Furniture (Fire Resistance)

– in the House of Commons at 4:35 pm on 29th June 1988.

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Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West 4:35 pm, 29th June 1988

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the fire safety of furniture.

On 11 January 1988 my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs announced the Government's intention to make new regulations about the flammability of domestic upholstered furniture. Draft regulations were circulated for consultation on 1 March and comments invited by 12 May. I am now in a position to announce the changes we propose to make to the regulations as a result of this consultation. I intend to lay the regulations before the House in July.

My hon. Friend announced that the regulations would come into operation on 1 March 1989 for the filling requirements and on 1 March 1990 for covering fabrics. I intend to retain these dates, but to require that furniture supplied to retailers should meet the foam-filling requirement from 1 November 1988. This reflects progress in the changeover to safer materials and gives the retailers a four-month period of grace which will help them to clear existing stocks.

I have decided that covering materials must meet the match resistance test by 1 March 1990. However, some fabrics which are difficult or impossible to treat, but whose burning characteristics are less likely to ignite the filling materials, will be permitted, provided they are used with interliners or barrier cloths which meet the ignition source 5 test. The regulations will specify which materials will be acceptable when used with interliners, and the covering materials concerned will have to meet the cigarette resistance test. This will enable the trade to continue to use many of the fabrics at present on the market, but will not prejudice the level of safety to be achieved by the original proposals.

On second-hand furniture, I have decided that a proposal from enforcement and fire safety organisations should be adopted. From 1 March 1993, all trade sales of modern second-hand furniture will have to comply with the full requirements of the regulations. But from 1 March 1990 to that date the regulations will permit the sale of second-hand, upholstered furniture which complies with the 1980 regulations. Private sales of second-hand goods are excluded from the scope of regulations made under the Consumer Protection Act 1987. I also intend to introduce an exemption from these regulations for sales of furniture manufactured before polyurethane foam was generally introduced as a filling material, which was 1950. Furniture made before that date may be traded as collectors' items, but does not contain the material we are banning. This exemption also means that sales of antique or period furniture and reupholstery of antiques are excluded.

For furniture built into new caravans and for garden furniture, the foam requirement will apply from 1 March 1990, because those two sectors of industry have a seasonal pattern of sales that makes it unreasonable to require them to meet the 1 March 1989 deadline. Second-hand caravans will be excluded. The regulations will contain a number of miscellaneous provisions covering specific matters, such as stretch covers, pillows and cushions.

The EC Commission has not raised formal objections, although some member states did object to our original proposals. The Commission therefore asked that a number of points should be taken into account. In the changes that I have announced, I have met many of those points, and I am satisfied that the regulations will go no further than is necessary in the interests of protecting consumers.

The new regulations have a cost for industry and for the consumer. It would be wrong to underestimate the task that confronts industry in meeting the new requirements within a very short time scale, but there has been a positive response to the challenge. A substantial majority share the Government's determination to ensure that the catalogue of death and injury from fires involving domestic upholstered furniture should be reduced as quickly as is practicable.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair , Sedgefield

Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to all local authorities, trade unions, fire officers, hon. Members and those in industry who have fought so long and so vigorously on this issue?

I welcome the regulations in so far as they ban the use of killer foam in furniture, bedding and other items, and the phased extension of the ban to second-hand goods, which represents a major advance in fire prevention. However, we are dismayed at the entirely unwarranted exemption of whole categories of ignitable covers from the new tests. The view of fire and of trading standard officers to whom I have spoken is that such an exemption from the regulations will make them seriously defective and will open a potential major loophole in fire safety and enforcement.

Does the Minister recall that the history of the campaign is of initial hostility and scepticism in Government, which has been overcome only by sustained campaigning and publicity? Does he further recall that last October we were told that it was "wholly impracticable and undesirable" to ban standard foam, yet in January he banned it? Does he remember that on 11 January we were told that it was virtually impossible to ban second-hand goods, yet today he has banned them? How many more meals of ministerial words must he eat before the Government listen to the fire safety experts who have been proved right?

