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23 Mar 2010 : Column 143

Points of Order

4.9 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have given you prior notice of it, and I have given prior notice to the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), whom it concerns. There is, as you know, a planning application in my constituency for intensive dairy production at a place called Nocton. It has aroused intense feelings and opposition, part of which is founded on animal welfare considerations. The hon. Member for Carlisle tabled early-day motion 1037 which addresses the issue both in general and in particular, mentioning my constituency as the site, or at least that is the implication. He did not discuss this with me in advance; I am sure that he intended no discourtesy. I do not think that there is guidance on the matter, so I am looking only to guidance for the future.

May I suggest that in future, when an hon. Member tables an early-day motion which affects another Member's constituency directly, the Member tabling the early-day motion should inform the other Member in advance, very much as he or she would if he or she were going to the other Member's constituency? I do not for one moment challenge the hon. Gentleman's right to table the early-day motion, but it would have been helpful and, I suggest, courteous for me to have been told in advance.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving me advance notice of his point of order. Clearly, as he indicated in what he said, the matter is of specific relevance to his constituency. The House is well aware of the conventions about visiting other Members' constituencies, and about mentioning each other in debate. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly observes, we do not have a practice on giving notice about tabling motions, but he has made his point very effectively. I know that others will thereby be conscious of the matter.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP) rose-

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should be patient. His patience will be rewarded in due course.

The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) is in his place. He is not obliged to respond, but if he would like to do so, he is welcome.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) is a barrister, but I was hoping that you would find me innocent of the crime, Mr. Speaker. I did not mention the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and I did not specifically mention his constituency. I referred to Lincolnshire; I did not know the site was in his constituency. The precedent that could be set is that if any hon. Member tabled a question about any constituency, he would have to tell the hon. Member concerned. I hope that you will find me innocent.

Mr. Speaker: What I would say to the hon. Member for Carlisle is that I have sought to respond to the point of order from the right hon. and learned Member for
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Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) in measured terms, just as he spoke in measured terms, and so did the hon. Member for Carlisle. I do not view the matter, if I may say so, in terms either of guilt or of innocence. The situation that has arisen is quite specific, a repetition of which could occur. Rather than formulate a new rule or piece of guidance on the hoof, I would prefer to rely on the general good sense and natural courtesy of right hon. and hon. Members.

Mr. MacNeil: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I tried to catch your eye before the Foreign Secretary had left. In his answer to me, the right hon. Gentleman said that he had specifically said, with reference to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who the person to be expelled was. In fact, he did not. At 1.52 pm the BBC news site said that it was likely to be the London head of the Mossad secret service. I got more information from the 1.52 pm release from the BBC than I did from the Foreign Secretary at the Dispatch Box a few moments ago. May I ask that we are told first, in the House from the Dispatch Box, if somebody is to be expelled from the UK?

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and I endorse what he and other right hon. and hon. Members have already said on the matter. In fairness, I think the Foreign Secretary, who is no longer in his place, made very clear his own belief and insistence that matters of public importance should first be disclosed or reported to the House, rather than to the media. It is fair to say-I will deal with the specific point that the hon. Gentleman made-that Ministers cannot be held responsible for what is speculated about in the media. If there is specific evidence-

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con) rose-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I will come to the hon. Gentleman, who is in a state of overweening excitement.

If there is specific evidence that something has been disclosed externally first, the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) knows that I would regard that as an extremely serious matter. I do not think this is quite such a case. I note what he said; those on the Treasury Bench will also have noted what he said.

Dr. Lewis: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I quote briefly from the BBC posting at 13.52, which has been referred to? It says:

That is a fairly clear indication that that report was written as a result of conversations with someone connected with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Mr. Speaker: I still believe, if I may say so to the hon. Gentleman, that we are in the realms of speculation. We have not got a concrete finding. If I had not known him for 26 years and five months, I would think that he was trying to continue the debate, but as I have known him for 26 years and five months-

Dr. Lewis: Name the days.

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Mr. Speaker: I cannot name the number of days, but as I have known the hon. Gentleman for 26 years and five months I know that he would not indulge in misbehaviour of that kind.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Later today, under items 9 and 10 on the Order Paper, the House is due to vote without debate, under Standing Order No. 118(6), on two orders. They are local government structural changes to create unitary authorities in Exeter and Norwich. They were considered yesterday afternoon by a Delegated Legislation Committee, and yesterday evening in the other place. In the other place, an extraordinary thing occurred: on the Norwich order, a motion to regret and delay the matter was passed after a Division; and on the Exeter order, the Government accepted the motion put forward to delay its implementation without seeking to divide the House.

Given that there can be no debate, is it in order for this House to be asked to vote on those two orders when it is not now clear whether the Government intend to proceed with them, or to delay them in accordance with the stance that they adopted in the upper House? Could we at least ask that the Minister be brought to this House to explain the Government's position before we vote on something that may turn out to be a false premise?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has raised his point of order with all the force and lucidity that one would expect from a practising barrister, but I fear that I am going to have to disappoint him somewhat when I
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say that what happens in another place is not a matter for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman vents his displeasure at the fact that the Government have tabled the matters upon which the House can vote but which will not be open to debate, but that is a matter for the Government and not for me. It may be that he is putting in a bid for an increase in the powers of the Speaker, but as things stand I have no such power.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments drew to the attention of this House the fact that those orders might be of doubtful vires. How is it possible to get that on the record?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has just very pithily done so.

