HC Deb 11 February 1959 vol 599 cc1309-14

Amendments made: In page 38, line 41, at end insert:

25 & 26 Geo. 5. c. 47. Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935. In section twenty five, subsections (5) and (10)

In line 47, at end insert:

10 & 11 Geo. 6. c. 39. Statistics of Trade Act, 1947. Sections fourteen and eighteen.

In page 39, line 6, column 3, after "fifty", insert "in subsection (1)".

In line 22, at the end insert:

5 & 6 Eliz. 2. c. 40. Thermal Insulation (Industrial Buildings) Act, 1957> In section twelve, subsection (4) and (7).
—[Mr. J. N. Browne.]

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Maclay

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I do not want to take up much time, but I should like to cover one or two points which it is essential to say at this stage of the Bill. I should like, first, to thank all those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have put a great deal of constructive work into the Bill. I am particularly grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland and my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the care and trouble which they have taken in the detailed working out and explanation of so much which is complex in the Bill.

As is natural, there have been points on which there has been disagreement, but it is fair to say that the principle of the Bill and the large bulk of its detailed provisions have commanded very general approval and support.

In drawing up the new administrative framework and the new procedures embodied in the Bill our concern has been to devise arrangements which are workable and as straightforward as is possible but which have a fuller regard for the rights of the individual than is at present the case. It is in no sense our purpose to complicate matters for the person who wishes to put up a building, but we need to have a system which is effective in relation to the proper purposes in building control, which are the health, safety and convenience of everyone. We believe that the Bill will provide a sound basis for the necessary procedural regulations.

It is my intention that all these procedural matters will be discussed in exhaustive detail with the local authorities before regulations are framed, and I have already told the local authority associations that I propose to set up a joint working party.

The main task which we must pursue once the Bill reaches the Statute Book is the preparation of the building standards regulations—the body of standards which will constitute the new building code. The Bill lays down in some detail the procedure to be followed in framing the standards regulations. The Building Standards Advisory Committee must first be consulted about the proposed regulations. A draft of the regulations must then be published. This draft will be given a wide circulation, and full opportunity will be provided for representations. Then a public inquiry must be held, if that is desired by anyone who makes representations and is dissatisfied. On the initial regulations I would, I think, hold a public inquiry in any case.

It is very important that there should be the fullest opportunity for the expression of all relevant points of view before the standards regulations are made, and it is because of this that the Bill includes the specific provisions which I have mentioned. The framing of the regulations is, of necessity, a major undertaking, and, while I do not make any prophecy, I think that it may well take a few years to complete the work. It will, of course, not be until then that the new system of building control will begin to operate.

At the beginning of this afternoon, a number of comments was made by the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) and by other hon. Members about the lack of time or about rushing the Bill through, and I should like to deal with it, as much as anything to show what has happened. I ought to recall, for the record, how we set about framing the provisions of the Bill. As the House knows, the Bill follows very closely the recommendations of the Guest Committee, and I would, now, again, I think, with the agreement of all Members of the House, wish to express our gratitude to Lord Guest and his Committee for the work they did.

The Guest Report was published in October, 1957, and I think it fair to say that it was given a very wide and general welcome when the Report was published. I proceeded to seek views on it from a wide variety of organisations and bodies —those who were concerned—including the local authority associations. Thereafter, in the light of the views expressed in the Report, we proceeded to work out the general lines of a buildings Bill, based on the recommendations of the Committee. A memorandum with our proposals was circulated to the local authority associations in February, 1958, with an offer of discussions. In the case of the Counties of Cities Association, the memorandum was sent to the four cities.

At the request of the County Councils' Association, detailed discussions were held with representatives of that body at a meeting in March, 1958, and, thereafter, a working party of officials was set up jointly with the Association to consider a variety of detailed points of procedure. The conclusions of the working party were later endorsed by the Association. Discussions, I should emphasise, too, were also held at that stage with the other local authority interests, so far as there was any desire for them. Naturally, these consultations did not range over the many points of relative detail that arose in the drafting of the Bill. I thought it useful, in view of what was said earlier, to say that there have been fairly extensive discussions ever since the publication of the Report, and I must confess that I was rather surprised to be attacked on the speed with which we acted on what is a very important Bill for everybody, since normally the charge against a Government is that it is far too slow.

