§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is a very great privilege to draw a favourable place in the Ballot and to be able, the Paymaster-General, the "Syndicate", the "Cell" and Barkis being willing, to bring forward hopefully, for the approval of the House, a Measure of one's own choice.
Of course, the sequence of events is neither as simple nor as smooth as all that. There is, I have discovered, no shortage of suggestions for a subject once the result of the Ballot is known. The varied and exotic nature of many of the suggestions which have flooded in to me have provided a most illuminating insight into grievances, both real and imaginary, throughout the length and breadth of the country.
Many kind hon. Members on both sides of the House have weighed in with much advice. Warnings about "hybrids" and money Clauses were two of the cautionary yet ultimately galvanising phrases which soon began to haunt me. But, above all, in deciding how to proceed, it shortly became apparent that one had a straight choice between, on the one hand, glorious success with a useful mouse of a Bill, or, on the other, flying a kite and hoping to put right, if not now, then as the result of the seed sown, some extensive social wrong.
I opted for this latter approach. There have been occasions over the past week when I have had not only the sensation of flying a kite, but doing so while standing on the edge of a cliff. The 814 difficulties and supplications of the immense research of drafting which beset a private Member are quite formidable, but I hope at the end of the day that, with the benignity for which he is renowned, the Parliamentary Secretary will add to his success on the London housing front by giving, on behalf of the Government, a fair wind to help my Measure along. Here is a quite uncovenanted opportunity for him to win yet another medal.
The Bill will simply provide for the outlawing of the jerry-builder and also for economical and effective redress by the processes of conciliation and arbitration under warranties stipulated in the Bill for those aggrieved house buyers where shoddy and unsatisfactory jobs nevertheless slip through the net.
The first question which the House will rightly ask is: why bring forward this Measure at all? The straightforward answer is in the mouths of all three parties, or more precisely in their respective manifestoes with which they courted the favours of the electorate last October. Even though the Minister of Housing, in reply to a Question I recently put to him, said that his Ministry had no statistics on the incidence of the spread of jerry-building, his party, in "The New Britain", had written large the words:by insisting on measures to stamp out jerrybuilding in new houses".This was under the heading of improving land and housing generally.
The Liberal Party—incidentally, I am very glad to acknowledge that one of the sponsors of the Bill with me is the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock)—in "Think for Yourself" said:Standards must be raised and jerrybuilding eliminated …Although in somewhat more sonorous terms, my own party went on record with these words:We shall reform the laws governing building standards and safeguard the quality of houses for owner occupation.If hon. Members doubt the existence of jerry-building, or try to pretend that this is a problem which can just be brushed under the carpet, I must refer them to their postbags. It was my own postbag which initially sparked off my interest in this subject. Quite apart from my regular 815 constituency postbag, since I committed myself to introducing a Bill along these lines I have received nearly 800 letters from various parts of the country in support of what I am trying to do and instancing various situations where house purchasers have been badly and sadly let down.
On receipt of these letters I analysed them and made a number of trips up to ascertain for myself whether there was some theme behind the situations referred to, because one must attempt to analyse the causes, the build-up of this kind of problem, if one is effectively to cope with them.
The type of complaint one comes across varies right through the whole spectrum. At the one end is the door that does not fit, or which might simply be squeaking, or the paintwork which is not sufficiently dense to cover up the blue crayon which has been used for marking out the panels. At a stage slightly more serious than that there are the electric plugs which are fitted upside down. Proceeding through the spectrum it is not very long before one comes across skirtings fixed straight through to the damp course, or the gable wall which is 4 ins. to 6 ins. out of plumb, or the cedar cladding which is there ostensibly to decorate the front of the house, but which has nohing at all behind it. It is cedar cladding, full stop.
Then there are very serious complaints indeed. There are cases where the internal walls are collapsing because the pier foundations are of the most restricted kind. There are the roofs of garages which blow away, not just in a storm, but almost, one imagines, at the slightest puff of wind. I came across a very large housing estate in Yorkshire with 80 to 90 houses on it where the external bricks of the houses are crumbling away because of a chemical deficiency.
The contractor has had to erect two new semi-detached houses adjacent to the housing estate and, as it were, play a game of snakes and ladders with the occupants of the original houses there, taking out two families at a time, installing them in the two semi-detached houses, rebuilding the houses which are temporarily vacated, and then putting 816 the two families back into their own houses and proceeding with the next pair right through the estate.
There is another estate which I came across where, looking down the row, one has the impression of a whole series of distended stomachs. The walls are bulging out on both sides. On pursuing this matter in some detail I discovered that the builder in this case was, until three years ago, a chimney sweep. To start with, a builder had a field which he thought might be better used than for grazing cattle and relying on the milk subsidy from the Ministry of Agriculture. So he put his field into the pool. A local estate agent drummed up a syndicate of businessmen and off they were in business, the chimney sweep in business as a builder.