Does the Minister realise that tests have shown that ignitable covers, even over interliners, can be just as dangerous? Once burning, the covers can overcome fire-retardant material and, more important, become a fire point for other materials such as curtains and carpets.

Is it right that the regulations will allow, without hindrance, non-fire-retardant foam to be made for export? Secondly, will the Minister give a categorical assurance that he will overcome opposition to the regulations, not just in the EEC, but as they will be affected by the completion of the single European market in 1992? Thirdly, does he agree that we need a national programme to encourage smoke detectors in the home, including the amendment of building regulations to enforce installation in new buildings and in multi-occupation homes, where many of the worse fires occur? Fourthly, does he accept that the trading standards officers who will have to enforce the new regulations must have adequate resources to allow them to do so? Is not that absolutely central to the enforcement of the regulations?

Each year 700 deaths and 7,500 injuries are caused by home fires. Does the Minister realise that the proposals will have a huge impact on that carnage only if the Government learn from their past mistakes, remove themselves from the pockets of vested interests in the trade and put themselves in the hands of consumers?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

There has been a very intensive and comprehensive consultation period, during which we listened especially to the fire safety officers and those who will be concerned with enforcement of the regulations. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that one measure in the regulations will henceforth be known as the "Graham compromise"—it relates to second-hand furniture.

I shall restate the context in which the regulations have been brought forward. Even before them, Britain had the most rigorous furniture fire regulations regime in Western Europe. The regulations will make that even more rigorous. It is around that position that the House has coalesced during the past four or five months.

I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said about covers, but some materials are difficult to make match resistant without destroying their qualities. We are stipulating that they can be used over interliners that comply with the very strict ignition source 5 as an alternative to compliance. The effect is still rigorous, but the consumers will have a choice. That is a logical and sensible approach. The exemption is not available to the broad range of mainly synthetic fibres, and in general the predominantly natural fibres burn with less heat than synthetics.

I am satisfied that what we are doing today is compatible with the movement towards 1992. It may take five years for the Commission to come forward with proposals and to set minimum standards. We are already ahead of western Europe, so we have a good chance of complying with any future minimum standards.

The hon. Gentleman will know that smoke detectors are a first issue matter not for me, but for the Home Secretary. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am closely monitoring the experiments in the Granada and Tyne-Tees television areas. If he finds this an agreeable response, I shall consider using my safety campaigns under "Think Safety First", and include in them an element that could raise awareness of safety in the home.

We have consulted the trading standard officers and I think they will welcome the clarity of the regulations, because clarity makes life much easier for them.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Warren Mr Kenneth Warren , Hastings and Rye

I welcome my hon. Friend's statement. He did not refer to the trade's reaction to his proposals, although there has been a tremendous amount of lobbying by the trade. Will he consider discussing the regulations with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, because there are equal dangers on public service vehicles, especially aircraft and trains?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

My hon. Friend will be aware that a number of companies are already making strong efforts to comply with what they anticipated would be incorporated in today's statement. There has been a positive reaction. We have stuck to the timetable announced in January and I have provided an extra four months of grace for the manufacturing of furniture to the new foam requirements. On balance, that is about right. I have spoken at length with the manufacturers and I think that they can cope with the requirements without the viability of the industry being called into question.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The House welcomes the Government's proposals. However, does the Minister accept that the exemptions and the proposal to categorise materials rather than to provide a safety test for the finished article will cause great concern? Many of those involved in safety believe that people are looking for certification that the combination of fabric and material in a piece of furniture will be safe. Will the Minister ensure that during the transition stage for both new and second-hand furniture, the regulations provide for clear labelling so, that people know whether they are buying furniture approved under the new regulations?

