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Gas Fitters: Qualifications

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 7 March 1996

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3.16 p.m.

What action they are taking to prevent gas appliances being made lethally dangerous by fitters who do not possess the qualifications required to fit them.

My Lords, the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1994 require that anyone who works on a gas fitting must he competent to do so. The regulations also require that gas installation businesses which undertake gas work in domestic or most commercial premises must belong to a body which is approved by the Health and Safety Executive. The Council for Registered Gas Installers (otherwise known as CORGI) has been approved for that purpose. Failure to comply with either of those requirements is an offence.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. Are the Government concerned over reports that more than 80 supposed engineers were convicted last year for working without having received approval from the Council for Registered Gas Installers and that the law is probably being broken also by others, some of whom pretend to have that approval, which results in lives being put in danger?

My Lords, my noble friend is quite correct. Last year there were some 82 convictions relating to all gas work, of which 39 involved offences for non-registration with CORGI. The law is perfectly clear. Since 1994 there has been a legal requirement that gas work must be competently carried out and installers must belong to a class of persons approved by the Health and Safety Executive. From January 1998, each fitter will need a certificate of competence. I suggest that it is up to everyone who employs such a person to install or mend appliances to ensure that that person is approved before they do so.

My Lords, bearing in mind the progressive opening up of the gas market starting this year and to be completed in 1998, is the noble Earl satisfied that gas consumers will be sufficiently safeguarded in the servicing arrangements for their appliance and installations under the open market situation? Is he also satisfied that the provisions of the Gas Act 1995 do in fact safeguard them sufficiently in that respect?

My Lords, I believe that is the case. The Government are committed to ensuring the safety of gas after liberalisation. The new gas safety management regulations come into force on 1st April this year. British Gas Transco also must have an emergency response service over 24 hours, in the same way as British Gas does now. I do not see why that safety should not be secured.

My Lords, what is this all about? Has any gas fitter or anyone else ever been blown up? Is this a serious matter?

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is concern that although the CORGI arrangements are welcome, there is no procedure to enforce registration or to recall registration documents if a fitter is removed from the list? Should not a procedure be in place to require that? Furthermore, is the noble Earl satisfied that the Health and Safety Executive has sufficient inspectors to ensure that procedures are properly enforced? Would it not be a good idea to have some kind of independent body capable of enforcing the rights of consumers in these matters?

My Lords, I do not believe that we need another independent body. The Health and Safety Executive has adequate powers. One must remember that a number of people are involved. There are around 150,000 fitters and 150 inspectors registered through CORGI. It will take time for the system to be properly organised. New arrangements which started on 1st January this year will come into operation in January 1998. At that time each fitter will have to be certified as a fitter and each business must be a member of CORGI.

To return to the earlier question of my noble friend, when people ask for their gas installations to be serviced or installed it is their responsibility to ensure that the fitter concerned is a member of CORGI and, after 1998, that he is a registered fitter.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway—who seems to doubt whether the Question was necessary—has not been reading some important articles in national broadsheet newspapers? They have recorded the deaths, often overnight, of people sleeping in rooms where gas equipment has been wrongly fitted. I shall send my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway copies of extracts of the newspaper articles recording those deplorable incidents.

My Lords, I am more than delighted to be a post box by which my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy will deliver his rocket to his noble friend behind him.

My Lords, can the Minister say whether or not the regulations apply to a private householder doing work for himself as opposed to buying in the services of somebody else?

My Lords, that is a pertinent question and the answer is that they do not. They apply only to people who service gas fitments for other people or run businesses that do so.