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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, September 22, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Ardeer Girls, Portfolio Question Time, Skills Delivery Landscape, Parliamentary Procedures and Practices, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Gas Safety Week 2022


Contents


Gas Safety Week 2022

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-05453, in the name of Clare Adamson, on gas safety week 2022—the hidden dangers. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. Members who wish to participate should press their request-to-speak button or, if they are joining us remotely, type R in the chat function.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament marks Gas Safety Week 2022, which runs from 12 to 18 September and is coordinated by Gas Safe Register; understands that this is the 12th annual, pan-industry event, which brings everyone together for the common goal of keeping the nation gas safe while raising awareness of the dangers of poorly maintained gas appliances, which can cause gas leaks, fires, explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning; notes that Gas Safe Register provides a host of support and resources, including an interactive GasMap tool, allowing consumers to find out how many unsafe gas job have been carried out in their area, as well as providing helpful tips and reassurance; further notes what it sees as the need to raise awareness for those who live in rented accommodation, including holiday makers, that the law and regulations regarding gas safety are fully understood; commends the efforts of all of the organisations involved, and wishes those involved every success in raising awareness of an issue that could save lives.

17:08  

Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

I am delighted to highlight gas safety week 2022, which ran from 12 to 18 September and is co-ordinated by the Gas Safe Register. I thank all colleagues who are speaking this evening and all those who signed the motion to allow the debate to take place. I also thank organisations in the third sector, such as Age Concern Scotland and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and industry organisations, such as SGN, which get behind gas safety week to promote safety in all our communities.

This would have marked the 12th year of the campaign, but the events and activities around the initiative were cancelled in the light of the sad death of Queen Elizabeth II. However, the messaging around gas safety week remains every bit as important.

Gas safety week emphasises the dangers of poorly maintained gas appliances, which can cause gas leaks, fires, explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning. Although I have lodged motions on the initiative and we have held events over a number of years, I believe that this is the first debate on gas safety week in the Scottish Parliament.

I will start with some fundamentals. What is the Gas Safe Register? The body provides a host of support and resources, including an interactive gas map tool, which allows consumers to find out how many unsafe gas jobs have been carried out and identified in their area. Formerly known as CORGI—the Council for Registered Gas Installers—it is the only official registration body of gas businesses and engineers in the United Kingdom. Anyone undertaking gas work in commercial or domestic settings must, by law, be on the Gas Safe Register. A gas engineer can be aligned to a registered business and be issued with a licence to undertake gas work only if they hold a valid and current qualification. The register and all associated services are operated on behalf of the relevant health and safety authority for each region, under the UK Health and Safety Executive.

The Gas Safe Register provides a host of free resources and advice to help people to stay safe. In the interest of raising awareness, I will set out 10 simple steps to help keep people safe and warm in their homes.

Only use an engineer that is registered with the Gas Safe Register to fit and fix services. You can find the register online, where you can check the credentials of anyone who presents as an engineer with their organisation.

Check both sides of your engineer’s Gas Safe Register card, as each qualification is listed separately on their credentials. You must ensure that the engineer is qualified in the particular work that they are undertaking in your home.

Gas appliances need to be regularly serviced and checked. If you rent your home, you can ask for a copy of the landlord’s current gas safety record.

Know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. That is so important. CO poisoning can cause headaches, dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, collapse and loss of consciousness. Unsafe gas appliances can put you and your pets at risk of CO poisoning, which can cause gas leaks, fires and explosions. You might find that the symptoms associated with CO poisoning alleviate when you leave home. I do not think that I am saying anything out of turn by saying that, after one of my MP colleagues attended a gas safety event in Westminster, he realised that he could be—indeed, he was—suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. That is why raising awareness is so important.

We should check gas appliances for warning signs. If there is a yellow flame instead of a crisp blue one, that could indicate a problem. Black marks or stains around appliances or too much condensation in a room can also indicate a problem.

Every home should have an audible carbon monoxide alarm, which alerts you if there is carbon monoxide in your home. I would go further and follow other safety advice that suggests that you should pack a CO alarm when you are on holiday, particularly when travelling abroad, as such alarms are vital and can indicate whether there is a problem in temporary holiday accommodation such as caravans, where there might be no working alarm.

