Home Safety

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th December 1957.

Alert me about debates like this

3.40 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Jean Mann Mrs Jean Mann , Coatbridge and Airdrie

I am glad to have been successful in securing such a favourable opportunity in today's series of debates to put in the House the case for home safety. Those who wish to speak during the hour-and-a-hall which have been allotted for the debate are the officials of the Home Safety Group in the House of Commons. This group is absolutely non-party; there are two chairmen and two secretaries, one from each side of the House. We recognise that political questions are not involved in matters of home safety and that death is not a respecter of persons.

At this time of the year the death rate from burns alone is likely to be five times higher—within these four weeks of December—than at any other period of the year, or for the rest of the year. If for no other reason than that, a warning should be given, especially during the Christmas and the New Year season, about accidents caused by carelessness with candles and matches; about dresses catching fire and children being exposed to danger. We shall be glad if these things are taken note of at this time of the year.

There have already been a number of accidents caused by ladies' evening dresses catching fire. Last week I read about a nightdress catching fire and a death resulting. We have flame-proof material now and there is plenty of it available in the shops at moderate prices. There is no reason why ladies should not ask for flame-proof dresses.

This might also be the time of the year when we should review what has been done during the past twelve months, and I regret that I have very little to report. The question of flammability was raised and submitted to the British Standards Institution, which set up a committee, and I have attended conferences at Manchester and elsewhere. I fear that we shall get a report in which we shall be told that nothing can be done about material which is flammable, but that a Kite mark might be given to identify material which is already non-flammable. That seems to me an unsatisfactory conclusion.

The British Standards Institution, in the report already issued, again come back to what I asked the House to do two years ago, to urge that little girls should be dressed in pyjamas rather than in nightdresses. We hear of few, if any, deaths occurring to boys who are dressed in pyjamas. There are 33 deaths of girls in nightdresses to every one of a boy in pyjamas. The British Standards Institution suggests that the Government should go ahead with a campaign to stop the incidence of deaths in the home.

We are well aware that there are 1,000 more deaths every year in the home than on the roads. Addressing the Conference of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said that, last year, the figure for England and Wales was 7,000. The figure runs at the rate of 1,000 a year more deaths in the home than on the roads.

Last week I said in the House that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents received £68,000 from the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation for its propaganda against road accidents. The Society also conducts propaganda against accidents in the home, and I think it is responsible for every home safety committee which has been set up in Britain; yet it has never had more than £1,500 for this work.

To make matters worse, it has been intimated to the R.S.P.A. that the grant will cease altogether in 1958. The officials of the Home Safety Group met the hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessor at the Home Office about eighteen months ago and found that he was favourably inclined to the increasing of the grant in respect of home safety work. In addition to the £68,000 from the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, the Society gets only £10,000. The attitude in this House about the cause of accidents has been just as regardless as in most homes. The attitude generally is, "It cannot happen to me".

There are still 12 million open fires in the United Kingdom and it is no time to comfort ourselves with the thought that we have the Heating Appliances (Fireguards) Act, 1952, which was followed by the regulations under the Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Act, because there is no enforcement of the regulations. Although it is an offence not to have a fireguard where there are old people and children, such offences are not discovered until there has been a tragedy, and then it is too late. Surely it is not beyond the wit of men and women to devise some method of guarding these 12 million open fires. Already, I am glad to say, the London County Council has shown a fine example, not only by fitting the British Standards Institution fireguard, but by having fireplaces in council houses so constructed that these guards may be fitted very easily. A great many other councils are following that example.

It is in the privately-owned houses where most of these accidents occur. Surely it would help insurance companies if they provided guards at a reduced cost; or, when leases are drawn up—as they are likely to be at this time of the year—a clause could be introduced covering this point as a condition of the letting. I know that we dislike putting conditions in leases, but when council house tenants are obliged to keep their gardens in order, when they are prevented from taking in lodgers or keeping domestic pets, surely it is not too much to ask that this regulation should be introduced into lets of houses to rent. An owner might get a reduction on his insurance premium for complying with some such arrangement.

The other fact that I want to stress is that out of this total of 7,000 accidents per annum, over 5,000 were to persons aged 65 and over. I am again quoting from the hon. and learned Gentleman's address, so that he must not use it against me in his reply. Out of those 5,000, nearly 4,000 were to persons of 75 and over. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say this: It may be that one of the causes of the increase in the number of fatal home accidents is the increasing longevity of the population, for which we have to thank medical science. That is a rather complacent attitude. I think it is so because it is medical science which has made such great strides in keeping our old people alive—really wonderful strides today. I am amazed when I see how doctors can cure an old person of breathlessness, or give someone something to clear up a contusion. How they can keep them going is a marvel, but it is also a reflection on us that so many of them have died through accidents that could be prevented.

I do not think that we are deserving of the work which the doctors and medical science have been doing for us. I am fortified in my contention by the reply which I have received every time I have asked a Question about the deaths of old people. Curiously enough, it has always been accompanied by a reference to an institution. One reply spoke of "deaths in homes and institutions," which rather surprised me. Why do old people die in institutions from falls? I can understand them tripping over carpets and falling downstairs at home, but why falls in institutions? The reply which I had one year was, "I regret that the information is not available."

Yet, only this week, on 16th December, I received the reply that 761 of these old people met their deaths …in institutions of all kinds, but I have no detailed information as to the causes or numbers of those occurring in hospitals in the National Health Service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1957; Vol. 580, c. 3.] That is an astonishing statement. It appears as though we do not care. I know that I have the greatest difficulty in keeping on my feet in institutions. I know that nurses must wear special shoes for walking on highly polished floors, and it seems to me that the propensity of my sex to insist on highly-polished floors is just as dangerous as having fires without fireguards.

We require from the Minister more education and more propaganda. I noticed that the London County Council, at its exhibition in London this year, asked that road safety lessons in schools should be co-ordinated with home safety lessons; and why not? Why should the children in school be taught to "Look right, look left, look right again," but, after that, "You can go home and play old Harry"? We find that that is just what they do. For school children, the evening is the worst time of the day for accidents. They go home care-free and regardless of danger, thinking "It can't happen to us." They throw their schoolbags down and little toddlers fall over them. They have no thought whether a toddler is perhaps walking into a fire, and, at this time of the year particularly, young girls ought to be reminded of the danger of reaching up to a mantelpiece when wearing nightdresses that will readily catch fire.

I do not want to ask for a great deal of money, because I do not think that a great deal of money is necessary. We should combine courses on home safety with instruction on road safety. It may well be that essay competitions and compositions on how to prevent accidents could be arranged and prizes offered. There are thousands of generous people who would quite willingly give prizes to children who could write good essays on how to achieve safety in the home and prevent accidents.

