The SPEAKER took the chair at 11 o’clock.

On the motion for the adjournment for the Whitsun recess.

MR. HOBSON (Keighley, Lab.) drew attention to the serious fire at Keighley last February, in which eight persons lost their lives—the worst mill disaster in Britain, be said, for many years. It was one of four which had occurred among Yorkshire woollen mills within one month.

The coroner had stated at the inquest that the ultimate cause of the deaths was that there was no means of giving the people in the factory warning of fire. That was a serious indictment against the management and the factory inspectorate. Not only was there no warning device but the fire escape did not reach all floors; the staircase normally used was made mostly of wood; and the door at the bottom of the steps was fastened. Death trap conditions such as these existed in many mills because the owners would not spend money to make them safe.

MR. ROBERT CARR, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Labour (Mitcham, C.), said that Ministry inspectors in Yorkshire were making a special drive on fire risks in the mills in the area. The firm involved in this fire had been successfully prosecuted and fined. If the failure of this firm to carry out its duty was reprehensible, it must also be admitted that the follow-up procedure of the factory inspectorate had not worked as it should have done in this case. The absence of a fire-alarm had first been raised by the inspectors in 1951 and had not been pursued in five visits since that date.


There was no doubt that there was widespread and serious non-compliance with the provision in the Factories Acts governing the compulsory installation of fire alarms. They estimated that between 50 and 70 per cent of the factories covered by this requirement did not have fire alarms. This extensive degree of non-compliance could not be allowed to continue, and the Ministry would do their best to see that it did not.

The chief inspector of factories would be writing to all the factory occupiers involved—estimated at between 40,000 to 50,000—reminding them of their obligations. The Minister had decided that officers from employment exchanges would assist district inspectors to carry out a rapid survey by personal visits to factories. In the light of the results obtained the Minister would decide whether further action was necessary and what that action should be.

Inspectors had been instructed that they must emphasize the advisability of fire drills in all suitable cases. This at first would be pursued on a voluntary basis, but if necessary the Minister would consider whether to use the power he possessed under the Act to make regulations to enable fire drills to be compulsory.

The Times; Saturday, 19 May 1956