Keep vents and chimneys clear, so do not block vents that have been put in for gas appliances.?

Use gas appliances only for their intended purpose.?Do not be tempted to use them for something that they were not meant for, such as heating a room. In the context of carbon monoxide poisoning, it is very important to be aware of the use of camping stoves and disposable barbecues. In a domestic setting, if they are used in a way that was not intended or in an enclosed space, that can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning and, sadly, death.

Know the emergency procedure.?If you smell gas or suspect immediate danger, familiarise yourself with the?emergency procedure?and contact the relevant gas safety numbers in Scotland, which are freely available.

Most important, as we are doing today, spread the word.?Share vital gas safety information with friends, family and neighbours to make sure that your community stays safe. The purpose of gas safety week is to raise awareness.

I became interested in gas safety awareness because it is a matter of social justice. Accidents disproportionately impact people in the most deprived areas, so anyone who is passionate about equality and social justice must also be passionate about accident prevention and safety.

Our constituents are facing a cost of living crisis. While budgets are stretched to their limits, safety checks and annual services might be overlooked. However, those simply cannot be a discretionary spend—they are vital. Therefore, I ask the minister, in his discussions with colleagues on the cost of living crisis, to push for providers to offer discounted or free services to those who are at most risk of fuel poverty, in much the same way that fuel cards and payments may be accessed, as the issue could become vital.

As always in these debates, I have quickly run out of time. I thank all my colleagues and ask them to use their social media and their presence in their communities to promote gas safety not just during gas safety week but throughout the years to keep our communities safe.

17:15  

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

I thank Clare Adamson for securing this members’ business debate and for her campaigning on this important issue. I am pleased that the issue is being debated in the chamber, and discussing the matter further is especially welcome at a time when issues relating to gas are in the news so often.

It is worth reflecting that gas safety has significantly improved from what it was 30 years ago. However, we still too often hear reports of gas explosions in homes and the widespread destruction of properties and even fatalities that result, and about carbon monoxide leaks that result in people being poisoned. Raising public awareness is therefore crucial.

I welcome the fact that we have gas safety week, but that only scratches the surface. Much more needs to be done not just in Parliament but by energy companies to improve on-going public information campaigns, with a focus on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Before the debate, I was trying to remember whether my council tax information included a piece of information on that. I think that it did, although I also think that I binned that piece of paper. There are ways in which we can ensure that public information is provided.

Overall in Scotland and the UK, our gas network has a reasonably good safety record. That said, there are issues that need to be highlighted. One issue that certainly needs to be addressed is the proper maintenance of gas equipment by registered gas safety engineers. Many people will be unaware of the importance of that and, in many cases, people will be unable to afford the higher cost of paying for an annual check-up of appliances. Clare Adamson has rightly raised concerns about the cost of living crisis and energy bills this winter. Many people will simply not have the income to check their appliances. Organisations and charities already provide such services. I hope that we can promote that through our networks and look at how that can be widely accessed.

It is equally important that we support tenants who request gas safety certificates from landlords. All landlords should be aware of the requirement to make those available to their tenants, given that that is a legal obligation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impressed on all of us the importance of having reliable and safe gas appliances in properties, as people have spent more time in their homes. According to staygassafe.co.uk, one in five homes in Scotland inspected by gas safety engineers had unsafe gas appliances. It is vital that consumers stay safe by checking their gas appliances every year and by checking that their engineers are Gas Safe registered. As I have said, it is not just the duty of consumers to do that; it is also important that we look towards the corporate social responsibility that Clare Adamson touched on. Helping to protect customers and save lives is vital, and carbon monoxide poisoning should be a concern of the past but, regrettably, it is not.

I was taken with a point about tourism and the suggestion that, when going to caravans or visiting properties, people should take an alarm with them. Those properties should be fitted with alarms, and people should have confidence in the appliances that they will use while they are on holiday. That is an important issue to come out of this debate.

According to a report by CORGI HomePlan Ltd in 2015, one in 10 Scottish adults has suffered carbon monoxide poisoning in their home. That truly staggering statistic reinforces the need to be vigilant about unsafe energy appliances.

Awareness of carbon monoxide poisoning is still not where it should be. I hope that this debate will help to demonstrate that. People often associate carbon monoxide poisoning with death but, as has been highlighted, flu-like symptoms often present. In many cases, that can potentially help to drive brain damage, strokes, depression or personality changes. Therefore, there are other changes that we need to highlight.