I am reminded that there is a great deal of money lying in hospital endowment funds which can be used for the prevention of disease. I know of one city, Belfast—and my colleague the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) will hope for an opportunity to speak on this subject—where only £1,000 was taken from a hospital endowment fund because the young surgeon in charge of the hospital was so appalled at the number of preventable accident cases which he was constantly treating. When one thinks of the money spent in hospitals in treating accident cases, surely it is much better that we should try to prevent them. Surgeons could go to the schools. The domiciliary fee is only 4 guineas, and I know that surgeons would willingly forgo their fees if they could only get access to school children to tell them of the terrible cases with which they have to deal.

I notice that in Scotland we are ahead of England. The Secretary of State for Scotland has sent a circular to all local authorities asking them to set up home safety committees, and I wish we could have a similar one issued in England and Wales. I know that, when all is said and done, the human factor emerges. The greatest care has to be taken in every home, and I know that people say, "It will not happen to me." I said it myself at one time. I thought it could not happen to me, but it did, and only a month ago, not far from where I live, a young mother lost four beautiful children. She was not a careless mother, but a very careful one, a mother who was an example to the rest of the neighbourhood, but in a few short minutes she had lost all her four lovely children.

I often think at this period of the year, when I have to rush around to buy about 20 presents and go home and pack them up, what a terrible lot of work it is for me, but when I go to deliver them I am glad that I did not lose my own home. At least, I have three sons left who have married and who themselves have children, and, therefore, I feel very lucky that I am still able to go around with Christmas presents for them.

I hope that the mothers and fathers will be alerted this Christmas and will realise that it can happen to them as it can happen to any of us. I hope, also, that this House will, in the coming year, concentrate upon a big drive to reduce very greatly the number of accidents in the home.

4.1 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Patricia McLaughlin Mrs Patricia McLaughlin , Belfast West

This is a very fitting time for me to discuss the problems of home safety. Like the hon. Lady the Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann), I am grateful for the opportunity of raising the matter on the Adjournment and of supporting what she has said.

Christmas is traditionally a time of good cheer, yet without any doubt there will be a considerable number of unhappy homes by this time next week because people in them will have suffered from quite unnecessary home accidents. There are people who say automatically, "What happens in the homes is a matter for those who run the homes," but that is entirely erroneous. Many of the things which happen in the home, in fact the very architecture of the home, cannot be organised or influenced by those who occupy the home. Today, we are considering what could be done in the future and not only what has been done in the past. There are several points that I wish to elaborate.

The hon. Lady has mentioned that the grants of money which are given by the Government for the publicity campaign against home accidents are pitifully small compared with the sums given for publicity against road accidents, although more people die every year as the result of accidents within the walls of the home than die on the roads. The song, "Home, Sweet Home" has a cynical sound in Britain today, because it is in those homes that people often suffer most.

The varieties and types of accidents are many, and some of them have been mentioned. The most frequent accidents are caused by falls and burning and scalding. We do not know how many people are permanently injured by them. It is pitiful to hear an old woman moaning from severe pain and deep shock after a burning accident suffered in her own home, or to see a small child with scalded fingers or body. Scores of children will never be able fully to carry on a job in life, simply because of a home accident. They will spend many years in and out of hospitals, at great cost to themselves and to the country.

Burns and scalds mostly happen to the younger children; accidents from unguarded fires frequently happen to elderly people. Open fires are not protected in the same way as gas and electric apparatus. Let us face the fact, also, that the design of many kitchens and of utensils such as cookers and saucepans, is sadly, woefully, out of date. In going into many of the houses which have recently been built by local authorities, I am surprised to find that it is still the habit to design the kitchen in such a way that spaces of 18 inches or more are left beside gas cookers which boys and girls can get into and possibly pull down saucepans of boiling fluid upon themselves. This is the cause of many accidents.

The hon. Lady has pointed out that there are still too many unguarded fires, including the old types of electric and gas fires. Publicity and public education are essential. It must become widely known that it is possible to get these unguarded fires satisfactorily shielded. Nevertheless, it is still necessary that all fires, whether guarded or unguarded, should be treated with extreme care. That is a point which the people of this country forget.

During last summer I visited nine European countries and I was surprised at the number of homes in which there was no possibility of a home accident from burning for the simple reason that there was not an obvious, open, heating apparatus. We are behind those countries in central heating. We have more houses than flats, yet we still prefer to have the open hearth or the electric fire than to have hot-water pipes. Therefore, more possibilities exist for accidents in our homes.

A point which is very important is that safety appliances are subject to Purchase Tax. One difficulty in raising these matters on the Adjournment is that Purchase Tax has often been discussed in the past and that we still desire to have the tax removed in the future from many items used in the home.

Many young men and young women are now inventing safer equipment. I have a large number of details about them. It is difficult to get manufacturers to take up any particular article, although it might prevent accidents, because of Purchase Tax. It is not for the manufacturer to add unnecessarily to the cost of his products. I know of a considerable number of safety devices which would help to reduce death and severe injury from accidents in the home. Let me mention a few of them.

There is a very clever invention to prevent children from turning on gas taps. We all know how many accidents, sometimes resulting in coal gas poisoning, arise in that way. There is an excellent invention for preventing flex from trailing from an electric fire. The fire will have only as much flex as it requires because the remainder is automatically drawn into the rear of the fire. There is a safety guard for sliding windows and shutters. It would be wonderful in flats for preventing accidents at windows.

Another very important device, worked from a battery, is intended to prevent old people from being locked in a bathroom and killed. They might not be reachable because the door of the bathroom was locked. Even more wonderful is a new type of light for people who are partly incapable of movement. One central switch is sufficient and by an adjustment they can have light in whatever part of the room they require it.

There are many other inventions with which I will not weary the House. We are held back from marketing many devices which would considerably help to reduce accidents in the home. Manufacturers have not the incentive to take them up because Purchase Tax would make the appliances too expensive. This point should be brought forward very clearly indeed by means of publicity. Local authorities have done much to build houses and supply homes for our people, but I wish they had gone just a little further and ensured that every home automatically had fireguards for the open fires.

The only major argument that I have heard against this is that if there were accidents while the fireguard was in position the local authority might be held to be responsible and might have to pay compensation. I am informed that this point need not worry the local authorities because the ordinary type of insurance would cover it.

