the moment—lobbying for us from the inside. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) was a signatory to the request for the debate.

It is good to see two former fire Ministers here, my right hon. Friends the Members for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) and for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford). My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich has been here for the whole debate and takes a keen interest in the matter. The hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) has a powerful local ally, and it is good to hear that they are making such good progress. She is a former West Ham United supporter—I always try to get that into debates when we are in the Chamber together.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) was able to join us. Her comments about how valuable she found the event

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last week demonstrate how effective such events are at opening our eyes to outside interests. I point out to those who are not members of the all-party group that it is very active and it would be great if more Members joined us. Some all-party groups have had a bit of a bad press, but ours works hard and is effective.

I am grateful to the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) for her positive comments, and to the Minister for his supportive comments. It is good that he picked up on the offer of cross-party talks that would include business. Many of us feel that there is a need for regulation. The hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole said that she has been told of building regulations being repealed locally. I have heard stories such that, because of the repeal of the London building Acts, a number of establishments in the west end that previously were required to be sprinklered are now consulting their insurance companies about de-sprinklering because they say they would save money. There is pressure the other way on this issue—it is not all one-way traffic—so we would be grateful for whatever the Minister can do. We look forward to engaging with him in due course, and to him writing to us about business rates. I know he said that that was a difficult issue, but it might not be impossible.

As my friend, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) said, we will be pressing the Minister’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), about amendments to the Water Bill in the Lords. Some water companies are very positive, but, as was mentioned, others are very awkward. The situation is neither all good nor all bad. Evidence is emerging all the time to strengthen the case for sprinklers domestically, as well as in care establishments, nursing homes and commercial premises. The all-party group will continue to press on this issue, and we look forward to engaging with both my hon. Friend the shadow Minister and the Minister in the months and years ahead. Thank you, Mr Brady.

Question put and agreed to.

4.20 pm

Sitting adjourned.