Carbon monoxide is also odourless, which only adds to its menace. It is therefore crucial that utmost care is taken to ensure that leaks and faulty appliances are identified and that we prevent such poisoning.

As we approach the Scottish winter months, I would like to see all organisations involved in gas provision throw their weight behind the campaign and consider how we might extend it beyond gas safety week.

I very much welcome Clare Adamson’s bringing the debate to the chamber. I hope that it will be the beginning of a substantial piece of work that aims to drive down all deaths during this period.

I call Mark Griffin, who joins us remotely.

17:20  

Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I own a rental property in North Lanarkshire.

I am grateful to Clare Adamson for bringing the debate to the chamber. Given that we face a winter with increased costs for heating, housing and food, it is more important than ever that we recognise the risks of unsafe gas appliances. Having an annual service is key to ensuring that we can go through the winter without potentially facing a cold bath or shower and that our heating does not fail when temperatures are really low.

Worryingly, I suspect that—as Clare Adamson and Miles Briggs have touched on—it will seem to many households who are struggling this year that the costs of servicing gas appliances are an expense that could be saved. Having had a look at the gas map tool that Clare Adamson referenced in her motion, it is really concerning to see the numbers of unsafe gas appliances in every community across Scotland. I looked at the areas around my home in Cumbernauld, where the map shows hundreds of unsafe boilers, cookers and fires.

For tenants in private and social sector housing, servicing of appliances should be conducted regularly, but we know that some landlords fail to fulfil their legal duties to maintain properties, or sometimes have problems in gaining access to them to carry out annual checks. Plenty of tenants are unaware of their rights to have their appliances serviced or even of the very existence of the repairing standard. A report by RentBetter that was published in May found that, among the people sampled, private tenants were dissatisfied with repairs and the condition of their homes, had low awareness of their rights, including the repairing standard, and had a lack of confidence in, or a fear of, exercising their rights due to potential repercussions of rent increases or being evicted, simply for asking for a safe standard to be maintained.

I absolutely welcome the Government’s plan for a tenants’ rights campaign, but perhaps our awareness campaigns need to be broader—or, at least, more integrated—when it comes to different strands of tenants’ rights.

I want to touch on the risks and dangers of poorly maintained gas appliances that Clare Adamson’s motion refers to, which can cause fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. We all know the measures that we can take to make our homes safer—[Interruption.]—but they can be costly. Sometimes—[Interruption.]—that will be a cost that people cannot afford right now. As I have said, people will be reconsidering whether they should service their gas appliances—[Interruption.]—this year. In February, the new smoke and fire alarm standard was introduced, which costs each household an average of £250 to implement—a cost that they have already borne. Compliant households will now have much better protection, but the cost was far from insubstantial. The costs and the benefits are a double-edged sword for low-income home owners.

The £1 million that was eventually allocated to help low-income households was not quite enough. I have obtained replies to freedom of information requests regarding the first tranche of cash, which put the cost of each installation at £325, so the total funding would probably deliver about 3,000 installations against an estimated 60,000-plus eligible applicants whose appliances need upgrading. What action has the Government been able to take?

I hope that, in closing the debate, the minister will outline when the next housing quality standards survey, which will detail the progress that has been made in meeting that standard, will be published. As Clare Adamson and others have said, given the cost of those installations, it would make sense to see what work can be done to reduce the cost of an annual service for people who are struggling the most.

This year, many people will avoid turning on the heating for as long as possible but, when they do turn it on, having those appliances working and in the best order could be a matter of life or death, so it is of the utmost importance that those appliances are serviced.

Thank you very much indeed, Mr Griffin. It is good to hear that your doorbell is in fine working order.

17:25  

Siobhian Brown (Ayr) (SNP)

I thank my colleague Clare Adamson for bringing this important debate to the chamber and for highlighting some important points in her speech. It is so important that people understand the importance of gas safety and the dangers of gas, which can cause death and serious injury.

Worryingly, figures from research by the Gas Safe Register show gas safety being at the bottom of the list of priorities for home owners. Only 12 per cent of home buyers would have a new boiler fitted, whereas 27 per cent would prioritise redecorating the home first.