The British Standards Institution has produced a very suitable type of fireguard for the modern home. Fireplaces are now being made to which these fireguards can be attached and it can also be fixed to any existing fireplace quickly by any handyman, and so make the fireplaces safe. What I like best, and what would appeal to the modern housewife, is that they can be made in colours. They can be red, yellow or green and do not have to be the traditional black. They can be left in place throughout the winter and the fires can be cleaned without removing them, and in the summer they can be filled with trailing plants. There is no excuse for anyone saying, therefore, that fireguards are not practicable. The great difficulty is that many people do not know about them; only a few hear about them, and many hear too late.

Fittings in many houses are another subject for worry. More than 5,000 old people suffer in home accidents every year, the bulk of them through falls. In many cases, that is because there is something in the home which is riot satisfactory. A number of cases have been due to a trailing electric flex, the bad shape of a staircase, or bad lighting of steps. The danger from trailing flex continues because we put in electric plugs at foot level. Anyone who has watched an elderly person—not very strong and whose blood is likely to rush to the head easily—stooping and making a major effort to turn a switch on or off when the plug is near the floor, will realise this difficulty.

I know this from personal experience, as at one time I had to arrange for plugs to be put in at waist level. They helped people very much because that avoided the necessity for bending and stretching, which is most difficult for some elderly people. Combined with the modern type of device whereby an electric fire has not a whole bundle of flex trailing behind it, but only a sufficient length, the danger of elderly people falling or stumbling would be prevented. Architects face a tremendous challenge. If we are to keep people alive longer, obviously we wish to keep them at home and, if we are to keep them at home, those homes must be most suitable for them to stay in. Traditionally, in this country we do not wish people unnecessarily to go to institutions.

Over the generations to come, we look and hope for the possibilities of comfortable and suitable homes for elderly people, to live on their own or in company with others. Those homes should be designed and constructed in such a way as to make it possible for those who are not strong and are unable to do normal things in the normal way to do them without danger to themselves. We can have modern fireguards and fittings for electrical and gas appliances, but we have also to remember that often the elderly person does not see the danger in which he or she is placed. Looking at the long-term problem of keeping people at home and keeping them safe, we see a great future development for all voluntary organisations and home-helps. They can visit, train and encourage people to notice the dangers and difficulties, and in that way help to bring forward problems so that we may have an opportunity of solving them.

Like the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie, I feel that progress in this field has been rather slow this year, but I congratulate the B.S.I. on the report it has produced on the flammability of materials. We have as yet to await a standard to be produced. Perhaps, like most hon. Members, I am unnecessarily impatient, but I fully understand the technical difficulties involved. When that standard is produced, I hope that there will be as much publicity, education and discussion on it as possible, so that it may become something which the average housewife will demand, just as much as now she demands durability, washability and crease-resistance in materials she uses.

There are not so many accidents in the home, in proportion, arising from flammable materials used for curtaining and house-furnishing as there are from materials used for personal wear, and it is on personal wear that I wish to concentrate for a few moments. With the new man-made fibres and other changes rapidly coming forward in the textile world, it is obvious that many of the old-fashioned materials will go out of favour fairly quickly. Unfortunately, those which are least unlikely to go out of fashion are those which are the most dangerous. We have the old-fashioned idea of the nightgown and also the old-fashioned idea of using flannelette for it. The combination of the two causes more misery and sadness in the home and more danger than anything else. If I had my way, I would completely prohibit the wearing of nightgowns made from flammable materials.

We are considering how to make the average Britisher conscious of the danger of allowing anyone to wear highly flammable materials, and that brings me to the whole question of publicity and education. Over-burdened as the average hard-working teacher is, I wish teachers would give a little more of the energy and time with which they are so generous in so many ways to putting this problem across to children in school classes once or twice a term. If teachers were really conscious of the tremendous good they could do by letting all this be known to young children growing up to be the next generation of home-makers, they could perform a tremendous service.

I know that the curriculum is very full and that already teachers are doing many things which they consider to be outside teaching; but to make a child understand the difference between safety and danger is one of the most wonderful things a teacher could undertake to do. I believe that it would not take very long. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and many other reputable bodies would be glad to help with information, publicity and anything else they have in their power to help teachers who have in their hands the possibility of performing this valuable task.

The committee of the Belfast Hospital for Sick Children felt justified in taking £1,000 of local endowment for a campaign in order to try to bring before the public the danger of home accidents, particularly those arising from burns and scalds. I have some little experience of the time taken to rehabilitate a person who has suffered a serious accident of that type. It may take months—on an average at least 42 days in hospital—and it may take many years. During the last period of firework displays I was made aware of the number of people who manufacture and sell fireworks and of the responsible parents who allow them to be used, without supervision in many cases, causing severe accidents.

All these problems raise different points which affect various Departments of the Government. Each, in turn, can bring mitigation of the problem of home accidents. There is no one particular answer, but many small answers which, co-ordinated together, would do a great deal to minimise a very black spot in the life of the nation. I hope that our discussion this afternoon will draw attention, at this time of Christmas, to the need for great care and that those responsible will feel that every small thing which can be done will be worth the doing, even if it prevents only one accident.

If, today, we can go away feeling that we have at least made clear that Parliament accepts responsibility for publicity on this matter, that the necessity for publicity is recognised and that, in future, we shall not be sparing of our time, energy and money to see that everyone in the country is conscious of the problem facing us; if we are determined to see that something serious and far-reaching shall be done to prevent the continuance of this very serious and dangerous aspect of our national life, the debate will have been worth while.

4.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hilary Marquand Mr Hilary Marquand , Middlesbrough East

Like other members of the all-party Home Safety Group, I am glad that we have been given the opportunity to talk for a short time about this subject. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) has reminded us, this is a season of the year in which we ought particularly to be drawing attention to the need for safety at home. It is the season in which the scattered members of the family come home and in which we invite other people to our homes. We, in turn, visit the homes of friends.

In short, it is the season in which great bustle and activity goes on in the home and when, by the very nature of our climate, we need to have all kinds of fires and sources of danger about us. It is a very sad thought indeed that for many homes, if present trends continue, it will be a very sad season because of accidents in the home. It is, therefore, all the more important that we should talk about it this afternoon.

We formed this small all-party group in the House of Commons a year or more ago because many of us became aware, possibly for the first time—certainly, it was the first time for me—of the alarmingly heavy incidence of accidents in the home, particularly compared with the incidence of accidents on the road, about which we all knew and about which no citizen can very well be ignorant. The danger of death or severe accident on the road has been continually drummed in our ears for a very long time. It is surprising that more people are killed in the home every year by avoidable accidents than on the roads. As in the case of accidents on the roads, it is the children and old people who are the chief victims. Therefore, we formed this group to try to bring about a more vigorous approach to what was being done about the problem.

