History of fire safety legislation in the United Kingdom

History of fire safety legislation in the United Kingdom

The history of fire safety legislation in the United Kingdom dates back to the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror in 1066 and has seen a long and complex system of laws and other legislation being enacted and repealed culminating in the latest legislation, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. While much of the legislation applied to the United Kingdom as a whole, Scotland and Northern Ireland often had their own versions of the legislation with slight differences.

Early legislation

The first mentioned reference to fire safety in England was in 1066 in the instructions William the Conqueror gave to his soldiers. He ordered a curfew each night, [ cite book| first = H E| last = Marshall| title = Our Island Story|year = 1920| publisher = Frederick A Stokes Company, London ] the word comes from Anglo-Norman via Middle English, an instruction to cover and damp down the fires before retiring, "couvre feu". He used it in his encampments to prevent the campfires from being left burning and thus any wind blowing embers onto the tents. It later became a very necessary precaution when cities started to develop and became filled with wooden houses having thatched roofs.

The 15th and 16th centuries saw timber chimneys outlawed and the first Acts of Parliament relating to fire which made provision for fire prevention, being introduced and included, fire fighting and penalties against persons causing fire in Scotland.

In Manchester, [ cite book| first = Robert F| last = Bonner| title = Manchester Fire Brigade| year = 1988| publisher = Archive Publications, Manchester| pages = page 6] the Court Leet, which was an early form of Manorial Court and acted as the local government in its day passed a decree on October 2nd 1566 that stacks of twigs used in bake house ovens were to be stored a safe distance from the bake house. The actual order read -

"Also yt ys Ordered that all pson and persons"
"Kepine eny back house within the town of Mamchr"
"shall not laye and Gorses or Kiddles"
"within two bayes of the Ovens"

A further order made it an offence to lay "myddinges" and straw in the streets and banned the lighting of fires in rooms with no chimney.

During the Great Fire of London which started on 2nd September 1666 [ [http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/londonfire.htm Eye witness accounts] ] it was soon realised that the construction of buildings added greatly to the fire spread. As a result, King Charles II issued a decree saying that all building were to be built out of stone and roads were to be widened. The Government looked into the legislation and introduced laws aimed specifically at fire prevention. The London Cooking Fire Bylaw 1705, prohibited open fires in the attics of thatched buildings The Fires Prevention (Metropolis) Act 1774, [ cite book| first = Graham | last = Stephenson| title = Sourcebook On Tort Law| year = 2000| publisher = Routledge Cavendish|id=ISBN 1-85941-587-3] placed buildings into 7 classes with laid down thickness’ of external walls and party walls for each of the classes and included provisions for the maximum floor area of stores and warehouses. The Act also brought into being the first legislation that dealt with human life and escape rather than just building safety. The Act stated that London boroughs were to appoint Surveyors and "every parish should provide three or more proper ladders of one, two and three storeys high, for assisting persons in houses on fire to escape there from"

Following several fire in Edinburgh in 1698 [ [http://www.fire.org.uk/FireNet/leg_history.php| Fire Net History, (Accessed 21 February 2007)] ] an "Act Regulating the Manner of Building within the Town of Edinburgh" was passed which required that no buildings should exceed five storeys.

Between the 15th and the 17th November 1824, Edinburgh had three major fires, [ cite book| first = Philip| last = Ingham| title = Fire Safety in Historic Buildings| year = 2003| publisher = Fire Service College] which destroyed more property than any previous fire had done. The result of the fires was laws made in January 1825, by the Lord Provost and Magistrates of the City, which laid down rules of conduct for police, firemen, magistrates and property owners in the event of a fire.

Modern legislation

Explosives Act 1875

Under the Explosives Act, many fire brigades took on the responsibility for the safe storage of explosives. The Explosives Act was partly repealed when the Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations 2005 (SI 2005 No. 1082) was brought into being but the inspection and licensing remained much the same.

Petroleum (Consolidation) Act 1928

Under the 1928 Act, the storage of petroleum and petroleum products whether in underground/above ground tanks or storage cabinets required a licence issued by the Licensing Authority. In the Metropolitan areas, this was the Fire Authority. In the County authorities, it was the Local Authority but usually this was devolved down to the Fire Service. The Petroleum (Consolidation) Act 1928 as amended by Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (SI 2002 No. 2776), changed the licensing regime and now only requires that anyone operating a petrol filling station has to have a licence.

Factories Act 1937

In 1937 the Factories Act 1901, was extended to cover means of escape in case of fire. The Act required that the factory owner have a 'plan of escape' in case of fire and brought in the first rudimentary fire certificates.