I support the representations—although not made to his Department—for the wider installation of smoke detectors. I am sure that that would make a major contribution to preventing death, because it would allow people to get out before the effects of the smoke became a fait accompli.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

The whole thrust of the argument behind the regulations is how, in practical terms, we deliver a much safer range of furniture to domestic users. If the hon. Gentleman examines carefully the import of what we are saying today, he will see that even the so-called concessions have been made in a way that provides an incentive for those dealing in second-hand furniture, such as caravans or garden furniture, to move to much safer items. The old tests—the cigarette tests—still apply to those materials that are exempt. Where there is a combination of materials, we are still talking about the ignition source 5 test for the barrier cloth which must be placed under those materials which manage to get on the exemption list.

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

Will my hon. Friend accept my congratulations on the speed and effectiveness with which he has moved on this issue? I have no intention of following the churlish reception of his statement by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), but I would like clarification on three points.

First, I greatly welcome the decision on second-hand furniture, but is there a way in which advertisement regulations can be used to ensure that such furniture is appropriately described in the period when it does not contain non-inflammable material?

Secondly, is it not a fact that the cloth being used will significantly delay flammability, so there is a significant improvement in safety as a result of my hon. Friend's consequential decision on the use of interlining cloth?

Thirdly, all fire services have been lobbying hard on this matter, but it is not sufficient for my hon. Friend to say that smoke detectors are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, which, indeed, they are. There could surely be a more positive interdepartmental effort to apply smoke detectors.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

I can reassure my hon. Friend that we are closely engaged in monitoring the present smoke detector awareness campaigns. I said earlier that I had a legitimate interest given my responsibilities for safety in the home generally. On examination of the regulations, my hon. Friend may note that, for example, the caravan industry is prepared voluntarily to put smoke detectors in secondhand caravans when they come back onto the market, and I welcome that. It would be misleading advertising for a dealer to specify that an item that he was selling satisfied the requirements if it did not. On balance, the interplay between second-hand sales through dealers and private sales between individuals is about right.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

First, I welcome the Government's decisions on the implementation date and on second-hand furniture, about which I introduced a ten-minute Bill. However, I am worried about the concessions being given to a small number of fabric manufacturers who have been given the potential to drive a coach and horses through the regulations, and it is important that the Minister should answer a number of technical questions. [Interruption.]

If the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) listened to someone who knows something about fire safety, he might stop making ignorant remarks. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are trying to prevent several hundred deaths a year, and I am trying to be positive, not to attack the Minister personally.

Will ignition source 5 tests relate to combustion modified high resistance foam or standard polyurethane foam testing methods? It is important that the barrier test be done under the standard polyurethane foam test and not under the combustion modified test which is already connected to the ignition source 5 test which would therefore be unable to establish whether the combinations were safe.

Secondly, it is important for the Minister to understand that unless those combinations are proved to be safe, he is simply transferring the secondary source of fire from the filling to the curtains, carpets and other materials in the bedroom or living room. It is essential that regulations cut down not only fires caused by foam-filled furniture, but the secondary causes of fire. If we allow ignitable covers in any circumstances, the fires will continue; they will not ignite the foam but they will ignite other items such as curtains and carpets and the death rate will continue. The Minister should state clearly that such materials will be tested.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution to the debate over a long period. I also recognise that he has been responsible for bringing a number of fire safety commentators to my office, and some positive suggestions were made during those conversations.

I hope that the House will not get the matter of materials out of context. We have not made a major and massive concession, because we are talking about materials such as printed cotton, which includes chintz, and about linen and wool. As I said earlier, in general, such predominantly natural fibres burn with less heat than synthetics, but they still have to be stretched over an ignition source 5 barrier material, and that is a rigorous requirement. The ignition source 2 test for non-foam fillings is also appropriate because those non-foam fillings burn with different propensities and my advice is that that test is suitable for those other mixtures.

Photo of Mrs Elizabeth Peacock Mrs Elizabeth Peacock , Batley and Spen

The House and many companies in Britain concerned with the industry will welcome my hon. Friend's statement, because, as he knows, there has been much uncertainty recently. However, many companies in Britain already produce upholstery fabrics that are way ahead of the Minister's regulations and are ready at this moment to put their fabrics in front of blow torches at high temperatures in the knowledge that no flame will go through them. If the Minister would like to see that experiment, as he has said in the past that he would, that can be arranged.

