PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &C.

DRAFT BUNK BEDS (ENTRAPMENT HAZARDS) (SAFETY) REGULATIONS 1987

Tuesday 21 July 1987

LONDON

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Ted Leadbitter

Ashby, Mr. David (Leicestershire, North- West)

Baker, Mr. Nicholas (Dorset, North)

Burns, Mr. Simon (Chelmsford)

Caborn, Mr. Richard (Sheffield, Central)

Carlisle, Mr. Kenneth (Lincoln)

Curry, Mr. David (Skipton and Ripon)

Dunnachie, Mr. Jimmy (Glasgow, Pollok)

Fearn, Mr. Ronnie (Southport)

Fyfe, Mrs. Maria (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Garrett, Mr. John (Norwich, South)

Hargreaves, Mr. Andrew (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Maude, Mr. Francis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate and Consumer Affairs)

Primarolo, Ms. Dawn (Bristol, South)

Sedgemore, Mr. Brian (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

Steen, Mr. Anthony (South Hams)

Taylor, Mr. John Mark (Solihull)

Waller, Mr. Gary Keighley)

Winterton, Mrs. Ann (Congleton)

Mr. J. R. Rose, Committee Clerk.

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3 Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments &C. Tuesday 21 July 1987

[MR. TED LEADBITTER in the Chair]

Draft Bunk Beds (Entrapment Hazards) (Safety) Regulations 1987

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Francis Maude): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Bunk Beds (Entrapment Hazards) (Safety) Regulations 1987. The draft regulations are aimed at preventing serious accidents in which young children, mostly between two and six years old, have slipped through a gap in a bunk bed and trapped their heads. The regulations are therefore concerned with making safe any such gaps that are present in the construction of a bunk bed. In accordance with the requirements of the Consumer Safety Act 1978, the Department has consulted a large number of trade, consumer, medical, and enforcement organisations. There has been a good response to the consultation and no one disputes the need for the regulations. They will apply to any bed with a sleeping surface at a height of 800 mm or more above floor level. The proposed requirements will thus affect not only the usual type of bunk bed with two sleeping units but also single beds with a high sleeping surface above a storage space or play area. The regulations will require all such beds to be designed so that they do not give rise to any serious entrapment hazard to young children. In particular, they specify size limits for gaps in relevant parts of a bed. Any gap in the sleeping surface of a bunk bed will be required not to exceed 75 mm. Gaps elsewhere in the structure of the bed must be between 60 mm and 75 mm. The regulations are necessary to prevent further entrapment accidents. Such accidents have caused serious injuries, alarming near-misses, and in a few tragic cases, death. The requirements of the draft regulations are not unduly burdensome. They will not impose unreasonable restrictions on the design of bunk beds and the cost of modifying a bunk bed will not be excessive. Indeed, some manufacturers have already redesigned their beds in anticipation of the regulations. Starting from scratch, it costs no more and it is no more difficult to design and make bunk beds with permissible gaps than with gaps which present this serious danger. Finally, I should point out that there is a printing error in regulation No. 2. An extraneous question mark appears in the fourth line from the bottom of the first page. This question mark will be removed on final printing. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

10.32 am

Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central): On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the draft regulations. Our only 4 criticism is that it has taken a fair time to get the regulations on to the statute book. As I was asked to sit on this Committee only yesterday. I have had time to make only a brief investigation of the problems that have made the draft regulations necessary. I was horrified to find that the type of bunk beds available in the United Kingdom have been responsible for nine registered deaths. I hope that the hazard will be eliminated and that bunk beds will be safer in the future. I do not like the idea of a measurement cone. As an engineer, I believe that a "go-no-go" gauge would be adequate without the need for the sophistication of a cone, which will probably cost more than some bunk beds. However, if someone makes money out of manufacturing the cones it may help to create employment in the United Kingdom. We welcome the regulations and hope that the Government will respond as quickly as possible to the consumer lobby. We pay tribute to the BBC consumer programme in which the problem was forcefully raised and which co-ordinated a lobby to ensure that the draft regulations reach the statute book.

10.34 am

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams): Clearly, the regulations are welcome, but I should like to say more about why they are necessary and to ask how the Government intend to enforce them. I understand that 10 children have been hanged as a result of the present design of bunk beds and that there are 10,000 bunked bed accidents every year, a third of which occur when the child is resting or sleeping. As recently as 22 April this year, Liverpool trading standards officers produced a consumer report stating that 72 per cent. of British retailers were still selling unsafe beds. Although the National Bedding Federation was anxious to assert that the beds were foreign, there were, in fact, British-made beds. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Minister in this Committee, as his interest in these matters is well known. Whether we have cones or other means of measurement, enforcement is important. For instance, the Government have banned tributyl tin in paint, but enforcing the ban is vital. What steps will be taken to ensure that bunk beds which do not conform with the regulations are not sold? If the regulations are not enforced, the same rate of accidents will continue. Does the Minister intend to call in all bunk beds now on sale in shops? How will he ensure that new beds are correctly made and persuade manufacturers to pay retailers to regain bunk beds that are not longer legal? Will the Government make money available to call in defective bunk beds?

Mr. Maude: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) for his support for the regulations and I congratulate him on his appointment to the Opposition Front Bench. I do not know whether he will be my regular opposite number, but I am grateful for his support today. The hon. Gentleman said that it had taken a long time to bring in the regulations. I repeat that steps were taken urgently on a voluntary basis to persuade the National Bedding Federation to ensure that all beds supplied complied with safety standards. We must get the regulations right. It is no use moving quickly and getting 5 them wrong. Under the Consumer Safety Act 1978 there is a legal requirement to consult widely. That is required by law and makes sense in practice. The cone is not especially expensive and can be used to measure any number of beds. It is not a one-off requirement, and a large number will not be needed. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) for his good wishes and for raising the question of enforcement. As soon as the regulations are in force, it will be illegal to supply any bunk bed that does not comply with the regulations. The Government have no plans to call in large numbers of existing bunk beds—we have no wish to create a bunk bed mountain—but it will become illegal for anyone to supply any bunk bed that does not comply with the regulations. That also applies to second-hand bunk beds. It will be a tough regime, but as the industry has known for some time the sort of standards that are to be imposed it cannot complain that an unnecessary burden has been placed on it.

Mr. Steen: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. What he says is right, but how will he enforce it? Who will ensure that defective bunk beds are taken out of shops? Will a circular be sent to every bed manufacturer? Will every bed retailer receive information and will enforcement officers ensure that the regulations are observed?

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Mr. Maude: We shall certaintly not set up a new corps of enforcement officers. Local authorities, through their trading standards officers, already have an efficient enforcement arm. The regulations will be widely publicised and trading standards officers will ensure that they are known about and carried out. As it will be a criminal offence to supply defective beds, the industry will make sure that it does not breach the regulations.

The Chairman: I am puzzled as to why these important regulations refer only to children under the age of six. I was recently caught in a ferry bunk and found myself hanging from the top of it. Perhaps the Government's foresight in safety matters could be extended also to old age pensioners such as myself.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Bunk Beds (Entrapment Hazards) (Safety) Regulations 1987.

Committee rose at eighteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Leadbitter, Mr. Ted (Chairman)

Baker, Mr. Nicholas

Burns, Mr.

Caborn, Mr.

Carlisle, Mr. Kenneth

Curry, Mr.

Hargreaves, Mr.

Maude, Mr.

Primarolo, Ms.

Steen, Mr.

Taylor, Mr. John Mark

Waller, Mr.