Home Safety

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

Alert me about debates like this

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

5.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jocelyn Simon Mr Jocelyn Simon , Middlesbrough West

When the House adjourned to accompany you to another place, Mr. Speaker, I was dealing with the question of the grant and I was submitting to the House that it is unreal to compare the figures of road accidents with those of home accidents in relation to the grant. The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) has done much in this field, but, nevertheless, he put it incautiously when he said that the incidence of danger is greater in the home than on the road. That, of course, is not so.

The reason why there are more home accidents than road accidents is that people spend more time in the home than on the road. We have only to go out into Parliament Square in the rush hour to see at once that it is a very different place from the peace and quiet of most of our homes, and even those of us who suffer at this time of the year from an irruption of schoolchildren nevertheless would regard our homes as superior from the point of view of safety and peace to Piccadilly Circus in the middle of the day.

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

Is not the greater figure for home accidents due to the fact that there are more homes than there are roads?

Photo of Mr Jocelyn Simon Mr Jocelyn Simon , Middlesbrough West

That is a very difficult piece of statistical analysis. It is rather like comparing a herring with three farthings. The fact remains that people spend very much more time in their homes, particularly old people. As the hon. Lady pointed out, the bulk of this problem and, what is particularly serious, the part of the problem which is least amenable to action on our part and least likely to be affected, is accidents to old people.

Old people spend much of their time in the home and, as the hon. Lady pointed out, over 70 per cent. of home accidents happen to people aged 65 and over, and over two-thirds of that figure refers to people aged 75 and over. The truth is that the bulk of home accidents are accidents to old people. They are accidents caused mainly by falls. A great deal can be done in the way the hon. Lady and other hon. Members have suggested, but the only real long-term cure is the better design of homes and the provision of homes specifically for old people.

A number of hon. Members raised the question of domestic burning accidents. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) dealt particularly with the danger to children in that respect, but I must say that from his speech it was not precisely clear whether he was putting himself forward as a careful father or a great lover. Again, the majority of the fatal burning accidents in the home occur to people aged 65 and over, but over two-thirds of the non-fatal accidents in the home from burning happen to children. Those are the facts revealed by a careful survey carried out at the Birmingham General Hospital. I tended to be rather pessimistic about the preventability of accidents to old people, particularly those caused by falls, but there is no question that the bulk of burning accidents to young children are preventable.

A reference has been made to the inquiry of the British Standards Institution, and I can well understand the disappointment expressed by the hon. Lady. the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend. We must face the fact that the result of the inquiry comes to this, that nearly all light-weight fabrics make potentially dangerous garments. Nevertheless, some are obviously much more dangerous than others, and I am sure that hon. Ladies and hon. Gentlemen are right when they say that the loose, floating garment is the one which attracts particular risk, especially nightdresses.

The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) has been carrying on a campaign against nightdresses in the town which we both represent. I think we can well follow that example on the lines which my hon. Friend suggested, and which the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East also suggested. Let us all join in the pyjama game, and countless accidents will be saved.

In addition, research and development in the flame-proofing of fabrics is progressing in a number of places, notably at the British Cotton Industry Research Association Institute at Shirley, and by a number of commercial interests as well. In order to facilitate the establishment of a British standard of flame-resistant fabric for apparel, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has undertaken to issue new regulations under the Fabrics (Misdescription) Act of 1913, and we hope that other Government Departments are also collaborating in the B.S.I.'s work in producing a standard.

Now I turn to the question of fireguards, which is closely associated with fire dangers. The great difficulty here, which has been faced in this debate, is that for effective enforcement there must be inspection. That was the lesson in the early days of all the Factory Acts, and it has been the lesson in many other spheres where a sanction has been erected and not backed by inspection.

This is a sphere where inspection is really not acceptable. I do not think any of us would be prepared to have inspectors of local authorities going into private houses to see if the fire was properly protected. So I think hon. Members are right when they say that the answer here is education, and particularly knowledge of the improvements that have been made, especially as regards the new fireguard for coal fires which has been developed in the course of the last year and of which the exhibition upstairs included an example.

I was asked a number of questions about electrical appliances in the house and what the Ministry of Power had done about gas and electrical dangers. My right hon. and noble Friend has asked the nationalised industries to pay particular attention to this problem. I hope it is not being indiscreet to say that I think hon. and right hon. Members are right when they say that the results are not very striking. I suppose that is natural, because we cannot really expect a commercial institution to draw attention to the dangers of the appliances they sell. Nevertheless, my right hon. and noble Friend has drawn the attention of the nationalised industries to their duties in this respect.

