This story would have been so appropriate on 5th November. But London Assembly member Stephen Knight took an opportunity last week to ask this question at the meeting of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.
In August 2012 it was reported that another fire in the Palace of Westminster had left the House of Commons and other areas closed off, and that a report to the House of Commons Commission has apparently identified significant fire risks with boilers “ready to blow”! Is the Chairman concerned at the potential fire risks in the major London landmark – and workplace – and what steps would he like to see the Brigade take to get MPs to take fire safety more seriously?
The Chair’s reply will come as a surprise to many of us. Did you know that the Palace of Westminster (along with other Crown premises) sits outside the control of the London Fire Brigade? It even has its own fire department which is answerable directly to the Department of Communities and Local Government.
After further questions from Stephen, the Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, James Cleverly, expressed his concerns that the Palace of Westminster only carries out its own fire inspections and said that he is now in discussions with the Department of Communities and Local Government about the London Fire Brigade taking on an enforcement role.
The House of Commons Commission report on the project to restore and renew the Palace of Westminster, revealed that the building has a number of serious fire risks. Here are some extracts:
The condition of the building impedes modern fire safety approaches and it has proved impossible so far to implement effective fire compartmentation.
Because of the fate of the old Palace of Westminster the new Palace was designed by Charles Barry with fire-proofing in mind….On the other hand a great of combustible material was used for interior decoration and the building was designed with a ‘comprehensive network of pathways’ in the form of ventilation shafts and interior floor voids, unintentionally creating ideal conditions for fire and smoke to spread through the building.
Fortunately there have been no major outbreaks of fire in the Palace in recent years. Forty minor fires have been recorded, however, since 2008.
Stephen made this comment to Lib Dem Voice:
Many people will be shocked to learn that Parliament has exempted itself from the normal enforcement powers of London’s fire brigade over breaches of fire regulations. Staff employed in the Palace of Westminster deserve the same protection from fire as any other employee in the capital. It’s time MPs stopped believing that rules that apply to everyone else shouldn’t apply to them.
* Mary Reid is the Tuesday Editor on Lib Dem Voice.