It really is a pleasure to be here this afternoon and get a feel for the excellent work all of you are doing for this fantastic campaign.
So may I say a brief word of thanks in particular to Gail, who met with me in November to make sure we were on board with the aims of the campaign and to explain some of the detail behind the dangers of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. I should also thank and congratulate the Plumb Centre and Wolseley more widely, as well as Honeywell and the Katie Haines Memorial Trust, all of whom have lent their valuable support and contributed to an impressive awareness campaign.
Despite Gail’s best efforts, I am quite sure that I am far from the most knowledgeable in this room on the dangers of CO, so rest assured I won’t try and lecture you on the facts.
What I will say is this: I think the case for making CO alarms law is common sense. The evidence is clear and the safety benefits are plainly obvious. So I am on board with the campaign, and a Labour Government will act.
Some 18 months ago, I took up my current role as the Shadow Fire Minister. My background certainly wasn’t in the Fire and Rescue Services, I hadn’t worked on fire or domestic safety – my background was in Local Government, arts and culture, and libraries in particular.
But since being appointed as the Shadow Fire Minister I’ve learnt all about the excellent preventative work that is done by our Fire and Rescue Services in our communities.
For instance firefighters carry out Home Fire Safety Checks - where they visit homes to carry out a fire safety assessment.
And each visit focuses on three key areas:
- Identifying potential fire risks within the home.
- Making sure you know what to do to reduce or prevent these risks.
- Putting together an escape plan in case a fire does break out, but also crucially, checking you have working smoke alarms.
It is this key preventative and educational work in our communities that is leading to fewer deaths or injuries from fires. And the number of deaths from fire in the home has halved since the 1980s. Clearly, a prevention strategy works and it saves lives.
So I was horrified to learn that around 40 people a year die from accidental CO poisoning in England and Wales, with roughly another 4,000 admitted to hospital with symptoms that could lead to brain damage and strokes.
Despite the fact 84% of UK homes have smoke detectors, only around 15% have CO alarms.
We clearly need to increase public understanding about the risks of CO poisoning and encourage people to take a few sensible precautions to dramatically reduce the chance of poisoning.
And one of these precautions is installing a carbon monoxide alarm, the cost of doing so is minimal – just £20.
And Government has a part to play in this. Which is why I support the introduction of a requirement that a functioning carbon monoxide detector must be installed in new builds and rented properties. It is simple common sense.
But this would just be one step in right direction. Crucially, we have to raise awareness of the dangers of Carbon Monoxide poisoning more widely across the country.
Which is why I want to congratulate you all, once again, on the vital work that you’re doing to raise awareness of this invisible killer.
Clearly there is far more to be done, but I hope that by working together, we can save lives and prevent as many individual tragedies from taking place, as possible.
I look forward to discussing how we can do this and meeting with you all.