Previous uncertainty will now be allayed a little. However, will my hon. Friend assure the House that the exceptions that he has made will be monitored closely since we do not want to see another aeroplane disaster, such as the one in Manchester, after the new regulations have been laid?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that she seeks. When we lay the regulations, there will be a list of materials in the category in question, but, of course, we shall continue to monitor the matter. My hon. Friend has vividly illustrated the strong clashes of opinion that exist on this issue. I do not want the regulations to be rigid or inflexible, so when the list is produced we shall monitor it and we shall take advantage of any technological breakthroughs that permit us to amend it.

Several Hon. Members:

rose——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I remind the House that this is an important day for Irish Members, so may we have brief questions, please? There will be a debate which will allow hon. Members to make longer contributions.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Dewsbury

Does the Minister accept that many domestic British manufacturers have put a great deal of time, energy and investment into perfecting flame-resistant fabrics? Will not his exemptions undermine their work if they are too wide? Is it true that many of the manufacturers of the materials that he says may be exempt are based outside this country, and that there is a particular problem with imported material? Is not one of the reasons for his exemptions a desire to satisfy importers? Surely he should be putting safety first and supporting manufacturers who have invested so much in flame-resistant materials, especially as many of them are located in areas of high unemployment.

Will the Minister clarify the position on stretch-fabric material makers, who have asked for an exemption in certain circumstances if the stretch fabrics are to be used as secondary covering?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

I agree with the hon. Lady that the suppliers of foam and materials have made great efforts, and I pay tribute to them for that.

As for whether the exemptions are too wide, as I have just told my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock), the list of exempted materials will be reviewed periodically, which is as it should be.

Imports will have to comply. Nothing in my statement started from a consideration of importers—that was the least of my considerations.

Stretch covers are less of a potential contributory hazard than loose covers, because of their essential construction in respect of fibre type, weight, and use in stretch form, but they will have to meet a match-resistance requirement when tested over combustion-modified foam. I hope that is helpful.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his realistic statement. He has clearly listened to the industries that are involved in furniture and has appreciated the problems of employment, of investment and of the industries, which are considerable exporters from this country.

Does my hon. Friend accept that his statement makes no concession to the furniture fabric manufacturers? I refer particularly to the ad hoc committee of 21 on the timing of the implementation of these regulations.

Is my hon. Friend prepared to make any concession to fabric manufacturers for the huge additional costs that they are likely to incur in meeting the regulations, which he will lay before the House in the near future?

Will my hon. Friend confirm that he has received a letter from the European Commission requesting more time for the industry to meet the proposed requirements that he has announced?

In conclusion, I thank my hon. Friend for listening to so many members of the industry who are concerned about employment, investment and the future of manufacturing industry.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

I am afraid I cannot offer my hon. Friend any hope that the timing will be changed. I am anxious to comply with the timetable that was first announced by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs. That is what the House expected of me and that is what it is my intention to deliver.

Industry can live with this regime. The balance is about right. There is no erosion of safety requirements, which the whole House has requested vigorously for some time.

I do not believe that concessions to the manufacturers are in order. Some manufacturers of furniture are already marketing furniture which they claim in their promotional material will comply with the new requirements.

I thank my hon. Friend for the vigorous way in which he has pursued his interest in this issue. I hope that he will agree that the formula that has been brought forward is primarily concerned with safety, as all these measures are. But in the case of safer fabrics, they allow some flexibility while still including a rigorous test for the interliner.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan , Heywood and Middleton

I congratulate the Minister on his statement, but may I point out that on 1 January I invited him to try to evaluate the claims of British Vitafoam, an international rubber company based in my constituency, for its research and development into fire-resistant material? Is he aware that in the past month the Member of the European Parliament for the area, Michael Hindley, and myself were invited by the directors of that company to see for ourselves the research and development that it had achieved in these projects?