A great deal can be done only in the homes. It must be done in private because the accidents occur in the home. It cannot be done in public, as with road safety, where the accidents take place in public and where the police can be quickly involved. The police cannot do very much, except through information, about accidents which occur in the home and where the police are not wanted. Though that is so, and these are affairs mainly for private action by careful parents, or those who have old people living with them, to see that all the apparatus provided is not such as to cause accident and that precautions are taken wherever possible, none the less it remains true that unless people are constantly reminded of these dangers and constantly informed about what wise precautions to take the accidents will continue.

The duty of Members of Parliament and the Government is to ensure that the necessary information and education is provided. The provision of information and education is well recognised as a duty of present day government. Of course, the prevention of disease has long been recognised as a function of government. It is a very short step to take from saying that it is the duty of the State to do all it can to prevent disease to saying that it is the duty of the State to do all it can to prevent disablement or possibly death as the result of accidents. We therefore feel that it is the responsibility of government and, therefore, a matter which Members of Parliament can and should collectively take up to ensure that all possible measures are taken for informing and helping the public, even in their own homes, to prevent accidents.

There are three Government Departments in particular which bear a special responsibility. There is a fourth Department if one includes the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education has no direct responsibility, but we must, in passing, pay tribute to the work of teachers, who are increasingly devoting attention to teaching the younger children in schools some of the things that can be done to prevent accidents and encouraging them to take the action in their homes. Their responsibility is not so prominent or so major a responsibility as that of the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Health and the Home Office.

I am very glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is here as well as the Joint Under-Secretaries for the Home Department, one of whom, as we know, has not only very special knowledge but experience of the need for home safety. We saw the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade for a short time. I am not complaining about his absence, but I hope that whichever of the Ministers replies to the debate he will have something to say about the activities in this sphere of all those three Departments.

In passing, may I say how much the old people and children are indebted to both hon. Ladies who have spoken this afternoon, my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin). They are indefatigable in this matter. They provide themselves and us with a constant stream of information. They do not weary of well-doing in explaining these matters at public conferences and in using every possible avenue of publicity to make them known.

As I say, the Board of Trade has a responsibility in this matter because it has now been found that one of the major causes of very serious accident—the accident caused by burning—arises from wearing inflammable clothing. We know that the British Standards Institution has been doing what it can to promote knowledge among the public of what clothing is flammable and what is less flammable and to promote among manufacturers agreement upon a standard of flammability so that that can be published and made known. I feel disappointed, without being able accurately to pinpoint the details of my disappointment, with the rate of progress. I have had personal contact with the British Standards Institution and its very energetic director. I know that they want to make progress, but how much progress has been made? Am I right in feeling that progress has been slow? If so, why has it been slow? What obstacles remain to be overcome? How long must we wait before a housewife who goes to a shop to buy a garment can be assured that a particular material passes a flammability test? I hope that we shall get the answer from, at any rate, the junior Minister of the Crown who has been in contact with the Board of Trade on this matter and knows the most up-to-date information.

I suppose that the Ministry of Health must be the Government Department above all others which is conscious of the heavy incidence of these accidents. After all, the victims of all but the most trifling accidents have to go to one branch or another of the National Health Service for treatment of the result of their accident. As the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State to the Home Department, who was previously Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, knows very well, as does the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, many of these victims of accidents in the home remain in hospital for very long periods—indeed, distressingly long periods.

It takes a very long time to treat the severe burns, especially to children, which can arise from the sudden igniting of these dangerous nightdresses to which my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie referred. These victims remain in hospital for a long time. Through all the devices of modern surgery, modern anaesthetics, and modern plastic surgery, their chances of recovery are better than they were, but their treatment involves a heavy expense to the National Health Service which the Service would gladly avoid if it could.

There is money in this for the Government. A little money spent in educating people on the precautions to take, on what sort of material to buy and what sort of night clothing to buy for their children, would save the Health Service far more money on its hospital and other medical services. This is a factor which the Government should bear in mind when they make up their mind how much money to spend in this respect.

I will come back to that in a moment, but I want to say a few words about education and the necessary constant repetition of what we already know so that we are constantly reminded of it at the right moment. It must be continually dinned into our ears. If, as frequently as we din into their ears the statement, that "Beer is best", or "Guinness is good for you", we could din into the ears of the British public the statement that little girls ought to wear pyjamas, and many other statements about home safety, we might save many lives. These are things which one ignores oneself. I do not suppose there is an hon. Member in the Chamber who has not at some time burned himself or herself through standing too near to an inadequately guarded fire. We go on doing these things unless we are constantly reminded not to do them.

One of the means constantly of reminding people to keep themselves on the alert is by good neighbours getting together in a local home safety committee. In their own locality they can get in contact with clubs, guilds, societies and all the other organisations, remind them of these things and spread and repeat the knowledge again and again. That can be done through home safety committees.

Some time ago when I asked a Question of the then Minister of Health, he told me that local authorities were undoubtedly empowered under the National Health Service Act to provide grants for local home safety committees. How many of them are receiving such grants? I wonder whether the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who is to reply, can tell us that this afternoon. If he does not know the answer, perhaps his colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health may have means of finding out before the end of the debate. How many are there in England and Wales? We know the answer in respect of Scotland. The Scottish position is very much better than in England and Wales. How many local committees are receiving grants from the Ministry of Health under the National Health Service Act as part of their work in disease prevention?

The committee of which I have the honour to be one of the joint chairmen is an all-party committee. I do not want to introduce a partisan note into the debate because that would be unfair to my colleagues, but I must, in passing, refer to Government grants to local authorities. I hope that we can be given an assurance that in the new system of paying Government grants the Government will take into account, before the size of the block grants is fixed, the urgent necessity of providing grants for local home safety committees through the authority of the Minister of Health. At present, if a local authority gives a grant of this kind it receives proportionate assistance from the State. I hope that in future, when the authority's block grant is calculated, the Government will bear in mind the necessity for grants of this kind for disease and accident prevention work through the local home safety committee.

Turning to the Home Office, I want to ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State whether, in the collection of information about accidents, it has been possible for the Government to ascertain what proportion of the accidents through burning now arise, first, from the open coal fire and, secondly, from the unguarded electric and gas fires which it is still lawful to use if they were in use before the Heating Appliances (Fireguards) Act was passed. If that information is not available I seriously suggest that steps should be taken to obtain it during the coming year. How far, in particular, are these unguarded fires, which are still lawfully used, the cause of accidents from burning? That information should, if possible, be obtained at the time of the notification of the burning accident.

The responsibility for the working of the Heating Appliances (Fireguards) Act in England and Wales is placed squarely on the shoulders of the Home Secretary. We passed the Act two or three years ago. Does the Joint Under-Secretary of State feel that perhaps the time has come to use new methods of advertising to the public the desirability of guarding their old fires? This is by no means impossible today.

