Skip to main content

Consumer Protection (Standards of Fire Resistance of Children’s Fancy Dress and Play Costumes Etc)

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 1 December 2015

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the standards of fire resistance, and relevant labelling requirements, in relation to children’s fancy dress and play costumes; and for connected purposes.

The past 20 years have seen a huge evolution in the way children play and dress up, and we need our legislation to catch up. When I was a child, dressing up meant raiding a box containing mum’s old clothes, hats and shoes, and going to parties meant wearing my best dress. However, what my era—the late 1950s and early 1960s—suffered from was dangerous flammable nightwear. Every year, up until 1964, many small children were admitted to hospital with horrific burns, and indeed many died. In 1964 the Daily Mail led a campaign for safer nightwear, and later that year this House decided to act. The nightwear standard became law and was updated in 1985.

Professor Richard Horrocks of Bolton University, who is an expert in textiles, said:

“We have over 50 years of experience during which time the fire statistics have shown that fire injuries to children are in low single figures per annum, and sometimes at zero.”

That is the result of the nightwear standard, yet despite the fantastic reduction in flame injuries, it took the EU until 2007 before it chose to adopt a similar nightwear standard. Since that era of the dressing-up box, a whole new multi-billion pound industry has grown up. As dress-up costumes are classed as toys by the EU, our children are less protected than if they were wearing nightwear. In his briefing to me, the chief fire officer for Bedfordshire fire and rescue service, Paul Fuller, said:

“Dressing up clothes are not always worn just for play but appear to be increasingly worn as nightwear or normal clothes. The use of naked flames is more prevalent, particularly candles at events such as Diwali, Christmas, Halloween, birthdays, barbecues etc.”

Toys are tested against the rate of spread of the flame, which is based on the ability of a child to drop or run away from a burning toy. In his “Watchdog” interview, Paul Fuller also said:

“These are toys they can’t drop, or walk away from. And so I think that the test ought to be at least the same as the test for children’s nightwear, which is much more stringent.”

I agree with him.

In the United States, a child’s dress-up garment offers a much higher level of protection: it must not catch fire for at least 3.5 seconds after exposure to a flame. Currently “toy” dress-up costumes in Europe and in the UK are tested under the toy safety directive EN71-2, which only offers protection at a burning rate of 3 cm per second. That is enormously fast on a small child. If that same child was wearing a nightdress in the UK with our BS 5722 standard, the rate allowable would be 3 cm in 2.5 seconds. That may be the difference between life and death.

It is hard to keep small children away from fire hazard. As Eunan Tiernan, consultant at Salisbury district hospital who deals with burns victims, said:

“The burns that you get from flames are often full thickness, which means that you need to have skin grafting...they can be life changing.”

The British Retail Consortium said:

“We do however believe that the flammability test EN71-2 is no longer fit for purpose. Since this test was introduced in 1979, the design of dress up outfits has got more complicated as has their popularity. The test has not kept pace with the outfit designs and no longer effectively assesses all the risks.”

We are failing our children with EU toy safety standards that are considered not fit for purpose by the BRC, so why does the UK not simply change the EU-wide toy classification? Well, if the UK wanted to prepare or amend an EU standard, it would have to inform the Commission and the standardisation bodies. All 28 countries would have to meet and consult, and only if they were all in agreement would they give their findings to a commission that would then transpose it into a directive for all member states. That is sclerotic, and while the snail-like process of the EU grinds on, our UK children are vulnerable to horrific burns.

In September, the Business Secretary requested that Trading Standards carry out nationwide spot checks on retailers selling fancy dress costumes in the UK. The costumes will only be subjected to flammability testing to assess whether they meet the current EU safety standards, which are the very same standards that the BRC has condemned as not fit for purpose. Media star Claudia Winkleman knows only too well from personal experience the horror of a child’s costume catching alight. I pay tribute to her high-profile awareness campaign, which has led to many of our high street stores voluntarily making their play clothes to the higher nightwear standard. However, as the standard is only voluntary, there will still be inferior products on the market. It is hard to sort out the good from the bad, as price is not an indicator of safety.

Good Housekeeping magazine recently tested some widely available Halloween costumes, all of which met the current EU standards. Interestingly, the cheapest in its flammability test was also the safest. The Aldi cat costume at £3.99 did not catch light at all, whereas Sainsbury’s fangtastic vampire costume at £13 took only five seconds to catch light. A Poundland “Frozen” Halloween dress at £4 took only five seconds to catch light, and a TK Maxx pumpkin costume at £12.99 took four seconds. Choosing a play costume is a minefield for consumers.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents figures for fire-related injuries show that in 2013, around Halloween time, there was a 37% increase on the 2012 figures, which means that things are getting worse. Regardless of Trading Standards findings, if the Government wanted to change the law quickly, they would have to do it through this Parliament. I wish to make it clear that I am asking not to change the designation of these toys to clothes, but to insist that the flammability level is the same standard as the nightwear designation. As Professor Richard Horrocks said:

“It’s a proven standard, and it works, and it’s well tried.”

What is more, it protects children.

I have consulted the House Library and found that

“reclassifying fancy dress costumes as clothes may not be the best way to achieving the objective of imposing tighter safety regulations on this sort of item.”

However, some types of clothing, such as nightwear, are subject to specific national regulations. That is domestic rather than EU legislation, and it provides a precedent for the UK legislating in this way without breaching EU law. It reflects the general principle that EU legislation sets minimum European-wide standards, which do not prevent member states from putting in place national legislation that goes beyond them—sometimes that is called gold-plating.

The most expedient thing that our Government could do is insert a statutory instrument in existing UK legislation, which would require any children’s dress-up costumes for sale in the UK to carry a higher British standard for flammability in addition to the current toy standard. Our gold-plated standard could be adopted in time throughout Europe, but the primary concern of our Government must be to protect children in the UK and to do it as quickly as possible. Too many young children are already living with the consequences of having highly flammable dress-up costumes.

The Chief Fire Officers Association is now calling for this classification to be changed, so that safety standards for fancy dress costumes are stepped up, and nightwear protection seems to be the way to go. I want our Government to lead the way in improving fire safety for our children in the way they did in 1964. We must not wait any longer, because more children will suffer the consequences of this failing, substandard toy directive. Europe can follow us if it wants to, but I want this Parliament to bring in, as quickly as possible, a statutory instrument to protect our children.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mrs Anne Main, Nadine Dorries, Kelvin Hopkins, Paul Scully, Mr Philip Hollobone, Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Mr Graham Brady, Mr John Baron, Lady Hermon, Mr Stewart Jackson and Tim Loughton present the Bill.

Mrs Anne Main accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 March 2016 and to be printed (Bill 102).

Immigration Bill (Programme) (No. 2)


That the Order of 13 October 2015 (Immigration Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

(1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order shall be omitted.

(2) Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

(3) The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.



Time for conclusion of proceedings

New Clauses, new Schedules, amendments to Schedules relating to Part 1 or 2; new Clauses, new Schedules, amendments to Clauses and amendments to Schedules relating to immigration detention

Two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order

New Clauses, new Schedules, amendments to Clauses and amendment to Schedules relating to asylum or support for certain categories of migrant; remaining proceedings on Consideration

6.00pm on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced

(4) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00pm on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.—(James Brokenshire.)