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Volume 115: debated on Thursday 7 May 1987

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Amendment made: No. 3, in page 41, line 15, column 3, after '12', insert

', in paragraph 1(6), the words "the Theatre Royal Haymarket or the Royal Albert Hall",'.—[Mr. Douglas. Hogg.]

Schedule 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.— [Queen's Consent and Prince of Wales's Consent signified.]

6.8 pm

I appreciate that it is the desire of the House to move to other business. Therefore, I will make my comments very brief.

I should like to thank the members of the Committee, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyniham) and, if I may, the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), for the very constructive way in which the Committee proceedings were conducted. Their co-operation made it possible to improve the Bill, and I am grateful for that.

We have today extended and altered the Bill. We have restricted the discretion of the fire authority to exempt without an inspection for the purpose. We have extended the interim duty to include means for fighting fire and we have made various other important changes, such as the removal of the exemption of the Royal Albert Hall and the Theatre Royal. The Bill overall improves the safety afforded to the public both in respect of hazards posed by fire and hazards posed at sports grounds, mainly with regard to regulated stands. The Bill represents a valuable addition to public safety, and I commend it to the House.

Were this not local government election day, I am quite certain that many hon. Members would be here to take part in the debate. I refer in particular to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), who has a long-standing commitment to the cause of sport and who has expressed regret to me that he is not able to be here to take part in the final stages of the legislation.

I have expressed one regret about the Bill. The Minister will be aware of what I am referring to because I tried to move an amendment in Committee. For the first time there will be charges imposed in connection with fire safety. That is a retrograde step. I have made my position and that of my colleagues clear in Committee and I continue to say that it is a bad step. I appreciate that the charges will be relatively small, as the Minister pointed out. Nevertheless, we are establishing a precedent. My fear is that, having established such a precedent, future Governments may decide to increase the charges for fire safety. That is a bad decision because it may mean that, because some owners of premises cannot afford those charges or wish to avoid them, standards of fire safety will be that much less.

One other difficulty is in the part of the Bill concerning sport and safety at sports grounds. In Committee we discussed the difficulties facing small clubs. At the risk of breaching the harmony of today's occasion, I quote from a letter sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde from the secretary of the Vauxhall-Opel league, a worthy league but one that does not have the benefit of large attendances. In Committee the Minister said that clubs had been slow in coming forward with protests or evidence about the possible hardship for them of some of the provisions in the Bill. The Minister went on to suggest, in an uncharacteristic manner, that that showed acquiescence on their part. The letter said:
"I believe it merely shows ignorance of the proposals."
In other words, the smaller clubs were not fully aware of the provision. However, I am sure that the larger clubs were. There is concern that some of the financial burdens imposed upon small clubs may be unduly onerous. I moved an amendment in Committee that was accepted that will make it possible for a Minister to extend the provisions regarding the size of stands below the present level of 500. I am aware that that may add to the burden on small clubs, which point is referred to in the letter, but because of the way that amendment was couched, it will be future Ministers who decide how to bring that into being. It is perfectly clear that any Minister ought to have in mind the financial burdens on small clubs. In a sense that point has been taken in hand and I am sure that future Ministers of any party will be aware of what the Committee discussed and considered. Nevertheless, I think it is important to place on the record the concerns of small clubs because, although we wish to protect the safety of spectators at sports grounds, we do not wish to do anything that may drive those clubs into more serious financial difficulties. I will not go through the other details in the letter except to say that some of those clubs have small attendances and may well find themselves unable to meet some of the obligations in the legislation.

With the two reservations I have expressed, this is an extremely welcome measure. It has been warmly supported on all sides. I know that the Fire Brigades Union welcomes it, that the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers believes that it will protect its members better than before and that all fire services believe that the Bill contains important provisions, which they welcome.

Throughout our approach we have been anxious that the Bill should get on to the statute book as soon as possible. We are all aware that there is a remote possibility that there will be a general election before too long. As we have done our best to get the Bill through the House as quickly as possible I hope that, if a general election should by some chance be announced before too long, the Bill will get on to the statute book before Parliament is dissolved. The Minister is nodding his head, I presume in agreement. The Bill represents an advance in fire safety and, therefore, is to be welcomed.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.