We are doing a great deal to reduce the number and severity of home accidents. The new Consumer Protection Act 1987, and in particular the general safety requirement, greatly improves the protection provided for consumers by introducing tougher but more flexible consumer safety laws. We are now doing more than ever before to educate consumers about potential hazards. In November I announced a series of home safety awareness campaigns designed to make people more aware of the dangers in and around the home. I expect those and other initiatives to reduce home accidents.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and for the action that was taken on foam-filled furniture earlier in the week. Does he agree that more than 5,000 fatalities a year in the home are still far too many? Because such fatalities occur in different places, often on private property and behind closed doors, they represent the Cinderella of the public protection industry. Will my hon. Friend re-emphasise the importance of starting safety education at school and, at adult level, reminding people of the availability of cheap, effective devices, such as stair guards and smoke detectors, which are now readily available and realistically priced?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, there is a role for regulation, as we showed earlier in the week in respect of foam-filled furniture. However, most accidents in the home occur as a result of people's behaviour rather than because of design faults in products. Most accidents in the home are as a result of falls. The home safety awareness campaign is a series that we are running for three years, and its purpose is to try to influence the way in which people behave.
After the most humiliating climb-down of any Minister in 20 years regarding foam-filled furniture, is it not a fact that there is a major loophole in that legislation because it does not apply to beds? Is the Minister aware that in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and many other places of overcrowding, children often have to sleep in the same room in which they live, and often next to an electric fire? People may fall asleep smoking a cigarette. Such hazards do nothing but illustrate the incompetence of the Minister and the Government.
I do not want to reduce this debate to party political wrangling, because:it would not be appropriate, but I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we are the first Government who have done anything about foam-filled furniture. That danger has been apparent for at least 15, if not 20, years, but the Labour Government that the hon. Gentleman supported in the late 1970s did absolutely nothing about it. We accept that there may be a problem with beds. However, the problem to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and which I mentioned in my first answer, relates to the way in which people behave. It is that behaviour that we need to influence. There may be a problem with beds, and I am looking urgently to see whether further steps can be taken in respect of mattresses.
Does the Minister acknowledge that, whatever the reasons for fires beginning, many of the victims are either the elderly and immobile or children who have no responsibility for starting those fires? Now that we have secured regulations covering foam-filled upholstered furniture, does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is no logical reason why we should not extend similar protection to foam-filling in bedding, cushions and other types of domestic furniture?
There are already regulations — the toughest in the world — in respect of upholstered furniture, and those will remain in force. Mattresses and other bedding components are covered by the general safety requirement that we introduced in the Consumer Protection Act. We are in the process of improving standards for items such as mattresses, which will set the benchmark for safety in that area. However, we are looking urgently to see whether we can take further steps.
Would my hon. Friend care to remind Opposition Members that, far from doing a U-turn, he has acted expeditiously, because the new trial foams have been on the market for only eight months and so far are untried and untested by consumers') My hon. Friend has acted precipitately because it is not yet known whether those foams will be commercially viable. If my hon. Friend is to be consistent, he should also consider bedding, curtains, loose covers and other flammable items.
There is a serious danger that the effect of all this regulation may be to induce in people a false sense of security, because there is n o way in which we can create complete safety in the home by regulation and legislation. I reiterate that safety in the home depends, and will continue to depend to a large extent, on the way people behave. Nothing that we do should in any way serve to relax the vigilance that people should show at home.
I welcome the action that is proposed, even at this late stage, and share the Government's anxiety that steps should be taken to improve safety in the home with respect to foam-filled furniture. Will the Minister inform the House whether he has yet consulted the Northern Ireland Office or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to ensure that Northern Ireland householders receive similar protection in future?
We shall certainly talk to the Northern Ireland Office about the impact of any regulations on Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman talked about action being taken at a late stage, but I must tell the House again that we already have in force the toughest regulations anywhere in the world in respect of foam-filled furniture.