May I invite the Minister, in the light of what we have seen, to visit the factory to see for himself exactly what the firm has done? If he cannot come personally, will he ask the directors to send him the video that they have produced on their research and development?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

I should like to respond positively to what the hon. Gentleman has said. He could make a beginning by bringing two or three of the company's representatives to my office for an initial presentation, to which I should gladly agree.

Photo of Mr Irvine Patnick Mr Irvine Patnick , Sheffield, Hallam

Is my hon. Friend aware of the shortage of manufacturers who make the flame-proofing treatment used on fabrics, and that there is a need for more companies to do that work? Is he aware of the difficulties with man-made fabrics, which appear to present a larger problem than the natural materials that are used? What steps is he taking to ensure that firms look into flame-proofing and do something about man-made fibres?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

Regulations sometimes change market conditions, and that will happen as a result of this announcement. I believe that companies will react and develop products and capabilities. There are real pressures and they must be coped with. I am satisfied that most companies that are affected will act.

There is no doubt that the regulations bite hard on synthetic fibres. I am in no mood to change one semi-colon of the parts of the regulations that deal with them, as they have more dangerous properties than some natural fibres.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley , Manchester, Withington

The Minister spoke of the need for clarification of the regulations for trading standards officers. What procedures should such officers adopt to ensure that pieces of household furniture have been fitted with an interliner or barrier cloth underneath one of the exempted fabrics?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

The hon. Gentleman has asked me to project working practices, but all I can say is that we shall work closely with those who are responsible for enforcement, as we have done throughout the consultation period. I pay tribute to them for the way in which they have deployed their arguments with my officials.

I shall carefully examine what the hon. Gentleman said. If the problem that he anticipates arises, I shall return to him with my proposals.

Photo of Mr Iain Mills Mr Iain Mills , Meriden

I offer my hon. Friend congratulations on good regulations; it is excellent that second-hand furniture has been brought in. Will he consider more resources for trading standards officers to implement the regulations?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

I am willing to consider anything, within reason. I recently met representatives of trading standards officers. They told me that their work load was growing ever heavier. They therefore legitimately asked me about resources. The regulations are clear and should not be difficult to enforce, but I am continually examining the resources that are available to these agencies.

Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady , South Down

Like other hon. Members, I warmly welcome these regulations for safety in the home. Does the Minister intend the regulations to apply to Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

I see no reason why Northern Ireland should be exempt. Benign measures such as this are often to be welcomed in Northern lreland—[Interruption.] I suspect that not many measures that are unanimously believed to be benign can be announced, but I hope that there is unanimity in this case. I want the regulations to be applied in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Gary Waller Mr Gary Waller , Keighley

As regards material covers, does my hon. Friend agree that it is a matter of concern that work done by trading standards officers shows that fibre-content regulations are widely flouted, particularly in imports? As that creates difficulties for consumers who are anxious to buy safe materials to cover existing furniture, will my hon. Friend emphasise his commitment to using existing powers on fibre-content safety, particularly at the point of entry to this country, in the interests of consumers who are concerned for their safety and that of their families?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

I think that there is already awareness in Europe of the import of these regulations, and we shall do our utmost to see that European manufacturers have no excuse for being ignorant of these requirements. Imports will have to comply. My hon. Friend mentioned covers. We are talking about a match test that will apply to both loose covers and covers that come already fitted to the furniture.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd , Stretford

I shall not join in the congratulations to the Minister or in his self-congratulations, because the Government have been dragged to this position because of the deaths earlier this year that aroused such anger in all parts of the House and in the nation. He has not addressed himself to two important questions. One was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) who asked whether the test on interliners would be carried out using standard foam. If they are not carried out in that way they will be worthless.

The second question was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley) who asked about the way in which trading standard officers would know about interliners in imported furniture. That is not a trivial matter of detail but is fundamental and the Minister should have had the answer when he came to the Dispatch Box. Will he make sure that he gives a proper answer because this is a potential loophole, makes total nonsense of the exemption and will result in even more deaths?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

We should not take admonitions or a lecture from the hon. Gentleman about our care on this matter of safety in the home.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would let me finish. The hon. Gentleman is obviously not aware of such matters as the "Think Safety First" campaign or of the many measures that come out of my Department to raise consumer awareness on safety matters. Something new is happening almost monthly.