As regards the new electrical appliances, there is no question that the electrical industry has a very good record. Considering the enormous growth in the use of domestic, electrical appliances, there has been a minimal increase in home accidents from that source. I do not mean to say that there is not room for knowledge and for improvement there, but nevertheless that is not the major danger in the home.

Photo of Mr Hilary Marquand Mr Hilary Marquand , Middlesbrough East

The hon. and learned Gentleman has said that it is not reasonable to expect a commercial undertaking to do anything to hamper the sale of its products. Might it not be reasonable to expect a commercial undertaking to advertise, "Your old products, if bought before such and such a date, may be dangerous. Why not buy a new one?"

Photo of Mr Jocelyn Simon Mr Jocelyn Simon , Middlesbrough West

If I may say so with respect, that seems to me a very valuable suggestion, and I will draw that, with the other suggestions made in the debate, specifically to the attention of my right hon. and noble Friend. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) mentioned the danger of coal-gas poisoning. Again my right hon. and noble Friend has appointed a Standing Committee on Coal Gas Poisoning to keep this matter under review and to give assistance in that respect.

Photo of Mr Albert Hunter Mr Albert Hunter , Feltham

Since I spoke about an hour ago, the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie has handed me a paper which shows that there were three more deaths yesterday. There was one in Glasgow and there were two in Middlesex through gas leaking from pipes.

Photo of Mr Jocelyn Simon Mr Jocelyn Simon , Middlesbrough West

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

I turn now to the question put by the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East about home safety committees. I am sure he is right in saying that it is in the growth of those committees that the major advance is to be looked for. The formation of the one-hundredth committee was announced recently. That is encouraging so far as it goes, but of course 100 committees cover only a very small part of the country and many more are needed.

I do not believe that local authorities are sufficiently aware of the power they possess under the National Health Service Act and under the equivalent Scottish Act to help in home safety measures. Health education can form part of their approved proposals for the prevention of illness, so they do have power. My hon. Friend asked specifically about the Scottish circular, and I believe the hon. Lady also referred to it. They asked what success that has had. I am told it is too early to assess this yet, but, on the whole, the effects seem to be encouraging. However, I would not like to commit myself to any specific statistics at the moment.

In relation to this country my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is going to send out a circular on much the same lines as the Scottish one, which we hope will go out from the Ministry early in the New Year. It will deal with the matters covered by the Scottish circular, namely, urging the authorities to take the initiative in their own localities to establish local home safety committees on the lines suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. It will also draw attention to the valuable advice which health visitors can give to parents of young children and to old people, as they go about their ordinary business of visiting houses. In addition to the useful educational work that can be undertaken at welfare clinics and by volunteer organisations such as the Women's Voluntary Services, the Women's Institutes and so on, it will contain what I hope will be a useful appendix on burns and scalds, and their prevention.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about statistics, the respective figures of accidents from unguarded open fires, from electrical fires, and so on. I am afraid that there are no statistics available at present, although I am told that the experts estimate that there are more from unguarded open fires than from the other type, but probably that is because there are more such fires. However, in the circular we are asking hospitals to supply statistical information to medical officers of health about the incidence of serious home accidents, in the form of quarterly figures giving age, sex, nature of accident and so on. I hope that will fill the gap to which the hon. Lady and the right hon. Gentleman drew attention.

I am afraid that I have not the time to deal with all the matters which have been raised. I should like just to mention the Standing Inter-Departmental Committee on Accidents in the Home, because I think that my hon. and gallant Friend was a little unfair to it. Its job is to correlate activity at the official level. I am convinced that I should be doing far more harm than good if I interfered with that body. It has done very valuable work, particularly during the last year in its contribution to the British Standards Institution's investigation, in which it played a major part.

In the end we come down to the point which has rightly been made by so many right hon. and hon. Members, that this is a matter in which we are all concerned. The Government can do a good deal in the way of co-ordination, putting material in the hands of local authorities, and drawing attention to their powers. Local authorities can do a great deal. Individual Members of Parliament can do a great deal, as they have been doing. There is no need to go as far as my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary did. She pointed the moral by coming home from a home safety exhibition which she had opened, mounting a chair and falling off it and breaking her wrist. If there are hon. Members who are prepared to go to those lengths to give publicity to the cause of home safety, their efforts will be very acceptable.

In the end, it is the private individual in his or her home who can make a great advance in this matter, and it is by the, combined effort of everyone that these disastrous accidents can be reduced.