Fire Services Act 1947

Prior to 1947, issues of fire safety were in the hands of the local authority and the legal enforcement of issues under the Factories Act and Office Shops and Railway Premises Act, were dealt with by the local authority having usually devolved this down to the Fire Brigade. The introduction of the Fire Services Act 1947 [ [http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?LegType=All+Legislation&title=Fire+Services+Act&Year=1947&searchEnacted=0&extentMatchOnly=0&confersPower=0&blanketAmendment=0&sortAlpha=0&TYPE=QS&PageNumber=1&NavFrom=0&parentActiveTextDocId=1139132&ActiveTextDocId=1139132&filesize=376809 Ministry of Justice: Fire Services Act 1947 c41 (accessed 18 May 07)] ] gave the Fire Brigade its first responsibilities for fire safety. Section 1 of the Fire Services Act defined the duties of a fire brigade and further went to say under section 1, sub-section 1 paragraph F, commonly referred to as 11(F), that a fire brigade must give advice and assistance on matters of fire prevention if so requested by any person. The Act did not however give any other powers to the fire brigade in terms of inspection and enforcement.

Factories Act 1961

A fire at the Eastwood Mills, keighley, Yorkshire in February 1956 [cite book| last= West Riding of Yorkshire Fire Brigade| title = Annual Report 1956| year = 1957| Publisher = West Riding of Yorkshire Fire Brigade] in which 8 people died resulted in the Act being further amended in 1959 giving the fire brigades the power to inspect factories for fire safety, finally in 1961 the Act was re-written to consolidate all the changes. The fire certificates were also updated to include not only means of escape but also provision for fighting fire and structural fire separation.

Licensing Act 1961

On 1 May 1961, a fire occurred at the Top Storey Club in Bolton, [Bolton Evening News, 2 May 1961] Lancashire which resulted in the deaths of nineteen people. Fourteen died in the building and five were killed attempting to jump out of windows into the canal that ran alongside the building. The Licensing Act was almost immediately amended to update the requirements for safety in case of fire

Office Shops & Railway Premises Act 1963

In June 1960, a fire broke out in the William Henderson & Sons, Liverpool department store. [ cite book| first = Redlich| last = Wiebke| title = Records of William Henderson & Sons Ltd, department store, Liverpool, England| year = 2001| publisher = Glasgow University Archive Services] Ten people were trapped in the fourth floor and one man fell to his death whilst assisting others to safety from a window ledge. This fire prompted the Government to amend the Office Shops and Railway Premises Act (OSRA) in line with the Factories Act 1961 and in 1963 a new OSRA was introduced

Fire Precautions Act 1971

On Boxing Day 1969, fire at the Rose and Crown Hotel, Saffron Walden [ [http://www.fseonline.co.uk/articles.asp?article_id=4999 Hotel Fire Safety (Accessed 20 February 2007)] ] killed eleven people whilst seventeen were rescued.The fire prompted the Government to look at the whole structure of fire safety legislation and in 1971, the Fire Precautions Act [ [http://www.wfrc.co.uk/useful_publications/self_compliance.htm Warrington Fire Research] ] was passed into law. This act combined the fire sections of the Factories Act and the Office Shops and Railway Premises Act and brought in new premises like hotels. The Act was an open designating act, in other words, the Secretary of State could designate any premises he wanted to be covered by the Act.

The Fire Precautions Act 1971 came into force in 1972, when hotels and boarding houses were the first class of premises to be designated. Under the Fire Precautions (Hotels and Boarding Houses) Order 1972, Statutory Instrument (SI) 1972 /238) any premises where there was sleeping accommodation for more than 6 persons (staff or guests) or sleeping accommodation above the first floor required a fire certificate issued by the local fire authority.

The responsibility for enforcing the Act fell on the Fire Service except in Crown Premises where Her Majesties Inspectors of Fire Service (HMIFS) carried out the enforcement.

The Fire Precautions (Factories, Offices Shops and Railways Premises) Order 1976, amended in 1989 (SI 1989/76), further designated premises to bring under into the Act any premises

*Where more than 20 persons are employed
*Where more than 10 persons work elsewhere than the ground floor
*In factories, where explosives or flammables are stored in or under the premises.

The Act was later amended in 1987 by laying down stipulations that the occupier of the premises must take into consideration, these were known as Interim Arrangements, the occupier, having made an application for a fire certificate, now had a duty to ensure that

*the means of escape can be safely and effectively used at all material times;
*the means of fire fighting are maintained in efficient working order, and
*all people employed to work in the premise should receive instructions and have training in what action to take in the event of a fire.

