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Carbon Monoxide (Detection and Safety)

Volume 628: debated on Wednesday 13 September 2017

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 requirements for carbon monoxide detectors; to make provision about carbon monoxide safety; and for connected purposes.

Carbon monoxide is a killer. In recent years, more than 25 people have been killed each year in carbon monoxide-related incidents and hundreds of people have been hospitalised—264 last year—and the figures I have seen show that approximately 4,000 people go to A&E each year with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. We have a problem, and it is a serious problem; in fact, it is a fatal problem. That should not be the case in the 21st century, because it is almost entirely preventable. We should make this “silent killer” history.

Nearly three months ago, on 14 June, at least 80 people tragically lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire. I believe the first hearing of the public inquiry into the fire will be held tomorrow, with an interim report expected by Easter 2018. I am sure there will be many opportunities in future for Members to contribute to the debate and the subsequent changes in legislation that will no doubt follow. But Grenfell serves as a reminder that we need to improve safety across the board for all residents across both the public and private housing sectors, and to design out any weaknesses. That is why I took this early opportunity to secure one of the ten-minute rule Bill slots at the start of this Parliament.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is predominately a matter of housing safety, and I have no doubt that the improvements to current legislation proposed by my motion will contribute to a reduction in the number of unnecessary deaths each year due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The stories associated with these deaths are heart-rending.

For example, I have been contacted by Avril Samuel of the Katie Haines Memorial Trust. On 12 December 2009 Avril’s daughter Katie had the happiest day of her life when she married Richard Haines at the church of St Mary the Virgin in Gloucestershire. Katie had planned the day down to the minute and everything went to plan. They honeymooned in Brazil and Argentina before returning to settle into a happy married life. But Katie’s life was tragically cut short just a few months later on the evening of 18 February 2010 when she died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Her husband Richard and father-in-law Gordon were also poisoned, but, thankfully, survived. The Katie Haines Memorial Trust was founded by Katie’s husband Richard and her family to promote awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide, and in time to support other charities that would have been close to Katie’s heart.

I have also spoken to Project SHOUT, which was created following the death of Dominic Rogers, whose mother Stacey bravely tells Dominic’s story on the Project SHOUT website. On a night like any other, Stacey kissed her 10-year-old son goodnight, told him she loved him and went to bed. The next morning when she went into his bedroom, she found him cold and face down. Following an investigation, it was announced that he had died from carbon monoxide poisoning, that the carbon monoxide had seeped through the brickwork from the neighbouring property, and that Dominic would have been overcome by the poisonous fumes within five minutes.

Even one of my staff has shared with me a story of a friend of theirs who moved into a brand-new home just a couple of years ago: brand-new boiler, up-to-date building standards, and ticked all the building reg boxes, but there was a problem, and no one spotted it, because carbon monoxide is undetectable to human senses. A young mother and her child started to get headaches and to feel unwell, and ended up in their local A&E department. It turns out there was a fault with the boiler and they had carbon monoxide poisoning. That would have been completely detectable and preventable if a carbon monoxide detector costing less than 15 quid had been installed.

I firmly believe that not only should carbon monoxide detectors be mandatory in new-build properties, but they should be installed in all rented properties, including social housing and those in the private rented sector. We should be designing this problem out.

However, we also need to ensure that people are fully aware of the risks associated with a gas that people cannot see, smell or taste, because any fuel-burning appliance that is not properly maintained has the potential to be a source of carbon monoxide. This is why I am also proposing that fire authorities have an explicit duty to promote carbon monoxide safety. That would not be an additional strain on the public purse, but would make current best practice by many forces enshrined in law.

The timing of the presentation of this motion is fortunate given that today sees the launch of gas safety week. The promotional material for this event includes an assertion that we should check gas appliances for warning signs that they are not working properly. These include a lazy yellow flame instead of a crisp blue one, black marks or stains around the appliance, and too much condensation in the room. The material also reminds people of the six signs of carbon monoxide poisoning: headaches, dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, collapse and loss of consciousness. People can see a short video of one survivor’s account of her symptoms on the website of the Carbon Monoxide and Gas Safety Society. I am very grateful to Stephanie Trotter OBE, the president and director of that organisation, for the help and support she has given me. In fact, I welcome all of the work done in promoting this seventh annual gas safety week, and I hope that many Members from all parties will promote the event enthusiastically across all media platforms.

But it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the work that has already been done recently to improve legislation relating to gas safety. Prior to 2015 there was no statutory requirement on private landlords to install either smoke detector alarms or carbon monoxide detector alarms in their properties. The Government have addressed that, following consultation, via the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015, which came into force on 1 October 2015. These regulations require that smoke alarms be installed on every storey of a rented property and that carbon monoxide detectors be installed in any room housing a solid fuel combustion appliance. These changes are of course welcome, but they do not go far enough in helping to prevent unnecessary deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning.

To mark the start of carbon monoxide awareness week in 2011, Professor Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said:

“Carbon monoxide is a silent killer which leads to many deaths every year…We can all prevent these avoidable tragedies by making sure gas and fuel appliances are properly installed and maintained and fitting an audible carbon monoxide alarm that meets European Standard EN 50291.”

Six years later, this advice is still valid. Some devolved nations have already changed legislation to ensure that residents are protected by the presence of carbon monoxide detectors. In Northern Ireland, carbon monoxide alarms are a mandatory requirement for all new homes built since 31 October 2012, after a change to the building regulations there. In Scotland, landlords have been required to install a carbon monoxide detector in every space containing a fixed combustion appliance since 2015. We should embrace some of this best practice. Big international cities such as New York also have similar carbon monoxide laws. Now is the time to enshrine that protection in English law.

I understand that many prefer to leave such matters to individuals, so that people can make choices for themselves rather than being compelled to action by an overbearing state. In general, I would wholeheartedly agree, but this will not involve loads of new red tape or piles of regulation that will end up becoming an annoyance. It involves three simple things we can do as a society to prevent needless deaths and raise awareness. If we intend to ensure that the lives lost in Grenfell Tower serve to prevent others from losing their lives in the future, we need to carefully consider all options for keeping people safe in their homes—the place where they have a right to feel most safe and secure. This should include protection from carbon monoxide. In a hung Parliament, it is even more important that MPs work cross-party to get things done, and I hope we can all unite in trying to stop deaths from this silent killer. Thousands visit A&E every year with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, hundreds are hospitalised and many die. Let us take this opportunity to do something about that.

Question put and agreed to.


That Eddie Hughes, Michael Tomlinson and Mr Barry Sheerman present the Bill.

Eddie Hughes accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 19 January 2018, and to be printed (Bill 107).