In the group to which I have referred we made some approaches to the electricity and gas industries about this matter. Are these being followed up? Have contacts been made by the Home Office with the electricity and gas authorities, which are nationalised industries? It should not be impossible for the Home Secretary to get in touch with these nationally owned undertakings and try to inspire them to a vigorous activity in displaying in all their showrooms guards which can be attached to old fires.

Going beyond that, I wonder whether the time may not be approaching when we should contemplate further legislation to try to remove these old and dangerous fires from use altogether. In my view it would not be entirely unreasonable to require people, after the passage of years, to provide themselves with modern and up-to-date fires, but that is only an idea which I throw out and I certainly do not necessarily speak for the whole group in expressing it, because we have never discussed the possibility.

What action is being taken through the local authorities to follow up the suggestions made by the hon. Lady the Member for Belfast, West about the adequate guarding of coal fires? We are satisfied that this can now be done easily. Some progressive local authorities are doing it very well. Is action being taken through the Ministry of Housing and Local Government or in other ways to ensure that, much more widely over the country, in all new houses and, where possible, all local authority houses, where we have some measure of public control, adequate protection for old-fashioned coal fires is being provided?

Finally, what about the Government grant? I have referred to the possibility of the local home safety committees receiving grants from local authorities which under present law would be matched by a proportionate grant from the Government. But grants do not end there. What is required, in addition, and what we have at the moment, is a grant by the Government to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in respect of its work on home safety. Just as that Society receives a grant in respect of its work on road safety, so it receives a grant in respect of its work on home safety. The proportion between the two is, however, absurd. The amount spent in this way on home safety is almost negligible in comparison with what is spent on road safety, yet the needs and dangers are greater in the home than on the road. I am not in any way running down what is being done concerning the roads and I do not want it to be reduced, but I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will assure the House that there is not any intention of terminating the grant.

Just when we have succeeded in arousing greater interest in this movement, just when we are beginning to feel a keener degree of public interest in the whole subject, it would be disastrous to cut off the grant to the one organisation which can hold all the local home safety committees together. I do not think that those local home safety committees would be anything like as good as they are, and certainly they would not be as numerous as they ought to be, were it not for the energetic staff of the Royal Society—only two of them, if I remember aright—who go round the country and keep in touch with these local committees.

The visits by the staff of the Royal Society to the local committees are greatly appreciated and are essential in order to give the committees a sense of mattering and having some importance, a sense that their meetings are worth while and that they ought to be going on with their jobs. It would be a disaster and a disgrace to the country if, at the present time, the Government grant for that purpose were to cease.

4.42 p.m.

Photo of Dr Donald Johnson Dr Donald Johnson , Carlisle

As previous speakers have implied, this subject inevitably rings a personal note, particularly at this time of year and with those of us who have families of young children. The saddest deaths of all, particularly when it occurs from accidents such as we have been hearing about, are those involving young children. None of us could listen to the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann), and, in particular, to her own personal experience, without feeling the very deepest sympathy, though we realise that it happened many years ago.

Accordingly, as I have some qualification in the matter, I propose to deal mainly with the question of accidents in the home in reference to young children. My qualification is that although I have a comparatively small family of three, nevertheless their ages cover a wide range, from 26 in the case of the eldest to 2½ in the case of the youngest. Thus, except for a comparatively short interval of time I have always had a child in the home and for twenty years or more I have had almost continuous consciousness of the question of accidents to children. Therefore, in approaching this debate, I felt, as joint chairman of the all-party committee, that I might review my arrangements in my own home as the father of a family.

It seemed to me that the simplest way of approaching the subject was to follow the manner of one of the Sunday newspaper quizzes, in which one is asked, "Are you the perfect lover?", with various qualifications listed, marks being awarded for each attainment. Because, for various reasons, I score very low marks indeed, I am led to a great sense of inadequacy in my more official position.

For the purpose of the debate, I am taking the five main points in which my arrangements probably have much in common with those in many other homes. The first question is that of open fires. I regret to say that in our home we have an open fire with a very inadequate guard indeed. To get an adequate guard would necessitate altering the brick fireplace to fit the proper kind of fireguard that we have been hearing about. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) say that more decorative safety fireguards are now beginning to appear, because in a sitting room, which is where one has the children these days—the days of nurseries are over—a fireguard could be completely disfiguring. Even the plainer type of safety fireguard, however, is only just beginning to reappear in our local shops. When discussing the matter with my wife this morning, today was the first time that she was able to tell me that she had even seen the proper kind of safety fireguard appearing in our shops. My marks concerning open fires, therefore, are nil.

Next is the question of electric fires. Here again, I must confess that we are still using the old type of fire. To do anything about it would mean throwing away the existing fires and buying the type of electric fire which we always mean to buy, but never quite get round to doing. I should almost welcome the kind of legislation, of which the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) was speaking, that would compel me finally to throw away our existing electric fires.

Next, matches. Matches are some-thing that it is very difficult to do any-thing about where young children are concerned. Again, I have to confess that we have had several displays of pyrotechnics in which my young daughter has been concerned, fortunately without ill results.

Fourthly, the question of pyjamas. Here, at least, I score. I have a little girl who never wears anything else at night but pyjamas. I cannot imagine any parents with the obvious knowledge at their disposal clothing small girls in anything else.

Finally, there is the question of poisons. Here our arrangements are slightly rough and ready in putting the only bottle of tablets in the house in the only place to which a child cannot climb, namely, on top of the wardrobe. I am not certain that that is not the best thing to do. Locked cupboards are all very well—we know that they are recommended in the propaganda—but keys are apt to be lost and, moreover, children are apt to find them. They are even apt to open drawers and, if they see a locked cupboard, they want to get into it. I am very doubtful of the efficacy of locked cupboards. At least, I give myself a mark in this direction.

Nevertheless, I am left with a dreadful sense of inadequacy by the fact that in my own home I am setting this shocking example in these important matters. This leads me to speculate. I think that I am typical of a large number of parents. How are we to educate parents, including ourselves, in these matters? Our great trouble is that we put our home together, we get our routine and we are resistant to change. That is one of the big difficulties. We always mean to do these things, but we never quite get round to doing them.

The hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie put forward the idea of school education and educating the elder children, but I have a feeling that that is not quite a sufficiently early stage at which to start. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West, in thinking of the following generation in education, was rather more on the mark. It is essential to get at the young married couples just at the time when they are starting their homes together, so that they can fix themselves up with safety devices and see that their homes are furnished and equipped as far as possible on safety lines. We cannot, perhaps, start safety education for children right at the altar, but we can start it at ante-natal clinics. It would be an excellent thing if home safety education, particularly in reference to children, could be part of ante-natal clinic training and advice.

