§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I beg to move.That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for minimum standards of efficiency and safety in respect of oil-burning appliances; and for purposes connected therewith.Mass production of labour-saving devices and appliances for the home, notably smokeless fuel appliances including millions of electric and oil space heaters, has created special problems in the realm of safety. The whole House will have been gravely concerned in the last few weeks about a series of hideous accidents which have occurred in various parts of the country in connection with oil heaters, most of which have been of the domestic and portable type.
There are in this country today no fewer than 12 million domestic and portable oil heaters in regular use. Of that 12 million, about 9 million are of the safer convector type and about 3 million are of the drip-feed radiant type with which, we are led to believe, special hazards are associated.
The record of accidents is very grave indeed. For example, it is recorded that in 1956 there were 1,202 fires in homes in this country caused by these domestic oil heaters. In 1958, the last year for which figures are available, the number had risen to 4,464 such fires. Out of that large total no fewer than 23 per cent. were accounted for by these oil heaters flaring or becoming overheated.
As a result of special tests which have been conducted it has now been established that many of these oil heaters which are on the market today, when subject to a very slight draught, will go up into a sheet of flame several feet high, and that the draught concerned causes not only a flaring of the oil burner upwards, but, which is much more hazardous and dangerous, causes a flaring of the burner sideways or even downwards, so that a fire in an ordinary room becomes nearly inescapable.
There has been confusion in the matter of methods to be adopted for dealing with fires of this kind, but what is indisputable today is that there is a huge number of these heaters in use. In certain circumstances they are very dangerous and I 1125 think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will join with me in saying that we should examine, at an early date, prospects for establishing reasonable safe standards of oil appliances sold in future.
The hazards associated with these oil heaters may briefly be divided under three headings: first, there is the hazard of draughts; secondly, there is the hazard of overheating and flaring; thirdly, there is the hazard of a fault developing in the injection of the fuel supply. I will deal very briefly with these three headings, in what I hope will be an introductory speech on this topic.
In the matter of draught, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research has said that it has tested no fewer than 35 different types of portable domestic drip-feed type radiant heaters and that in 32 cases a draught at the rate of only 3.3 m.p.h. caused the burner of the appliance to flare. A speed of 3.3 m.p.h. is slower than the speed at which I walk through the Lobby, which I calculate to be at a rate of 4 m.p.h. It needs only the slightest draught to cause a conflagration.
The special hazard in connection with overheating and flaring, of course, is that in many of these drip-feed radiant type heaters the fuel flask which may contain paraffin or kerosene is set below the level of the burner, which creates every kind of atmospheric hazard and one which certainly was not realised until several hideous accidents occurred during the last year or two.
I need not dwell on the third hazard. Wherever there is a drip-feed injection type of fuel supply to an appliance there is a very real danger, especially in domestic surroundings, that it will go wrong and what has been happening is that the fuel supply has often gone wrong. Paraffin has been splashed over a wide area and a fire immediately results.
Those are three of the hazards. They are largely avoidable by proper standards of design, construction, and implementation of them in the manufacture of these oil appliances and I believe that the House ought to specify reasonable minimum standards of efficiency and safety for these appliances.
I do not wish to relate the horrible results of accidents, but it is pertinent 1126 to reinforce my case by reference to just two. On 13th November last, at Ware, in Hertfordshire, five small children were asphyxiated and burnt to death within a matter of minutes of their parent leaving a room with an oil burner set in the middle of the floor, opening the door of the room, opening the front door of the house to go and buy groceries, crossing the road and going only a few yards away. The sudden draught which swept through the front door into the inner room caused an instantaneous fire and the death of those five children.
The coroner at Ware, who conducted a detailed inquest with a jury empanelled, is to be congratulated on the thoroughness with which he dealt with this problem and his demand that the findings should be sent to the D.S.I.R., which is the cause of the train of investigations that have followed.
The second accident happened, sadly, only a matter of ten days ago, in Nottingham, where a Jamaican left the room with an oil burner set in the middle of it, fetched a new canister of fuel and evidently sought to refill the appliance while the burner was alight. The appliance caught fire at once and, notwithstanding the aid of an adult relative, it could not be removed from the room and the fire extinguished before two small children, aged two years and twelve months respectively, had been severely burned. Within 48 hours the child aged twelve months died in hospital, and the second child is still critically ill.
We cannot legislate for the utterly stupid—for people who carry a lighted domestic oil stove from one room to another down a draughty corridor, or try to fill an oil appliance while it is still lighted—but we can try to fix reasonable standards of design, construction and safety.
I wish, in this connection, to point out the exact statutory position today. As long ago as 10th December last I asked my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary whether he would introduce legislation for this purpose. At that time he admitted that he possessed no statutory powers. On 7th March of this year, after he had received a report from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and his own fire advisers, he made a statement in the House, and I 1127 wish to quote a few words from that statement. He said:The main conclusion is that these heaters are safe in a house with the outer doors and windows closed, but that all the heaters of this type tested are capable of starting a fire very quickly if exposed to a draught such as can be caused by an open outer door.I immediately asked my right hon. Friend a supplementary question, in which I said:Does not my right hon. Friend recall that, last December, 1 questioned him as to what powers he had within existing statutes to specify a minimum standard of proficiency and safety for these very dangerous oil heaters and he replied that he had no such power? Would he not agree that it is wholly insufficient to rely on optional British standards of minimum proficiency and safety and that he should legislate to give the appropriate Minister powers to require these safety standards for all new appliances from a very early date?My right hon. Friend replied:Yes, Sir. That may well be a necessity. The question of taking legal powers must follow upon the immediate consultations which my Department is undertaking."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1960; Vol. 619, c. 34–6.]Those consultations have now been completed. Agreement has been reached on practically every point as between the D.S.I.R. and all the technical advisers. I therefore seek leave to bring in the Bill today, at the earliest possible moment, sure in the knowledge that even with full support from both sides of the House and the Treasury Bench it will take several months for the Bill to reach the Statute Book. I emphasise that it is an enabling Measure, designed to give my right hon. Friend the requisite powers in this context, and to enable him to frame regulations under those powers which will be in a form that may be 1128 prayed against in both Houses of Parliament if it is felt so desirable.
In conclusion, I would say that there may be hon. Members who prefer not to rely upon legislation, and who say, "Take the British Standards and rely on the manufacturers." I am a manufacturer, and I do not wish to impugn any of my fellow manufacturers, but I would remind every hon. Member who is listening to me today that it is wholly insufficient to rely on British Standards, because these domestic oil heaters are now being imported, and may well be imported in larger quantities, from, say, Japan, or Sweden or West Germany. How can we control their foreign standards?
In such circumstances I confidently appeal for the support of the Whole House. I am supported in my endeavours today by five of my Conservative colleagues—making a total of six Conservatives—five Socialists, and one Liberal. That is a total of 12 Members drawn from all parties in the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Nabarro, Mr. Doughty, Mr. Snow, Mr. Bullard, Mr. Blyton, Lady Tweedsmuir, Mr. Dodds, Lieut.-Commander Maydon, Mr. Randall, Mr. Beresford Craddock, Mr. Jack Jones, and Mr. Thorpe
§ OIL BURNERS (STANDARDS)
§ Bill to make provision for minimum standards of efficiency and safety in respect of oil-burning appliances; and for purposes connected therewith, presented accordingly, and read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 1st April and to be printed. [Bill 83.]