Premises that fell outside of these rules did not have to have a fire certificate but had to provide limited fire safety by virtue of Section 9A of the Act

The Act gave new powers to the fire brigades by virtue of Section 10 of the Act. This allowed premises to be shut down if they were dangerous and there was a serious risk of imminent danger from fire for persons in the premises (Prohibition Notice). This prohibition of use was a catch all and gave powers to close premises such as houses in multiple occupation, self employed and all premises falling outside the designated groups except single private dwellings.

The major problem with the Act was that it was that it only applied to the designated premises. Places of public entertainment such as cinemas, theatres and night clubs were never designated so the powers of inspection and enforcement remained with the local authority licensing department. In many areas, the fire brigade carried out the inspections on behalf of the licensing department, but had no powers other than thse granted by the Section 10 - Prohibition Notice.

The Fire Precautions (Factories, Offices, Shops and Railway Premises) Regulations 1976

The Fire Precautions (Factories, Offices, Shops and Railway Premises) Regulations 1976 amended 1989 , gave some updates to the FPA and cleared several points about self employed workers, the numbers of hours worked (part time workers) and how aggregation of these could be used to bring some “grey” premises into the scope of requiring a fire certificate. It also brought in exemptions from the requirement to have a fire certificate in certain small premises.

Fire Certificate (Special Premises) Regulations 1976

Following several small fires in chemical plants and a major explosion and fire at the Flixborough (Nypro UK) plant on 1 June 1974 [ [http://www.hse.gov.uk/comah/sragtech/caseflixboroug74.htm HSE Flixbourgh Report] ] the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) decided to issue fire certificates to major chemical and other risks but to keep it within their jurisdiction and they brought out the Fire Certificates (Special Premises) Regulations 1976 (SI 1976/2003), enforced by them on a similar line to the 1971 Fire Precautions Act.

These regulations were brought in so as to require premises having over a threshold quantity or using certain of named hazardous substances to possess a fire certificate. The regulations were unusual as they applied to the whole site rather than a single premise or building. The only exception to the regulations were premises where explosives were manufactured or stored as these were covered by the Explosives Act 1875.

Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987

Following a fire on 11 May 1985 at the Bradford City football ground [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/may/11/newsid_2523000/2523561.stm| BBC - On this Day] ] in which 56 people died a committee was set up to examine the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975. They recommended that the Act be re-written as the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act. The Act did not replace the Fire Precautions Act but gave more powers to the Fire Authorities. These powers include the power to charge for the issue of a Fire Certificate.

Fire Precautions (Sub Surface Railway Stations) 1989

Following a serious fire at the Kings Cross Underground Station [ [http://www.firetactics.com/KINGSCROSS.htm Fire Tactics] ] on November 18th 1987, [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/18/newsid_2519000/2519675.stm BBC - On this day] ] which resulted in the loss of 31 lives, including Station Officer Colin Townsley of the London Fire Brigade. The Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989 (SI 1989/1401) were made under Section 12 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and brought into effect on the 18 September 1989.

Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997

In the early 1990s the government was required to implement several EC directives including one on fire safety. It was at the height of deregulation and the government, architects, commerce and industry considered that fire brigades were too inflexible and demanded belt and braces solutions. They and the directive called for a new approach to fire safety and demanded a cheaper and more flexible system. They decided the prescriptive method used by the fire service should be replaced by a more flexible fire risk assessment approach and consequently the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 (SI 1997/1840) was placed on the statute books using section 12 of the 71 Act. They also wanted the responsibility of implementing the legislation to be removed from the fire service and placed on the employers, but the fire service would be the enforcing authority and police the legislation. It was implemented using the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, 1992 (MHSAW) amended 1999. These regulations differed from the previous fire safety legislation in that they introduced the concept of risk assessment in a style similar to the Heath and Safety at Work Act 1974

The Workplace Regulations also brought in a new form of enforcement of the legislation. Under the Fire Precautions Act, Section 10 gave the fire brigade the power to close a premises if there was serious danger from fire however there was very little they could do to bring a premises up to standard. Section 4 of the Fire Precautions Act did give some limited powers to issue a 'Notice of Steps' to be taken to correct any defects. The Workplace Regulations retained the power of prohibition and also brought in a new enforcement method, the 'Improvement Notice'. This notice allowed the fire brigade to serve notice of any defects and give a reasonable time scale as to when the work should be completed, failure to complete the work in that time could result in prosecution.