Bill Presented

Sustainability of Livestock Farming and Food Production (Strategy)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr. Peter Ainsworth, supported by Mr. John Gummer, Mr. David Amess, Alan Simpson, Dr. Nick Palmer and Andrew George, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to prepare and implement a strategy to improve the sustainability of livestock farming and the sustainability of the consumption of livestock produce; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 April, and to be printed (Bill 94) .

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Fire Safety (Schools)

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

4.19 pm

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): I beg to move,

The purpose of the Bill is simple: all new-build nursery, primary and secondary schools, academies and technology colleges should be fitted with sprinkler systems in order to reduce the damage caused by fire and to save lives. I am aware that this is a very topical issue. The Welsh Assembly has passed the Legislative Competence (Housing) (Fire Safety) Order 2010, which proposes the installation of fire sprinklers in all new residential premises in Wales. There was clear support for that in the Assembly. There is also a Bill going through the other place-Lord Harrison's Building Regulations (Amendment) Bill.

Approximately 1,400 schools in the UK are damaged by fire each year-roughly 20 schools per week. That is only the reported figure; there may be many smaller fires that go unreported. The Arson Prevention Bureau states that almost a third of school fires occur during the day, putting the safety of staff and pupils at risk. According to the 2007 figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government, 42 per cent. of the fires in that year were arson. It is estimated that fewer than 200 schools of the 28,000 are fitted with sprinklers. According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, the cost of school fires stood at £58 million from 2000 to 2004, with the total cost estimated by the National Union of Teachers to be in the region of £100 million. In 2006, six fires resulted in damage of £1 million each. That is enough to employ a substantial number of new teachers and provide new building facilities.

Fire causes untold damage to school buildings and facilities. We can all recall examples of school fires in our own constituencies that have caused great damage. As I said, the true cost is estimated to be about £100 million per year. However, fires also have many serious knock-on effects such as necessitating the hire of temporary accommodation for staff and pupils. The National Foundation for Educational Research estimates that the education of approximately 90,000 children is disrupted each year by school fires and that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are most likely to be affected. Coursework can be lost and exams postponed due to fire. It can lead to a drop in morale among staff and pupils. It can have an impact on those in the wider community who use the facilities for adult education or sports, for example.

The published Government guidance for fire safety in schools, "Building Bulletin 100: Design for Fire Safety in Schools", states that

subject to a risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis. The value of sprinkler systems has been applauded by the Government as a weapon against arson. To quote from "Building Bulletin 100",

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That is a welcome statement, but installation is not currently compulsory. Government statistics state that 70 per cent. of new-build schools are fitted with fire sprinklers, but it is not a legal requirement. Although "Building Bulletin 100" is to be commended for the importance that it attaches to sprinklers, it is not enough for the Government merely to expect new schools to be fitted with sprinklers; it should be mandatory for all schools.

The figures for 2007 show that 58 per cent. of school fires were accidental. That means that a school classed as being at low risk from arson attacks would still be at a high risk from accidental fires. In my constituency, for example, the west midlands fire service reported a 100 per cent. increase in accidental school fires in 2008-09. They could have been caused by many factors, such as an electrical fault. We need to ensure that all schools are as safe as possible for our children and to protect against all types of fire, accidental or deliberate. Fire sprinklers would help to achieve that.

It is for local authorities to determine their policy on fitting sprinklers. However, while some local authorities, such as Coventry city council in my constituency, have a clear policy of fitting sprinklers in new schools, some do not. There is no unified stance across local authorities. There is also a worrying trend that private finance initiative projects need not comply with Government guidance on this issue, as they do not come under local authority jurisdiction. For example, in Coventry, there was recently a fire at Woodway Park school. The building is derelict, but it took 60 firefighters to fight the blaze. Crucially, the PFI project next door, Grace academy, has just reopened after a fire that cost £15 million. That school does not have sprinklers. One must argue that if one school can burn down, there is an equal risk to the school next door. I do not believe that the Government envisaged PFI projects opting out of the guidance, so there needs to be a mandatory requirement.

There are many benefits associated with fire sprinklers. They reduce deaths; there have been no fire deaths in UK buildings fitted with a fully maintained sprinkler system. Sprinklers act within three to five minutes of a fire starting and help control and contain it in a small area of a building. They improve firefighter safety, as the fire is controllable. Fires are smaller and more controlled, which limits the rebuilding costs. Recent research estimates that property damage has been reduced by 80 per cent. where a sprinkler is fitted. They also have environmental benefits, as they use less water to tackle fires. It is estimated that fire hoses uses 1,000 litres a minute, whereas fire sprinklers use only 60 litres per head per minute. Water is also used more efficiently, as sprinklers act earlier.

My Bill would make a simple change that would have a huge impact on schools' fire safety. Schools should be one of the safest places for my constituents and residents around the country, and my Bill would help achieve that. Powered sprinklers are a simple, efficient way to increase fire safety in schools. They minimise the property damage caused by fire and dramatically reduce the risk to life. Many organisations, such as the west midlands fire service and the Chief Fire Officers Association support this Bill for the mandatory installation of fire sprinklers. I commend it to the House and thank the west midlands fire service and everybody associated with it.

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Question put and agreed to.


That Mr. Jim Cunningham, Mr. Michael Clapham, Mr. Brian H. Donohoe, Mr. Geoffrey Robinson, Mr. Brian Jenkins, Mr. Ian McCartney, Annette Brooke and Rosie Cooper present the Bill.

Mr. Jim Cunningham accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 April, and to be printed (Bill 93).

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Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill [ Lords]

Considered in Committee

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Clauses 1 to 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Application of section 2

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