Unfortunately, I have a community in my constituency that has been devastated by a gas explosion and which knows only too well the devastating consequences. Last year, at around 7 pm on Monday 18 October, a major gas explosion devastated the Kincaidston community in my Ayr constituency. The explosion was heard miles away in neighbouring towns. I remember vividly my windows rattling and hearing a big bang, which I dismissed as my children perhaps jumping off a bed upstairs. Shortly afterwards, an image of devastation, panic and chaos appeared on social media.

Fire, police and ambulance services were all redeployed at pace to assist at the scene. Sometimes, one does not appreciate the emergency services until one sees them in action in a national emergency such as the one that occurred on that night. I want to offer my thanks and gratitude to all the members of the emergency services who worked relentlessly that night and in the days after that awful event.

In the moments after the blast, there was confusion, panic and fear. Hundreds of people were evacuated, four houses were destroyed, windows were shattered, cars were destroyed and the community was in panic. Rather than what you would expect in a quiet neighbourhood in Ayr on a Monday night, it was comparable to a war scene. For many hours, nobody knew what had happened or how many people had been injured. The local community centre opened its doors and members of the Kincaidston community pulled together in an effort to make some sense of what had just happened and to support one another. Because of the devastation, it took days to confirm that, thankfully, there had been no deaths, although, unfortunately, a family of four were hospitalised that evening.

In the following days, not only the community of Kincaidston but the whole of Ayr pulled together. Individuals donated food supplies, and local businesses made sure that people who had been affected had essential supplies and a safe place to sleep while they waited for the all-clear to return to their homes.

One year on, the people of Kincaidston are still haunted and recovering from that night. As time went on, the community demanded answers. Why did the explosion happen? What could be done to prevent such an event from happening again in the future? A recent Health and Safety Executive report revealed that the explosion was caused by corroded pipes running through the estate, which had been laid down by the predecessor to SGN. Before the report was published, SGN prioritised replacing all the old lead gas pipework that was laid in the area in the 1970s with new, safer plastic pipes. I ask that lessons be learned from the gas explosion in Kincaidston. We need to prioritise replacement of the old lead pipes with the new, safer plastic pipes as a matter of urgency throughout our communities.

I raise the incident in Kincaidston because it shows that gas is something to be treated with respect and with caution. Failure to do that could result in life-changing consequences. We go to turn on our heating or hot water without thinking about it. The problem is that we often do not realise how dangerous gas can be until it is too late.

Although the Kincaidston explosion was unrelated to the residents’ activities, we can still take important lessons from that night. I echo the statements that have already been made. If someone smells gas, they should shut off the gas emergency control valve, open the doors and windows to let fresh air in, extinguish all naked flames and not smoke. They should not operate electrical switches, even to turn them off, and should call the gas emergency number, which is 0800 111999. I urge people to write that number down, save it on their phones and share it with family and friends. It is an emergency number that we should all remember.

We can also take important and easy steps to prevent gas leaks. We should have our gas appliances serviced and safety checked every year using a Gas Safe registered engineer. It is a small thing to do, but it will provide peace of mind and might save our lives.

17:30  

The Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights (Patrick Harvie)

As others have done, I thank Clare Adamson for lodging the motion for debate.

I also thank all members from around the chamber for their contributions on an important and life-saving matter. Whether we are talking about sudden and traumatic events such as the one that Siobhan Brown described—thankfully, they are rare but they are nonetheless traumatic—or the slower, invisible dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, which Clare Adamson and others mentioned, the whole debate is a reminder of how important and potentially life-saving it is to take gas seriously.

Gas safety week is an annual week that provides a platform for the industry, consumer organisations and individuals across the UK to raise the public’s awareness of gas safety issues and the importance of taking care of gas appliances. It is co-ordinated by the Gas Safe Register, which administers the official list of gas engineers who are legally allowed to work on gas appliances.

As Clare Adamson mentioned and all members appreciate, the Queen’s death meant that the Gas Safe Register did not undertake much of the gas safety week activity as planned. However, despite some scaling back of the planned activity this year, gas safety week has been active since 2011 and has gone from strength to strength in engaging the wider public in innovative ways, as the motion rightly sets out. I commend all that work and everyone who has been involved in it. They have our thanks for keeping people safe.