I cannot agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. We were not dragged to make these regulations. We are building on an already very vigorous fire safety regime. Interliners will be tested over combustion modified foam. If I have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman's question or those of his hon. Friends, I will clarify the matter. I am satisfied on the matter of the use of interlinings that this is an appropriate way to bring true safety to furniture that is built using exempted materials.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt , Bury North

May I also warmly welcome what my hon. Friend has done? It is an object lesson on what can be done when the mind is put to it. I also pay tribute to the work of Chief Assistant Fire Officer Bob Graham, who has been instrumental in terms of some of the changes that are coming through. May I commend the further use of smoke detectors and suggest that the Minister takes my ten-minute Bill as a model for further progress? Smoke detectors save lives now, whereas

Secondly, I should like to raise a matter that has inadvertently been missed by hon. Members who are anxious about this issue. Too many fires are still caused through sheer, straightforward carelessness, drink and cigarettes. Any campaign about fire awareness should not only raise technical aspects and smoke detectors but make people aware that their own carelessness can cost lives.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

I think that I have already acknowledged the great help that Mr. Bob Graham, my hon. Friend's friend, has been to the debate. I hear loudly and clearly what my hon. Friend says about smoke detectors. That has come through as a strong theme in the debate. Of course prevention is the best and first policy, but we have to reinforce prevention with regulations, such as those that we propose, understandable public concern is aroused over deaths caused by noxious fumes from the sort of substances that we are discussing. It is a two-level attack—prevention and regulation. I pay tribute to what my hon. Friend has done in his ten-minute Bill. He will not mind if I say again that in the first instance it is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but I am sure that the signals are coming over loud and clear.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen , Nottingham North

The Minister may be aware that I and the Nottinghamshire fire prevention panel and fire officers in Nottinghamshire have written to the Government requesting a serious national programme for smoke detectors in homes—both in new-build local authority housing and in new private developments. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that that is somebody else's responsibility. Will he press the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for the Environment to bring forward proposals and support them wholeheartedly? Secondly, will he also ensure that cotton ignitable covers are no longer exempted under these regulations? Such exemptions mean that more people will die. How many more must die before the Government are dragged kicking and screaming to the Dispatch Box to announce measures in both those areas?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

The hon. Gentleman went over the top in his last observations. I and my officials have been painstaking in listening to many representations on this issue from all parts of the House. The paramount consideration has been safety. We have produced a formula that delivers on the safety requirements and does not, as it could have done, call into question the viability of the furniture industry. It will have to deal with these pressures. I believe that it can and, as I said earlier, I think that the balance is about right.

I spoke earlier about linens and natural materials and said clearly that, in general, predominately natural fibres burn with less heat than synthetics. That seems to be the major or almost the only issue on which the Opposition are homing in. When one decodes their comments one sees that they are probably—dare I say it—content with the import of what we are doing.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran , Beverley

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his statement, and especially on what he said about the caravan industry which will have heaved a sigh of relief at what he had to say about the possible effects of the draft regulations on the new and used caravan markets. So that I may confirm my understanding, will he confirm the nature of the exemption for second-hand caravans because, as I think he knows, a slowdown in second-hand sales has a detrimental effect on new sales?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

Second-hand caravans will be excluded, because inclusion would mean that traders would have to change the built-in furniture at a cost disproportionate to the value of the caravan itself. That would force business into private or pseudo-private sales which would escape important safety checks that the majority of caravan dealers are obliged to carry out by virtue of their membership of the National Caravan Council. My hon. Friend will know that those safety checks on important matters such as gas and electricity are undertaken by dealers in second-hand caravans. Because of the importance of those and other tests, we would not want to do anything that diverted caravans out of that route.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Could we hark back to the question put by my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) and for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney)? They ought to be added to Mr. Speaker's list of those Back Benchers who altered events by their actions. The Minister has a PPS and nine expert civil servants in the Box. Before the end of questions on this statement, could he get an answer to the issue about testing of standard polyurethane foam? This is a crucial matter.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Before I agreed to make the statement I gave instructions to the Box that I wanted no pieces of paper fluttering along the Bench. I do not know whether the people in the Box are complying with that regulation. We came to the view that for covering fabric and foam, this would be an inappropriate test for the great majority of furniture which usually contains other filling materials. I now clearly understand the hon. Gentleman's point and I shall come back to it later.