There may be a balance on these occasions, and I confess, in fairness, that there was rather a short time between Second Reading and the Committee stage for the local authorities to get all the work done, but I do not think that there can be that complaint about the period between the Committee stage and Report. So, too, of course, right back, as I have explained, there have been very full opportunities for discussion and consultation. I think it is something for which we can all claim considerable credit, and I include hon. Members opposite as well, that we have got on with this very important Bill, which has been wanted for a very long time. I do not think that hon. Members would want me to go into much more detail about the Bill, and I now have great pleasure in recommending it to the House.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. Woodburn

This is an important Bill which is supported from both sides of the House, and any discussion that has taken place, either in Committee or during the Report stage, has been with a view to improving it. Any controversy has arisen because of what has not seemed clear to my hon. Friends, and it is their duty to make matters clear. We are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes), who has unfortunately been debarred from taking part in some part of the proceedings owing to illness. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), is also prevented by illness from being with us during this stage of our considerations.

I say at once to the Secretary of State that we did not complain only of speed. We were led to believe that there was undue haste. I am glad to have his assurance that the normal procedure of consulting with the local authorities had been followed before the draft of the Bill was presented to the House.

This makes it all the more incomprehensible to us that so many questions about the drafting and wording of the Bill should have come from the local authorities during the Committee stage. If hon. Members have complained about haste and lack of consultation with local authorities, they have done so because they have had rather more than their normal share of complaints from local authorities that certain matters were neglected. That is not usually a complaint to be made against the Scottish Office. Sometimes, we have had the opposite complaint, that there has been so much preparation that we have been faced with practically nothing to discuss which could not be met by consultation with the local authorities, and they had all agreed. As the right hon. Gentleman says, there must be a happy medium between those two extremes.

The Bill is important in that it lays down a national standard. The importance of having national standards is this. The old days of the local builder seem to be passing. He knew all his local standards and knew all the local habits.

Indeed, nobody else knew them, and he had almost a monopoly of knowledge about local standards. Now, we find vast empires in building, people who build on a large scale over the whole of Scotland. It is becoming an obstacle for organisations dealing with things on a large scale that they have to have a vast reference system in order to find out what the local standards are in every respect. As a result, there is very often a lack of standardisation.

One thing we all want is a reduction in building costs. There is something here which always surprises me, and I have mentioned it myself to one of the largest building organisations. I used to think that, once one brought engineers and mass organisation to bear on the building of houses, one would be able to reduce the cost. The curious feature about building is that some of the old builders, who build according to the old-fashioned methods, can beat the big organisations on price. I have never been able to discover why. When we were questioning the builders about the time they were taking to build houses, we made the surprising discovery that practically no builders in Scotland had any idea of the number of man-hours it took to build a house. That would be inconceivable in any other type of industry.

There is a sort of haphazard genius about it. They build a brick wall and then knock holes in it to put the pipes through. They put on the plaster, and then they cut it out to put the electric pipes in. It all seems a most fantastic waste, yet, as I say, people doing that kind of building were, curiously enough, able to undercut the large so-called efficient firms. It is not our business to unravel the mysteries of the building trade, but, if we have a code of building which applies all over Scotland, that will certainly contribute towards the standardisation of materials and methods.

We are glad that all the questions about the local authority laws which authorities want to retain will be cleared up and settled after the Bill has gone through its final stages and before it actually becomes operative. As the Secretary of State has said, this will mean a delay, perhaps, of two years; but, when we are setting down standards which may last for many generations, it is better to be fairly sure and lay down standards which are likely to be solid and good.

I hope that provision will be made for a certain degree of flexibility. The progress of science today is such that there may be very big developments in the near future. When atomic energy begins to produce electricity during the night which cannot be used at that time, it may be that some of the storage heating arrangements, such as brick storage, underfloor heating or wall storage heating, and so on, will come into use. They would enable heat to be used to warm houses at a time when peak loads are not involved. Therefore, to take account of the great possibilities of science in future, I hope that there will be flexibility and the possibility of adjusting standards to meet new developments.

I congratulate the Government on the conduct of the Bill. As I said in Committee, it was sometimes difficult to realise that we were in the Scottish Standing Committee. For the first time since the Government came to office it appeared that something had come over them. The Government suddenly became reasonable. Instead of wasting hours and days, as we have done during the last five or six years in that Committee, trying to get the Government to accept reasonable propositions and being met with nothing but stonewalling, we found that, somehow or other, on this Bill sweet reason seemed to come into the mind of the Government. We hope that this is not a temporary aberration and that it will be a permanent feature of our discussions in future.

The tendency to reasonableness deteriorated a little during the Report stage of the Bill and perhaps we have not had all the satisfaction which we wished. Nevertheless, I congratulate the Government on the manner in which they have handled the Bill, and I hope that this is a good augury for the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.