Clare Adamson is also right to ask the Government to consider what more we can do to ensure that support and prevention work is targeted at the people who need it most, including the households that face the most severe cost of living impacts. I will certainly take that up and have a discussion with colleagues about it. It might be that there is a role not only for Government but for industry and the third sector in helping to make that happen.

Members will be aware that my role as minister with responsibility for heat in buildings and for zero-carbon buildings makes me minister for the post-gas future. My job, the Scottish Government’s priority and, indeed, a priority for all of us who supported Scotland’s ambitious and essential climate targets is to support households and businesses to move not only towards more energy-efficient buildings but away from gas and towards zero-carbon sources of energy.

As things stand, gas plays a significant part in how we heat our homes and buildings and how we cook, so it is important that, even as we accelerate the transition towards decarbonised homes, gas safety remains on our agenda all year round, not only during gas safety week. However, it is not always at the front of our minds as individuals and householders, so the importance of having gas appliances safely checked by Gas Safe engineers at least once a year cannot be overestimated. If left unchecked, poorly serviced gas appliances can cause gas leaks, fires, explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning.

This year, gas safety week focused on the steps that consumers can take themselves to ensure that they stay safe. Those include some things that we should not do. For example, we should not attempt do-it-yourself work on gas appliances. We should also be aware of the warning signs of unsafe appliances, such as dark or sooty staining. It is also worth reiterating the important positive actions that people can take to ensure that they remain safe.

A faulty gas appliance can cause injury or death and it is important to ensure that all appliances and associated equipment are safe to use. They should be regularly serviced by qualified, competent gas engineers who are Gas Safe registered. Only Gas Safe registered engineers can service gas appliances and equipment, including boilers, portable heating or lighting, gas fires and cooking appliances. Of course, no one must ever use gas appliances that they think might be faulty, and everyone must ensure that vents, grilles and flues are kept free from obstruction.

As we have heard, faulty appliances and restricted ventilation can lead to a dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide in the home. As Clare Adamson said, fitting and maintaining a carbon monoxide detector can give people a warning of a faulty appliance. That is why the Scottish Government made it a legal requirement to include a carbon monoxide detector in any room with a carbon-fuelled appliance. I strongly encourage everyone to look into fitting such a detector as soon as possible, if they have not yet done so.

As members will be aware, gas safety legislation is reserved to the UK Government and applies across the UK, covering a wide range of gas safety issues. Regulation 36 of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 sets out the statutory duty for annual gas safety inspections. As is the case in each UK Administration, our building regulations also set out requirements relevant to the initial installation of gas appliances. The person who is responsible for the building is required to ensure that any new combustion appliance is installed to operate safely. Our support and guidance cites the UK legislation that is applicable to the installation of gas-fired appliances and the competence of the installers.

As Mark Griffin mentioned, for those who live in rented accommodation—whether social or private—landlords are responsible for ensuring that necessary safety checks are carried out. Our proposals on a new deal for tenants show our determination to continue to strengthen the position for tenants in Scotland.

The Scottish Government’s legislation on prescribed information for private landlords began on 16 September 2019. It means that, when a landlord is either applying online for registration for the first time or renewing their registration online, they will be required to complete questions on gas safety certification.

Landlords have three main responsibilities: to carry out gas safety checks every year; to provide the tenant with a copy of the annual gas safety certificate; and to ensure the continued safety of pipework, appliances and flues by carrying out maintenance work. It is a legal requirement for landlords to provide a gas safety certificate for their property for the current year, and to check and retain the certificates for the previous two years. The certificate confirms that the gas installation is safe and that all gas appliances are safe and free from danger.

We have heard about the various regulations that are in place to protect consumers. Those play a vital role, but it is also important to recognise the role of supporting consumers to protect themselves. Householders must remember that they should use only engineers who are on the Gas Safe Register, which is easily accessible online and can be used to find a local registered business or to check whether a particular business is on the register.

Initiatives such as gas safety week have a vital role to play in supporting consumers in making wise choices when they have work done on gas appliances. Once more, I put on record the Government’s sincere thanks to all who have supported gas safety week, and I hope that people will make use of the available material and ensure that their gas appliances are checked over by Gas Safe engineers, so that they and their family members are safe.

Meeting closed at 17:38.