After analysing the letters I have received and going up and down the country, a pattern has defined itself in my mind as to the structure and performance of the building industry. Obviously, there are many very good builders—very good right the way through from start to finish, not only able in the execution of the job but in terms of after-sales service. The second grouping of builders are good builders; they do a good job, but they are rather unresponsive in terms of what I have called after-sales service. Their attitude appears to be that, if they replace a warped door, they are afraid of having 199 other requests to replace warped doors. This builds up a terrible situation as between the house purchaser and the builder.
The unlocking of this situation will in many cases go a long way to overcome this problem, for I believe that about 80 per cent. of the complaints and allegations about jerry-building lie in a price bracket of between £10 and £100. If the idea of after-sales service could be built into any kind of approach to this problem, one would advance very considerably towards a solution of the social evil of jerry-building. That is why, in the Bill, I place such emphasis on machinery of conciliation and arbitration.
Coming nearer home—in fact, to the proceedings of the House—to establish the case for prompt action to correct jerry-building, I refer, first, to the Bill presented a few days ago by the hon.
817 Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), entitled "House Buyers Protection Bill", which is designed toAmend the law so as to establish statutory conditions as to the quality of materials and work in new or converted houses and flats intended for sale.Although I do not see the hon. Gentleman here this morning, no doubt his sympathies are wholeheartedly with me.
Of still greater significance on the Parliamentary scene in recent times have been, first, the presentation of Private Members' Bills in 1962 and 1963 by the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards)To protect private house-owners from the consequences of substandard building.Then there was the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) in February, 1964, and, of supreme importance, the debate initiated in December, 1963, by Lord Rhodes who, at that time, was Member of Parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne. The Motion, which was carried with the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield), who replied on behalf of the Conservative Administration, was in these terms:That this House, recognising the need to protect house purchasers from jerry-building, poor materials and bad workmanship, congratulates the National House-Builders Registration Council on its efforts to obtain high standards in the building trade by voluntary agreement, but believes that registration should now be considered to ensure that all house builders conform to accepted standards and specifications, and insure against contingencies.I should like to refer in some detail to the role and work of the National House-Builders Registration Council, but perhaps I could let the reference go through for the moment.
Fourthly, in arguing the need for some kind of urgent action on this front, I should like to refer to the Which? Report, published by the Consumers' Association in February of this year. This established that of the families questioned no less than 91 per cent. had complaints about their new houses. In the context of my Bill this figure is an exaggeration, because many complaints were to do with unfulfilled dates of completion and the like, but, clearly, a large number of house 818 buyers are deeply dissatisfied with their lot.
Also, in this context of establishing the case for action and legislation, I would refer hon. Members to a letter which I believe they received yesterday from the Chairman of the National House-Builders Registration Council. It mentions that so far this year—that is from 1st January —that organisation has suspended from its register the builders of five estates, and withheld certificates in respect of more than 200 of our houses.
§ Mr. Stainton
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. What is even more shocking and deeply disturbing is what happens to the unfortunates who have bought and installed themselves in these houses. That question is not touched on, let alone discussed, in this letter to which I have referred, and it is this kind of aspect to which I shall come shortly when I describe the Bill.
It is tempting—and I have heard this argument deployed with considerable force by many commentators on the housing scene—to say that all this has to do with the fact that we are in a very strong sellers' market, and, therefore, the less efficient and bad builder can get away with something which he would otherwise not be able to do. But this is rather a facile approach. The problem is more complicated than that. The 'thirties were probably the high tide mark of jerrybuilding in this country, and one could not use the sellers' market argument about that time. Houses had to be put up competitively, and sold as cheaply as possible, and, obviously, there was a denuding of the quality and quantity of materials going into the construction. I do not think that it is sufficient to say that there is a sellers' market which might right itself in due course, or that if we build more houses and close the housing gap the problem will solve itself. I repeat that this is far too facile a way of tackling this grave problem.
How can the problem best be taken in hand? As I see it, there are three distinct approaches. First, self-discipline by the industry itself. Secondly, emendation of the law. Thirdly, a new series of controls. I noted with interest the reply which the Minister gave to the hon. 819 Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short), when he said that we might well find that self-government and self-discipline in the industry would be better than new forms of control. I do not think that the Minister is quite on the right lines. I do not think that either of those approaches, taken by itself, will suffice to deal with the problem. I submit that the correct approach is a combination of all three, and that is what I have endeavoured to do in the Bill.
Self-discipline as such will not work as a matter of course. It is not the gentle rain that falleth from heaven, and it will not come about naturally within the building industry. It has not done so far.