In examining children's deaths in the light of the statistics which are supplied, and which I have here, we find that the large majority of those deaths are caused by the five main things that I have mentioned. There is, however, one cause of death, which accounts for a very high number of deaths, about which very little is said and about which it is, perhaps, worth saying something in this debate. Out of a total of 663 fatal home accidents in England and Wales in the age-group of under four, no fewer than 183 deaths are due to suffocation.

Most of these deaths, which could be prevented, are clearly due to having a baby in bed and it being overlaid and suffocated. This is obviously a point upon which young mothers could be educated. A subsidiary cause of suffocation is, of course, the cat lying on the baby's pram. This, again, is a thing which would not occur to a young mother unless she is reminded. One of our own worst causes of anxiety was when my wife and I had a favourite cat as a pet for our little boy, now aged nine, and another baby came along. We were in the quandary whether to get rid of the cat or to take a risk. We kept the cat, but at the cost of very considerable anxiety and almost constant vigilance to ensure that it did not sit on the baby's face. That is a very real risk that is seldom mentioned or pointed out when speaking of these matters.

I want to say a word, as I think I should do, as a medical man, on the question of poison, and of small boys and girls eating tablets in mistake for sweets and losing their lives in this perhaps most poignant way of all. No fewer than 22 deaths were caused in this way in England and Wales in 1955. This is a very grave question indeed, about which something definite should be done, because we are increasingly getting into the custom of taking our medicaments more by tablets than by bottles of medicine.

People are very careless indeed in the home with tablets. They leave them lying about all over the place. There are vast numbers of tablets being prescribed at present. I think that one of the most interesting exhibits both in the exhibition that we had upstairs in this House, arranged by our committee, and also the similar L.C.C. exhibition at Charing Cross, was one that demonstrated the complete similarity between tablets and children's sweets, so that even experts looking at them could not tell one from the other. Perhaps that is, to some extent, inevitable.

What could be done is to have a special label put on all kinds of poisonous and semi-poisonous tablets when they are dispensed by the chemists. Even very young children could be taught to recognise the colour on the label—it could be a special colour—and it could contain a routine warning to parents not to leave the tablets where children could get hold of them. That could be done at very little expense. It should be done in the case of phenobarbitone tablets, which are dispensed in very large numbers, and even the less dangerous aspirin and phenacetin tablets, and drugs of that kind. I hope that the Minister who replies to the debate will say something about that and whether he feels that he can consider it.

What it all finally boils down to is that in this matter none of us is really doing enough, whether we are parents, Members of Parliament, or local authorities. A splendid example was set earlier in the autumn by the L.C.C. exhibition at Charing Cross, a place where everyone could see it and people were continuously reminded of these dangers. There are, however, very few of these exhibitions. I should be interested to hear how many local authorities are taking action throughout the country; they must be very few. Not nearly enough is being done in this matter. The most that we can do in this House is by reminders and debates of this kind. That is what we are doing, but it is essentially a matter for a civic lead throughout the country, which is what we are appealing for in this debate.

4.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr Albert Hunter Mr Albert Hunter , Feltham

I shall not detain the House very long. I want to raise one or two points, one of which I consider to be very important. I should first like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) on raising this subject today. There have been good speeches on both sides of the House, and one can see that there is a large body of opinion in this House alive to the question of safety in the home.

We live in a modern age. There was danger from the old-fashioned irons people used to heat on open fireplaces. There was danger in people sitting around the old open fireplaces without fire guards. Today, we have moved into the age of modern electrical and gas appliances. Anyone with any knowledge of the electrical industry will know that there has been a big improvement in the design of electrical equipment and appliances. I imagine that since 1945 there has been a big improvement in electric irons and electric fires. As we know, manufacturers are now forced to supply safety guards. There has also been a big improvement in electric washing machines and similar appliances. There has been an advance in the technical knowledge of all these electrical appliances.

At the same time I stress the need for the Home Office, in conjunction with the electrical manufacturers, to take some more action, because the electrical manufacturers have a big responsibility to which I think they are alive, and, as hon. Members know, they have to carry out Home Office requirements and regulations. There should be more cooperation between the Home Office, the electrical industries, and the electricity and gas boards.

Why should there not be a safety week for electrical and gas appliances? We have safety weeks in our road campaigns. Why should not the Home Office give a lead to the nationalised boards and electrical manufacturers to institute safety weeks, giving demonstrations of the proper use of electric washing machines, electric toasters, irons, properly guarded fires, and so on? Such a lead from the Home Office would be of immense benefit to the country.

The important point which I now wish to raise has not been mentioned by any hon. Member so far. I refer to the inspection of gas installations. This is not a matter of new equipment. Many houses in this country, especially in the large towns, were piped for gas at the turn of the century. In parts of London and some of the large provincial towns many older buildings are divided off and let as a number of bed-sitting rooms, each with one gas fire or gas ring. Many such installations are very old, and I am not satisfied that the gas boards give proper inspection to some old properties as far as the gas pipes are concerned.

Apart from the sad deaths from suicide, over 500 unfortunate people every year die from gas poisoning as a result of leaking pipes. Some gas installations are fifty or sixty years old, even older, and there are occasions when people go to bed and there is a leak in the pipe during the night and they are found gassed in their beds next day. I have been alarmed by case after case which I have read about in the national Press. As I indicated, the number of deaths from this cause in 1955 and 1956 was over 500 in each year.

I raised the matter with the right hon. Gentleman the Paymaster-General during the debate on the Report and Accounts of the gas and electricity boards. Unfortunately, we had no reply that night. I feel that the Home Office has a special responsibility here. Pipes in old houses become rusty and then leak, and there is often no direct landlord, the premises belonging to a big property owning group, perhaps, with the result that one might say there is no direct control and little or no inspection is carried out. The Home Office should make it the responsibility of the gas boards to ensure that at least once every three years an inspection is carried out, particularly in the older types of property. I feel that in making this point I may be able to render some service in again drawing to the attention of the Minister of Power the importance of this matter.

What has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie on the subject of safety generally is of great importance, and she has done very good service to everyone in raising the matter today.

5.4 p.m.

Photo of Captain James Duncan Captain James Duncan , South Angus

As a founder member of the Home Safety Group, I am delighted to join in this discussion. I should like to begin by congratulating the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) on being fortunate enough to have this important subject first on the list this afternoon for an Adjournment debate. Since the hon. Lady, too, is Scottish, she will readily understand why I am interested in the subject also, for all Scottish people loathe waste and like value for money. It has always seemed to me, since I became aware of the size of the problem and the number of home accidents, that this was an appalling and unnecessary waste. I am, therefore, very keen to do everything I can to help the campaign and reduce the number of home accidents.

