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New Clause 49 - Costs and benefits of requirement to facilitate fitting of sprinklers

Water Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 17th December 2013.

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‘The Secretary of State shall, within 12 months of this Act coming into force, publish a review into the costs and benefits of amending section 57 of the Water Industry Act 1991 to require the water undertaker to supply water to new properties in order to facilitate the fitting of sprinklers for fire prevention.’.—(Thomas Docherty.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I rise for the last substantive discussion we will have this afternoon. [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton say, “Shame.” I am more than happy, with his permission, to continue for some time if that is helpful to him.

We tabled the new clause on behalf of the all-party group on fire safety and rescue. The issue is genuinely bi-partisan. When we were thinking about the order in which we tabled our amendments, we thought it best to finish with an opportunity to be consensual.

This is a time of year when there are more fire deaths, for a variety of reasons—I will not detain the Committee by discussing them. Every death caused by a fire is a tragedy that can and should be avoided. The all-party group has done an excellent piece of work over the past 18 months or so, highlighting how, if we installed sprinklers in every new build home, we would dramatically bring down the number of deaths from fires. If we extended that to the business sector, we could hugely reduce the number of businesses that go out of business through fire.

A wide range of organisations support sprinklers being installed in all new build domestic properties. For a change, I will quote Water UK, which states:

“Water UK supports the provision of a water supply for firefighting and in particular to well designed domestic fire sprinkler systems.”

There is obviously a cost to the home builders and home owners to have such a supply fitted. We seek a report to be carried out. It is vital to gather sufficient evidence before making a decision on regulation changes. We ask the Minister to enter into fresh dialogue with the all-party group. The hon. Member for Brecon and  Radnorshire is a member of the Committee and a vice-chairman of the group. I am sure he will endorse our position.

We want to see those deaths brought to an end. The Government should work with their colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government, the fire brigades and house builders to tackle those tragedies. I urge them to look at our proposal seriously.

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for tabling his new clause. He has made a good case for exploring the matter and it is important that we have things set out correctly. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) has been an assiduous campaigner, which, given his previous profession, is understandable.

The new clause would require the Government to undertake a review into the costs and benefits of amending section 57 of the Water Industry Act 1991 to require the water undertaker to supply water to new properties to facilitate the fitting of sprinklers for fire prevention. We believe that the new clause seeks to address the issues that occur between customers and water companies when connections for fire sprinkler systems are required. In particular, concerns include undertakers requiring meters to be installed on the connections; smaller connection sizes than would be ideal for the fire sprinkler system; and internal storage. The possible change to section 57 envisaged by the new clause would not address those concerns, because they relate to practical points as opposed to facilitating the fitting of sprinklers. A requirement to fit a water meter, for example, does not prevent the fitting of a sprinkler system.

The water liaison group has just completed a review of the voluntary protocol. In updating that document, it worked with both the water industry and the fire sprinkler industry. Both supported, and agreed to accept, the document’s principles. As that document has only just been finalised, we hope to give it time to be put into practice.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Labour, North Tyneside

I am also member of the all-party group. One reason for that is that the Findus food factory in Longbenton in my constituency had a really bad fire. Compartments burned, despite there being a fire alarm and shutters to close off the burning material. According to the report, smoke damage would have been prevented if sprinklers had been installed. Some 420 people lost their jobs and that factory is still not back in operation. We lost one of the country’s few producers of crispy pancakes—whatever they are—which students tend to like. On a serious point, surely the new clause would help to stop people losing their jobs and their lives.

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I hear voices from across the Committee jumping to the defence of Findus crispy pancakes—something in which I have indulged. The point that she and the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife seek to make is on removing any such barriers to the installation of sprinkler systems. The document worked on between the sectors has just been finalised, but I am happy to meet representatives from the all-party group, should it wish  to discuss those matters further. In that spirit, I hope the hon. Gentleman considers withdrawing his new clause.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. This has been a productive debate and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside not only for drawing attention to the Minister’s culinary delight preferences, but for raising a serious point in the process.

I welcome the Minister’s offer to meet with and representatives from the all-party group and me. If he can give me the assurance that that meeting will take place before the Bill reaches the other place, then I would be happy on that basis to withdraw the new clause—the proposal could be considered there if we do not make sufficient progress.

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Subject to everybody finding time in their diaries for a meeting, I am happy to have one.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I assure the Minister that I can always find time for him. We will certainly do everything that we can to facilitate that, and I will take him at his word. He will be aware that, if we did not make progress, we would of course return to the proposal. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw new clause 49.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.