The industry is split between two major employers' organisations. The National House-Builders Registration Council has done admirable work, and is a concept well in advance of its time. It is making a realistic endeavour to improve its standards and its effectiveness, but it lacks disciplinary teeth while it remains a non-statutory body. Although it has a membership of about 57 per cent. of all the firms actively engaged in building, these firms account for only 26 per cent. of the houses privately built in this country. Clearly, a number of big fish are just failing to get caught in the net, and, I suspect, many small ones, too.
On this question of self-discipline, I propose that we should set up a new statutory agency called the Housebuilding Standards Agency, which would operate a register of builders. The register would be reviewed from time to time, and an investigating committee would come into being to deal with complaints. There would be powers of expulsion from the register, and once expelled from the register a builder, unless he went through the due processes, could not build again. The builder would, of course, be protected with the right of appeal to the High Court.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government lays great emphasis on self-government by the industry; on the industry running its own show, as it were. I do not think that he has fully comprehended the point here. I think that the consumer has a very important role to play in eradicating this problem. That 820 is why, in the personnel of the agency, I have made provision for the inclusion of consumer representation.
I think that it is a fair analogy to compare a new house with running in a new car. A lot of complaints about which one reads, particularly in view of the spread of central heating, are to do with such simple facts as putting on all the central heating and closing all the windows. Of course, in those circumstances hardwood floors will tend to rise, to put it very simply indeed.
Many lawyers to whom I have spoken are content to say that by some extension of the Sale of Goods Act, or amendment of the law of contract, one can overcome the rule of caveat emptor, and that that is all that is required, because the house purchaser will then have an inalienable right to proceed against the builder at law. In many cases there are common law rights, and there may be contract rights, but all too often the rule of caveat emptor applies, and the poor house purchaser is left very much exposed out on a limb.
I do not think that the law provides a satisfactory answer. A young couple who have plunged all their savings into buying a new house are very much on their uppers, and even £10 to £15 to put something right can exert a great strain on family finances. To tell them to go to law, with all the conjecture and costs involved, is not a practical answer. That is why I have tried to build into the Bill warranties to be given by registered house builders for two years in terms of finish and five years in terms of structures. These warranties and complaints under them will be amenable to settlement by conciliation procedure and arbitration. This takes the best points out of the lawyers' argument and sidesteps the least attractive.
This third approach is in terms of new methods of control. One can think of all kinds of ingenious solutions under this heading. On a number of occasions the Minister has paraded the idea of bringing building societies into the problem, possibly by getting them to agree to refuse mortgages where the house does not have some kind of certificate of good building standards. This sidesteps the problem and leaves completely in the air who is to produce the certificate and what the discipline will be.
821 I submit that building societies could very usefully tack on this kind of approach, but, first, one has to establish a method of control and standards to produce the certificate and to get the houses put up to these standards. Building societies are beginning to see the problem in this light. This morning, I received a letter from the Secretary of the Building Societies Association, as follows:I thought you would like to know that the Council of this Association has studied the text of your new Bill and that it is fully in sympathy with the principles underlying it. It might be useful for you to have this information before the Second Reading takes place.I am most grateful to receive that letter.
The second argument which can be developed under the heading of new methods of control is that all we need is some new building standards. I believe that the Minister is pressing on with new building standards. The work to devise building standards was initiated by Mr. Rippon, when he was Minister of Public Building and Works, and the understanding generally in the industry is that new standards will be coming out at some time in the late summer. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us more about that when he replies.
But many of the complaints of jerrybuilding are not to do with standards, but with how the job is put together and the circumstances in which this has been done. Many of the complaints get highly subjective. Useful though new building standards will be, and while they will certainly provide a bench mark for the standards of the new House-building Standards Agency, I do not think that they are by any means the answer to the problem.
I must deal with the argument that perhaps local authorities have a role to play in working towards a solution of this problem. It is tempting to argue along those lines, but I do not think that they provide the answer for a number of reasons. First, local authorities are grossly overworked. Secondly, they have their own houses to look after. We are taking about jerry-building in houses built for private occupation, but if we were to start talking about jerry-building in council houses we should remain here on this subject for yet another day. 822 Local authorities have a very big job on their hands with their own houses.
In rejecting this proposal to use local authorities, it is important to take cognisance of the fact that we are talking about private building for private occupation. Why bring in the local authority and burden the rate fund with the cost of policing what is a private activity? One could meet this argument by allowing the revenue from the inspection—some kind of fee similar to that which I have built into the Bill—to flow to local authorities, thereby relieving the rate fund. But one has to grapple with the point that local authorities are not, I believe, in a position to police an industry and order a builder, if necessary, to pull a house down or to enter into this kind of commercial and fractious situation. They would be entirely inappropriate bodies for that.
