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21 May 1996 : Column WA83

Written Answers

Tuesday, 21st May 1996.

Fire Safety Review

Lord Boardman asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will report on the interdepartmental review of fire safety legislation and enforcement, and on the implementation of the general fire safety aspects of the EC framework and workplace directives.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): The review was established to examine what scope there might be for rationalising relevant legislation and enforcement arrangements while maintaining or improving standards of fire safety. It found that there were overlaps in present legislation and enforcement arrangements which could impose burdens on business and create uncertainty. Consultation on the report showed that while there was general agreement that existing legislation should be simplified and made more coherent, there was no consensus on what precisely should be done to effect those improvements.

In the light of the consultation exercise we have decided,

    that fire safety should, in general, be treated separately in legislation and that its enforcement should rest principally with fire authorities;

    that the outstanding fire safety elements of the EC Framework and Workplace Directives will be implemented by regulations to be made under the European Communities Act 1972; we believe that the minimum safety standards required by the Directives broadly reflect the safety standards required by existing legal obligations on employers and therefore that the good employer has nothing to fear from the proposed regulations;

    that monitoring, control and supervision of the fire safety aspects of the risk assessment and of the other actions that the regulations require employers to take will be the responsibility of fire authorities;

    that Section 9A of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 will be disapplied by the regulations to the extent its provisions overlap with the specific requirements of the regulations;

    that the powers provided under Section 5 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 will be applied to the enforcement of the Fire Precautions Act 1971, to improve further the fairness, transparency and consistency of the supervision and control of the Act's requirements;

    to consult, by July, on widening the scope for fire authorities to exempt premises which do not

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    constitute a high risk from the need to have a fire certificate;

    to consult on a revised fire certification system based on risk assessment to target it more accurately at premises where there is a high risk of loss of life from fire;

    to invite the Health and Safety Commission to review in parallel the operation of the Fire Certificates (Special Premises) Regulations 1976 (for which it has policy responsibility);

    to commence consultation in June 1996 on the elimination of overlaps between the physical fire standards in national legislation and fire safety provisions in Local Acts and bylaws;

    to review physical fire standards and codes of practice to ensure greater consistency and simplification for business. We shall commence consultation in the Autumn;

    to bring forward proposals by the summer to amend the building regulations to cover certain physical fire precautions currently covered by fire certification to provide a one-stop shop for developers;

    to clarify the respective responsibilities of building control and fire authorities with the aim of streamlining current arrangements to help reduce costs for developers.

We are issuing today for consultation draft regulations intended to give effect to our remaining obligations under the EC Framework and Workplace Directives. The draft regulations will be made under the European Communities Act 1972. The draft aims to avoid imposing unnecessary burdens and so, where appropriate, follows as closely as possible the language of the Directives to ensure that the regulations go no further than strictly required. The duty imposed on all employers by the Directives to conduct a risk assessment for their workplaces has generally been implemented by the management of health and safety at work regulations of 1992. Employers will be able to carry out the fire safety element of the risk assessment either as an integral part of an overall risk assessment, or may undertake it separately.

Where an employer fails to comply with any duty in relation to fire safety, the fire authority may apply to the courts for an order requiring compliance or if the breach is a serious one, may issue an enforcement notice. If the breach is deliberate, reckless and is serious, the employer can be prosecuted.

The powers provided under Section 5 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 will be applied to the Fire Precautions Act 1971 by means of a statutory instrument to be laid before Parliament by the end of 1996 and we shall identify other fire safety legislation where these powers could apply. The proposed new regulations to give effect to our Community obligations will also incorporate the principles underlying these powers.

We intend that rationalisation and simplification of the fire safety regime to reduce burdens on business while maintaining necessary safeguards, should be a

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continuing process. Subject to an analysis of the costs and benefits, we will be looking for further opportunities to rationalise both law and practice.

Copies of the consultation document, which includes the draft regulations, are being placed in the Library.

Sporting Club Police Raid: Media Presence

The Marquess of Ailesbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the strength of, and what is the explanation for, the media presence inside the National Sporting Club during the recent police raid.

Baroness Blatch: The carrying out of police raids, and whether television and newspaper reporters are allowed to attend, is an operational matter for the chief officer of police for the area concerned, in this case the Commissioner of police of the Metropolis.


Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In how many instances deportation measures in progress concern persons who (a) have never committed a criminal offence in the United Kingdom, and (b) are fully self supporting and so do not represent a cost to public funds.