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

I thank my hon. Friend for listening to representations. Will he bear in mind the interest being shown by overseas regulatory agencies in the British-manufactured Firesafe carbon fibre and wool blocking agent, which has considerable advantages not only in terms of safety but of utility and economy?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

Yes, I shall certainly consider that.

Photo of Mr James Couchman Mr James Couchman , Gillingham

I have not heard my hon. Friend mention the reupholstery trade, which is carried out by small traders—often single traders. How will he bring the new regulations to their attention and how will the new regulations affect them? Upholsterers who deal with my trade—hotel and catering—are concerned that they will not have ready access to the new materials, which may be in short supply because the major manufacturers will take up most of what is available in the early stages.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

My hon. Friend will have heard my earlier comments about the pre-1950 and post-1950 regimes. My major concern is foam, which is the most dangerous modern development that we seek to tackle in the proposals.

We are prepared to test mixtures of materials, such as those used in reupholstery, to ignition source 2 because we believe that the properties of non-foam when it burns are different, so that test is more relevant.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Hind Mr Kenneth Hind , West Lancashire

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the regulations. In his statement, he referred to miscellaneous matters, including cushions. Does he intend to include cushion covers sold separately from cushions or does he intend to include cushion covers, which are normally upholstered material of the same type as curtains, in the curtain regulations that his Department is considering?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

There will be no requirement for the outer decorative cover of cushions, but the pillow or cushion interior will be required to pass ignition source 2. For that test, the fillings may be tested separately or in combination with an interliner or primary cover. Curtain material, even used over cushions, will not be covered.

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

I am a parliamentary spokesman for the furniture manufacturers, and I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his consideration in the consultation period. I also thank his officials for working closely with the furniture manufacturing industry. That has resulted in the date for implementation being brought forward. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that the industry is very grateful to the Government for bringing in the regulations at the first opportunity when foams of a fire-resistant nature were available.

The industry has one concern; my hon. Friend did not make one point quite clear. If the regulations are not acceptable within the European Community in the future, will we have to go back a pace for the sake of harmonisation? Will he make it clear that the investment, work and research that the industry has put into reaching these conclusions will not be hammered on the head at some future date in Brussels?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

The well-managed and more positive firms in the industry will see this as a marketing opportunity. There are already signs of a positive reaction in anticipation of the regulations.

The European Commission has not entered a formal objection to the draft regulations, but it has requested us to allow equivalent European standards to be used where available. It has also requested that we take account of comments made by member states. We already have the most rigorous regime in Europe. If the Commission seeks a European consensus on minimum requirements, we are well placed to meet those requirements.

Photo of Sir Ray Whitney Sir Ray Whitney , Wycombe

Does my hon. Friend accept that the recognition that he has given that the new measures will impose costs on the industry and the public is important and that his acknowledgement that the time scale is short is also crucial? Will he continue—as he has done since he took over responsibility—to maintain close contact with the industry and to take account of technical developments and possibilities and of the concern that still exists about the attractiveness, or lack of it, of the new materials that meet the standards? Finally, and very importantly, will he ensure that the new standards that are to be set for British domestic furniture manufacturers will also be rigorously applied to imported furniture?

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

There will be equal vigilance to ensure that imports comply with the regulations. I shall, of course, maintain close contact with the industry.

In response to the earlier question raised by the hon. Members for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—the only question that I have not been able to answer—fabrics will be tested over standard foam because that will distinguish better between acceptable and non-acceptable materials.