The Home Safety Group induced the Scottish Office to issue a circular on this subject, and I am wondering whether my hon. and learned Friend at the Home Office could obtain from the Scottish Office some information as to what the result of the circular has been among Scottish local authorities.

In my own county, I have addressed the county branch of the Red Cross Society. I asked the Red Cross people to do what they could, as part of their ordinary voluntary work, to make known the danger of home accidents. I suggested that they should, in co-ordination with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, see whether they could conduct some of the publicity which my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) has said is so important. I agree with her in that. Last month, through the Red Cross, a series of six lectures was given to all the local voluntary people in the county, and I believe that those concerned are to be congratulated upon doing that kind of thing.

My suggestion is that every Member of Parliament could very well do similar work in his own constituency. It is not a matter of money. The lectures cost practically nothing; only the travelling expenses of the representative of the Royal Society have to be met, and a hall can probably be hired for a nominal sum. The local Member could give the impetus, and then, I believe, the thing would spread and have a snowball effect. It would not cost much. If every Member would do the same in his own constituency, not necessarily through the Red Cross but, for instance, with the trade unions or in some other way, a very great deal could be done to achieve our object in a voluntary way, with just as much success as is achieved with rather hide-bound, heavy, official publicity.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

I support the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) in his remarks about the Red Cross, but I would remind him also that the Women's Voluntary Service does an immense amount of work on this human problem with little or no money at all, helping old people and those with young children.

Photo of Captain James Duncan Captain James Duncan , South Angus

I mentioned the Red Cross because it was to the Red Cross I went in the County of Angus. There are, of course, the W.V.S., the W.R.I., and other organisations equally good, which are available to Members in their constituencies through which such work as I recommend could be done during the Christmas Recess. I suggest to hon. Members that they see what really can be done with very little money but with just a little bit of push. Once people begin to realise the appalling waste of life and the amount of suffering involved, not to mention the waste of money in the National Health Service and many other ways, they will soon cotton on to the idea. A great deal can be done with publicity of that kind.

I come now to the question of flammability standards. I am very disappointed at the slow progress which has been made in the establishing of British Standards. I wish that people would get on with the job. I hope that it will be possible, as soon as something is settled, for both lengths of material and made-up garments to be marked so that people wishing to buy—not only the wholesale buyer but the ordinary housewife who goes in to a shop to buy for herself—may quite clearly see whether an article is flameproof or not. It is no good leaving it to the manufacturer to put a "Kite" mark on the selvedge of a length of cloth. That is all right for the shop, but it is no good for the customer.

We have a long way to go before we can have laid down, first of all, a standard of flammability or non-flammability, and then have it well established in the mind of the customer in the shop that he or she should always go for the "non-flam" material. It should be possible for the customer always immediately to see, either by a mark on the garment or on the selvedge of a length of cloth, whether an article is non-flam or not. I hope it will not be long before we get these standards, and that a great deal of publicity will be given to them when we have them.

I know the enormous amount of damage that is done to children's lives and health through burns. Christmas time is the time of parties and of pretty party frocks. I do not know what party frocks are made of these days. The materials are made of all sorts of mixtures. Some of them may be highly inflammable, but the frocks worn by children at Christmas parties are all pretty. There is a potential tragedy at every Christmas party should those dresses come into contact with a naked flame.

I never forget the demonstration given by a lady in a Committee Room upstairs. The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) will remember it. It was dramatic to see a piece of flammable cloth placed over a lighted candle and watch it disappear completely in smoke and then to see a flame-proof article placed over the candle with the result that it hardly burnt at all. It was a most dramatic demonstration, and I only wish that such demonstrations could be given in halls throughout the country so that everybody could be given a visible demonstration. Such demonstrations might be shown on films and on the television. They would show the enormous difference between flammable and non-flammable materials.

The Standing Inter-Departmental Committee on Accidents in the Home—an awfully long title—is as far as I can make out entirely composed of civil servants. I have a list of its members. A civil servant, admittedly a senior one from the Home Office, is the chairman of the Committee. The Committee last reported either in 1953 or 1954—I forget which—and has not, as far as I know, produced anything very effective since then. Can my hon. and learned Friend who is responsible for this body, because its chairman comes under his purview, say what it is doing? Can he induce it to produce a report? Can he say whether it is meeting regularly and really doing something? I do not say that it is not, but I just do not know, because it never produces any published results of its labours.

I suggest that my hon. and learned Friend should take over the chairmanship of the Committee. It would be a very good idea if he did. It would still be an inter-Departmental committee and, perhaps, instead of being a standing committee it might sit. Presumably if it sits it might at some time lay an egg. We should be able to question the Minister more actively and with greater intelligence on the results of its labours. I believe that if we could get my hon. and learned Friend to take the chair it would strengthen that Committee and help us in our campaign. I notice that there is a representative of the Scottish Education Department on the Committee.

The last suggestion I wish to make is in connection with more publicity about this matter in schools. As has been said by other hon. Members this afternoon, I believe that a great deal can be done by the children themselves. If we can get the children interested we shall, through them, get the parents interested. It has been suggested that there might be an essay competiton for school children. I have not done this, but I put it to hon. Members that they might themselves perhaps offer a prize for the best essay by school children on the prevention of accidents in the home. I might think of doing this myself next year. Why not? Why ask the Government always to provide the money for a prize? It need not be a very expensive prize. For instance, it might take the form of a book about the House of Commons, or something like that—anything which would encourage children to think about the subject.

Teachers might be interested in giving the children a little instruction in order that they may get the background for their essays. The teachers themselves could get the necessary information through the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, at any rate in Scotland, and also, I believe, in England. I hope that the teachers will enlist the support of the fire brigades and ask them to give demonstrations on school premises of what happens not only at a fire to the house itself but of the effect of fire on certain materials, and how fires are caused in a home.

I should like to see the police brought in to lecture to children on the subject. After all, the police lecture to children on road safety. I have seen the most elaborate arrangements made in school playgrounds where the police come along and teach children how to cross the road in safety. Why not have an exhibition in schools run by the police showing how to prevent accidents in the home? The fire brigades could be encouraged to do a lot more. I do not think that the fire brigade in my area has yet done anything in this direction, but I agree that it may have been done by fire brigades in some areas.

These are the sort of things which those who represent the Scottish Education Department on the Inter-Departmental Committee might well take up with the Scottish Education Department. I hope that the Inspector of Schools in England, who is another member of the Committee, might do the same in respect of England and Wales.