The Fire Precautions (Workplace) (Amendment) Regulations 1999

The Fire Precautions (Workplace) (Amendment) Regulations 1999 (S.I. 1999/1877), were a result of European Communities Act 1972, brought the UK legislation up to a standard that met the fire safety requirements of two health and safety European Council Directives, 89/391/EEC [ [http://eur-lex.europa.eu/smartapi/cgi/sga_doc?smartapi!celexapi!prod!CELEXnumdoc&lg=EN&numdoc=31989L0391&model=guichett] EEC Legislation ] and 89/654/EEC, [ [http://eur-lex.europa.eu/smartapi/cgi/sga_doc?smartapi!celexapi!prod!CELEXnumdoc&lg=EN&numdoc=31989L0654&model=guichett] EEC Legislation] adopted in 1989. The amendments were laid before Parliament on July 7th 1999 and became law on December 1st 1999.

Unfortunately they did not revoke sections 5 to 9 of the Fire Precautions Act, which required fire certificates; consequently the legislation now ran in parallel with the Workplace Regulations but secondary to it. Employers or persons having overall control of the workplace were made responsible under the regulations to implement and conduct fire safety risk assessments, also produce a record if they employ more than five people. The Fire Brigades enforce the regulations and conduct limited inspections to ensure employers are carrying out their responsibilities.

Licensing Act 2003

Licensed premises covered a number of types of establishment, places where alcohol was sold or consumed, theatres, cinemas and places of entertainment. A lot of these pemises fell outside the scope of the Fire Precautions Act 1972 but had their own legislation, such as the Theatres Act and the Cinemas Act which contained within them, their own fire regulations . Most of these acts have now been amended or repealed and form part of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2006 or Licensing Act 2003.

The Licensing Act 2003 introduced a requirement for licences to sell or supply alcohol, provide regulated entertainment or provide late night refreshment with the licence holder serving notice of application directly upon the fire and rescue authority. This amended or repealed much of the old licensing legislation, Theatres Act 1968, Cinemas Act 1985, Gaming Acts 1968 & 1990 and Licensing Act 1964.

Laws such as the Local Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1976 were major legislation but contain sections covering fire safety of some outdoors events, private film shows, neon signs and some licensed premises which fell outside the scope of the 2003 Act. There were also numerous local Acts such as the Greater Manchester Act 1981 which give the fire brigade powers to control flammable stacks, night cafes and licence underground car parks.

The old acts which controlled licensing caused much confusion as there were conflicts in who enforced the various parts of the legislation and where it was to be enforced. Licensed premises (pubs, clubs, cinemas, theatres) where classed as providing a service, not as shops so did not normally fall within the designated groups in the FPA so some never needed fire certificates. However the local authority who issued the licence usually asked the fire brigade to inspect plans and carry out inspections which led to confusion amongst even fire safety officers. Coupled with all this, materials such as celluloid have been recognised as highly flammable since early days of its usage [ [http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/cellulose.pdf HSE Fact Sheets] ] and acts such as the Celluloid and Cinematograph Films Act 1922 and the Cinematograph Act 1952 gave the fire brigade powers to take samples of film and test them for flammability even though they were not the enforcing authority.

Other licensing legislation such as the licensing of underground car parks by means of a local act such as the Greater Manchester Act only applied where local acts existed so one authority licensed and the next one didn't. There were also arguments about definitions of shops etc., further confusing the issues.

Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004

The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 (England and Wales - see below) laid out in Section 6 what the fire service must do in relation to fire safety. It states that a fire and rescue authority must make provision for the purpose of promoting fire safety in its area not only by the enforcement of specific fire safety legislation, but also by a proactive strategy targeted at all sections of the community by:

* the provision of information, publicity and encouragement in respect of the steps to be taken to prevent fires and death or injury by fire;
* the giving of advice, on request, about - how to prevent fires and restrict their spread in buildings and other property and the means of escape from buildings and other property in case of fire.

This has meant that the service has had to change its fire safety strategies and now include public education as well as legal enforcement. All fire and rescue services today have specialist departments dealing with community fire safety education. The job of these departments is to not only educate by talking to school children and vulnerable areas of the community, but to assist the public, with many FRS running campaigns, offering free smoke detectors as part of the drive to reduce deaths in the home.

Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

In 2000, the Government in the form of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (OPDM) set up a review of the fire safety legislation led by the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott MP and found that there some 80 [ [http://www.communities.gov.uk/pub/878/TheRegulatoryReformFireSafetyOrderStatementPDF274Kb_id1124878.pdf Statement by the Deputy Prime Minister, 19 April 2004] ] Acts of Parliament or parts of Acts which specified fire safety legislation. In order to revamp the whole thing and bringing it up to date, they decided to take all the odd bits of fire legislation and place it under the umbrella of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, [ [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2005/20051541.htm The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, England & Wales, SI 2005/1541, Crown copyright, (accessed 23 Feb 07)] ] which became law in October 2006 - it applies to England and Wales only.

The major change in the legislation was that it brought in the concept of risk assessment rather than prescriptive codes. The Fire Precautions Act had relied on codes and guides for its implementation, the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations had changed that a little by introducing risk assessment as a way of complying, but because the requirement for a fire certificate was never repealed, the guides and codes where still used as a prescriptive means of applying the law. The RR(FS)O took it one step further and implemented fully a risk assessment based regime.

The order lays out the foundation of the risk assessment by saying that the employer must take into account for the safety of their employees the following matters

*means of detection and giving warning in case of fire
*the provision of means of escape
*means of fighting fire
*the training of staff in fire safety.

The order then tells the employer how they must assess these items in order to protect their employees

*carry out a fire risk assessment of your workplace
*identify the significant findings of the risk assessment and the details of anyone who might be at risk in case of fire. Under the Management of Health and Safety Regulations, these must be recorded if more than five persons are employed
*provide and maintain such fire precautions as are necessary to safeguard those who use your workplace
*provide information, instruction and training to your employees about the fire precautions in your workplace.

cotland and Northern Ireland

The equivalent legislation in Scotland to the Regulatory Reform Order is the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005. Its scope (in Scotland) covers what the RRO and the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 covers in England and Wales. [ [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/legislation/scotland/acts2005/20050005.htm Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, Crown copyright, (accessed 23 Feb 07)] ] Part 3 of the act deals specifically with fire safety. In October 2006, the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 SI 456 also came into effect. [ [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/legislation/scotland/ssi2006/20060456.htm The Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/456, Crown copyright, (accessed 23 Feb 07)] ] Legislation in Scotland relating to fire and rescue services and fire safety comes under the auspices of the Scottish Executive.

In Northern Ireland, the equivalent legislation is the Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 SI No 1254 (NI9) [ [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2006/06em1254.htm Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 SI 2006/1254 (NI9), Crown copyright (accessed 19 Feb 2007)] ] (it is a statutory instrument).

ee also

Fire service in the United Kingdom


Links to legislation

* [http://www.fire.org.uk/si/72-238.htm The Fire Precautions (Hotels and Boarding Houses) Order 1972]
* [http://www.hse.gov.uk/legislation/hswa.pdf Heath and Safety at Work Act 1974]
* [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/SI/si1987/Uksi_19871762_en_1.htm. Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act. 1987]
* [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si1989/Uksi_19890076_en_1.htm The Fire Precautions (Places of Work) Regulations 1989]
* [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si1989/Uksi_19891401_en_1.htmThe Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989]
* [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si1997/19971840.htm Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997]
* [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si1992/Uksi_19922051_en_1.htm Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, 1992]
* [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/SI/si1999/19993242.htm. Management of Health and Safety at Work (Amendment) Regulations, 1999]
* [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si1999/19991877.htm The Fire Precautions (Workplace) (Amendment) Regulations 1999]
* [http://europa.eu.int/smartapi/cgi/sga_doc?smartapi!celexapi!prod!CELEXnumdoc&lg=EN&numdoc=31989L0391&model=guichett European Council Directive 89/391/EEC]
* [http://europa.eu.int/smartapi/cgi/sga_doc?smartapi!celexapi!prod!CELEXnumdoc&lg=EN&numdoc=31989L0654&model=guichett European Council Directive 89/654/EEC]
* [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2002/20022776.htm The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002]
* [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2002/20022776.htm Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations 2002]
* [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ACTS/acts2003/20030017.htm Licensing Act 2003]
* [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2005/20051541.htm Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005]

External links

* [http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1123799 UK Government fire web site]
* [http://www.hse.gov.uk/fireandexplosion/workplace.htm Heath & Safety Executive Fire Safety]
* [http://www.firesafe.org.uk/html/miscellaneous/history.htm Firesafe Organisation]
* [http://www.fireservicecollege.ac.uk/ The Fire Service College]
* [http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1124257 Her Majesty's Fire Service Inspectorate]
* [http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Justice/Fire/15130/1018 Her Majesty's Fire Service Inspectorate for Scotland]

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