Baroness Blatch: Information is not available in the form requested and there is no record kept of such people who are fully self supporting. However, the latest provisional figures available for 1995 show that 1,812 people were removed from the United Kingdom following the start of deportation action, of whom 327 were deported as a consequence of a criminal conviction. However, all those who knowingly overstay a leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, or who breach a condition of that leave are liable to prosecution under the Immigration Act 1971. Of those deported under the administrative powers in the Act, there is no central record of any other non-immigration related offences they may have committed.

British Council Restructuring Costs: Government Assistance

Baroness Wilcox asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assistance they propose to make available to the British Council to help with its restructuring costs and to avoid overseas post closures.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): I have today written to the chairman of the British Council informing him that my department is prepared to meet 80 per cent. of the actual costs of redundancies among its grant-in-aid funded UK appointed staff this financial year. I propose to finance this from the ODA's contingency reserve. Since

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this reserve is higher than originally planned this can be accommodated without affecting our ability to respond to foreseeable emergencies or reducing planned aid programmes. That part of the funding which serves aid objectives will be provided directly through the ODA Vote. For the balance, I will be seeking parliamentary authority later this year to make the appropriate transfer between the ODA and the British Council Votes.

In my letter to the chairman I have also assured him that an additional £5 million in 1997-98 and £9 million in 1998-99 will be made available to the council from within my departmental programme in order to avoid closures of British Council offices overseas, to help sustain their programmes in priority countries and to contribute towards their continuing redundancy costs.

The British Council will of course be continuing with its existing programme of efficiency savings.

EU General Affairs Council, 13th-14th May

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the EU General Affairs Council on 13th to 14th May.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The A Points in Document 7127/96 which will be placed in the Libraries of the House as soon as it is available, were approved.

The Presidency noted the resolutions adopted by the European Parliament in Document 6216/96, PE-RE 33 and drew attention to Nos. 8 (cooperation on EU fisheries with Morocco), 23 (outcome of Turin European Council), 24 (Central and Eastern Europe Integration into internal market), 30 (Baltic Sea Cooperation) and 32 (EMU and Economic and Social Cohesion).

The Council heard a progress report from the Chairman of the Consultative Commission on racism and xenophobia, Jean Khan, about the Commission's study on a possible EU Observatory on racism and xenophobia.

The Council reached political agreement on draft negotiating directives for a new EU/Mexico Agreement. The Commission also presented draft negotiating directives for new agreements between the Community and Cambodia and Laos; and updated agreements between the Community and Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The Commission gave a brief report on progress in the negotiations for "Euro-Med" agreements between the EU and Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon; progress towards opening negotiations with Algeria; and the Commission's exploratory contacts with the Palestinian Authority and Syria. The Council decided to reconsult the European Parliament on the text of the MEDA regulation.

The Presidency reported on progress in the Middle East Peace Process and Ministers had a meeting in the margins of the Council with Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, Ministers also discussed reconstruction aid for the Lebanon.

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EU High Representative Carl Bildt briefed Ministers about the current situation in Bosnia. Mostar Administrator Casado briefed the Council on the Mostar elections. Ministers also had a brief discussion on Albania.

The Council agreed the EU/Russia Action Plan and adopted conclusions reaffirming its support for the reform process, looking forward to free and fair elections, and restating EU willingness to take part in observation of them.

The Council endorsed conclusions on preparation for the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Singapore in December.

The Council also adopted conclusions on Niger, foreseeing progressive resumption of EU co-operation, subject to a review at the Council on 10th June of the results of the 12th May referendum and the lifting of the ban on political parties; and on Liberia, expressing concern at the humanitarian situation and affirming EU willingness to provide humanitarian aid.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary urged EU partners to agree to a relaxation of the ban on the export of gelatine, tallow and semen.

The second substantive ministerial meeting of the IGC also took place on 13th May. Ministers had before them a Presidency note (CONF 3847/96, which has been deposited in the Library of the House) which raised two broad issues for discussion: flexibility of the Union and the efficiency and balance of the institutions. On the former, Ministers considered the desirability of more flexible structures in the Union and whether treaty provisions were necessary to provide a framework for this. On the latter, Ministers considered a range of institutional issues, including the size of the Commission, the scope and weighting of qualified majority voting, the role of the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice, in particular in the light of future enlargement.

The ministerial session was preceded by an exchange of views with the European President and two representatives of the European Parliament.

There were Association Councils with Malta and Cyprus on 14th May, followed by a joint structured dialogue meeting and lunch.

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