I believe that if we can get the children interested in home safety they will see that their parents become interested. A child will say, "Mummy, I do not want that dress; it is flammable."—"That fireguard is dangerous. We must get one which prevents sparks flying out." It is astonishing how children can run their parents nowadays, and I believe that if they were allowed to do so in this matter it would save an enormous amount of money and waste and would result in an economy in hospital costs and labour costs caused by absence through illness and would, in the end, save the taxpayer money, the taxpayer who is already heavily overburdened by having to make a contribution to all Government services.

5.19 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

I intervene in the debate because of some remarks made by the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) and by other hon. Members earlier in the debate. This is a sort of job which does not need money from the centre. It needs the attention and the consciousness of people, as it were, at the perimeter. It is the sort of job which can be done by all sorts of people living in urban and country areas.

My wife, who is very interested in the subject of safety in the home, has promulgated an idea in the borough in which we live of trying to get middle-aged people, men and women, in every road and street to undergo training in first-aid and in the observation of defects. The idea is that if an invalid person or a child is left at home these people can keep an eye on them and can be called upon in an emergency to render first-aid and thus, perhaps, remedy a situation which might develop into something more serious if not attended to at once.

My wife and I feel that throughout the country there are numbers of voluntary organisations which are not adequately informed and kept aware of lots of things they can do, things which do not require money but the personal attention of a socially-conscious person. Such an organisation is the Women's Voluntary Service. My wife is an organiser of one of the W.V.S. divisions, and she has many times told me of very serious cases of injury in the home to elderly people. She and the other ladies in the group could have done a lot to prevent home accidents to elderly people had they been informed by those in a position to give the information that there was a resident whose state of health was such as to make it advisable for certain things to be done in that home.

For instance, only a few weeks ago the group did a lady's washing because the last time she did it she scalded herself. The group was informed and now, in rota, they do her washing. That lady is, therefore, not likely to be scalded again, as she will not attempt to use the boiler. Again, in the homes of old people the shilling-in-the-slot gas meters can also be a danger. Perhaps the 1s. has been put into the meter, the gas tap turned on, and there has been a knock oat the door. Absentmindedly, having answered the call to the door, an elderly person can forget that the gas was turned on.

All this boils down to the fact that all local authorities can use these voluntary organisations of women by giving them information so that where there are elderly people, and I am thinking mainly in terms of old-age pensioners who are house-bound, help can be afforded. I think of elderly persons handicapped by arthritis or rheumatism who, perhaps by handling utensils too heavy for them, are liable to scald themselves. Although, because of my sex, I am not a member of the W.V.S., I have a great deal to do with it. I do what I can to help. I do feel that the local authorities should keep in touch with these organisations—very much as the W.V.S. in Clydebank keep in close touch with the National Assistance Board. They get a lot of information from the Board, and individual members of the Clydebank W.V.S. can, in need, give any help a pensioner may need.

Another organisation that can do a lot of work is the Electrical Association for Women, with which my wife is also connected. That organisation was formed specifically for the purpose of bringing to gatherings of housewives people versed in the uses of electricity and in its dangers. The lecturer comes from the electricity board, and the lecture costs nothing. The gas board will do the same thing for associations that apply. It will send people who will give first-class lectures and demonstrations, not only on the useful purposes of these two commodities, but on their dangers.

The local authorities and the Government should encourage those two organisations. They can provide a wonderful channel through which the Home Office and the local authorities can issue literature, organise lectures and demonstrations; they can spread the information around to the homes in the areas in which they operate. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will consider issuing such material through those two bodies. If he does, speaking for the W.V.S., I know that they will respond 100 per cent.

5.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jocelyn Simon Mr Jocelyn Simon , Middlesbrough West

The whole House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) for raising the subject of this debate. It is one in which I think, public concern and interest has been increasingly roused, in recent years, and not a little of that increased concern and interest has been due to the activities of the hon. Lady herself. We know from a matter to which she adverted with great delicacy that she would be entitled in this matter to be listened to with sympathy in any event but in point of fact she speaks with great authority on this subject, having been closely concerned with it and having put in a great deal of effort over a great number of years.

I am glad, too, that a tribute was paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) for the work she has done in this field. My right hon. Friend is very grateful indeed for the work done by the Parliamentary Home Safety Group. Although my right hon. Friend was technically responsible for the exhibition in this House earlier in the year, it was that group which put on the exhibition and did all the work. That exhibition did a considerable amount of good, and a debate like this is in itself of the greatest value in securing publicity for this cause. That is why I purposely stayed my intervention as late as possible, because it is of great value that the speeches of Members of Parliament should be reported in their local newspapers so that the country as a whole becomes alive to the importance of this issue. From the speeches that have been made, I know hon. Members need no reminder as to its importance.

Again, the hon. Member for Coat-bridge and Aidrie has raised this subject on a very timely occasion. We all know that this is particularly the season of children and the season when the older members of the family are brought into the family circle. We know, also, that in many households it will be a season of tragedy. Therefore, the fact that this debate is raised at this moment may be of value in minimising the tragedies that we know will inevitably happen this Christmas.

A number of hon. Members have made very valuable suggestions, and if I do not advert to them all I know those Members will forgive me, but I will advert to all those with which I have time to deal. Perhaps I can say that I will draw the attention of the various authorities that seem to me to be responsible to the suggestions made. There is the Ministry of Education, and there are the local education authorities. There is my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, who has been sitting here throughout this debate. He will, no doubt, consider the question of the use of the hospital endowments, and I know that he will consider enlisting the help of the Central Council for Health Education in a field in which it may be able to be of assistance. I will draw the attention of the local authority organisations to the matters which concern them.

A valuable suggestion was made as to the part which fire insurance offices might play, and the Royal Institute of British Architects, I think, would be interested in some of the suggestions which have been made. The suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan), and taken up in a slightly different connection by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) about the part Members of Parliament can play locally, particularly in enlisting the aid of local voluntary organisations at a time like this of financial stringency, is of the greatest value.

That brings me, I am afraid, to the question of the Home Office grant to R.S.P.A. I am bound to point out that when the grant was renewed three years ago it was made perfectly plain that it was for three years only. The R.S.P.A. has approached the Home Secretary about the renewal of the grant, and members of the Parliamentary Home Safety Group have naturally identified themselves with the request. Of course, the Government will take full account of the views which have been expressed in this debate, but I am bound to remind the House that the grant was a strictly limited one for a strictly limited purpose. If it is not renewed it does not mean that this campaign should or need fail, for the reasons which have been given by so many hon. Ladies and Gentlemen during this debate, especially those indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus and the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East.

I think, too, that it is unreal to compare a grant made in respect of road accidents with that made in respect of home accidents. It is perfectly true that—