One argument which is currently bandied about is that one should withhold a certain percentage of the price for a period of time, but my rough calculation indicates that the private house market has a sales value of over £500 million a year and to withhold 10 per cent. of that sum, or even to approach the problem through the device of insurance, would lock up a great deal of capital and would deter the small newcomer from entering the industry. Although people are apt to pour scorn on the smaller builder and his entry into the industry, we must bear in mind that he gives the industry its dynamic aspect and that small builders in some localities have a vital part to play in meeting the nation's housing needs.
To deal with methods of control, I am trying to embrace in the Bill some aspect of self-discipline, some aspect of the law and some aspect of control.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
The hon. Member said that local authorities were not experienced in requiring builders to pull down houses. Surely that is a common experience of local authorities and one of their regular duties.
§ Mr. Stainton
I thank the hon. Member for that contribution. The straightforward answer is: when do they ever do it? Building by-laws look glorious on paper, but I have entered into correspondence and been to see many local 823 authorities during the past three months, and a fairly typical reply is, "Our building surveyor who surveyed that house left us a year ago"—and that is where the matter finishes.
There is no offer of discussion or, as far as one can see, finding a solution. It is relevant that at one time local authorities almost universally issued certificates of habitation showing that they had discharged their duties under the local building by-laws, but I understand that in a Ministry circular, a little while ago, they were advised that it was better not to do this as it might be misleading to the occupants of the houses. I believe that one or two local authorities still issue these certificates of habitation, but there are not very many of them about.
I have, therefore, presented three approaches—self-discipline, the law and new methods of control. Under the new methods of control I propose setting up a Housebuilding Standards Agency. The agency would stipulate standards to be approved by the Minister. It would have an inspectorate which could go round and visit houses during the course of construction and, on completion, certificates would be issued or withheld. There is procedure in the Bill for the aggrieved builder who feels hard done by to appeal against that decision.
§ Mrs. Renee Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
Can the hon. Member tell the House how many inspectors he thinks this agency would need and where he thinks the agency would get them from, as he told my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) that local authorities are short of staff for inspection?
§ Mr. Stainton
A criticism often made against the National House-Builders Registration Council is that it does not have enough inspectors and that its inspection is thereby inadequate. I stress in the Bill the question of discipline within the industry; getting the industry itself to improve its own standards. Going round building sites operated by builders who are members of the N.H.B.R.C., one finds two distinct attitudes to inspection. The better builders regard it as a check on their own supervision; the less good are disposed to dispense with supervision, if they ever had any, 824 on the basis that the supervision of the inspectors is good enough.
The weakest point in regard to the five estates where the builders have been struck from the register, and which are referred to in the letter which we all received yesterday, is lack of supervision. On one, a boy was doing the painting on his own. On another estate there is a chap called "Alf"; if one wants to know what is going on there, someone whistles for "Alf ". I am told that it is very difficult to make contact with any responsible element of supervision there.
I would put the emphasis not too much on the inspectorate, but on the admission to or deletion from the register of the housebuilder's name, and on having good building standards and interpreting them to builders. We shall then get the kind of improvement we all desire. I think that if too much emphasis were put on the inspectorate we would find the agency or local authority, or whoever else was to handle the problem, accepting the onus for the correct construction of the house and I submit that it would be quite wrong. The onus clearly lies with, and must remain with, the builder undertaking the project, and I like to think the inspectors are there simply to assist the builder in interpreting and defining the standards of the job he is trying to do.
There are two further questions: first, how much will all this cost; and, secondly, will it impose delays on the industry? The present cost of the house-builders registration scheme is five guineas per house, and each builder also has to pay a registration fee. I imagine that with the more elaborate scheme I seek to set up—as I would also be creating a fund to idemnify against bankruptcy and similar contingencies—the cost might be as high as 10 guineas per house, and the registration fee for the individual builder somewhere between one guinea and five guineas. I do not think that the additional cost of £5 or £10 per house is anything to flinch about at all. The cost of removing a couple of plugs and having them properly replaced is a "fiver" in the price scale of any electricity board, and I am quite sure that no sensible house purchaser would quail at paying that amount or twice that amount to finance such a scheme as this.
825 The argument of delay can be grossly overdone. It is not the case that houses built under the N.H.B.R.C. are built any; more slowly than any others.
The drafting of the Bill gave me quite lot of worries and I am aware of a number of inadequacies in it. For example, 1 am entirely open to persuasion as to whether one has trapped the developer and the sub-contractor in the present drafting. In Clause 18, the definition of "house" could well be radically improved. One might question, for example, whether houses built by housing societies or housing associations should be left out of this procedure. One might question whether houses built under the supervision of a registered architect should be left out of this procedure, because that would not only let out the house with regard to the standard that might be appropriate, but would mean that the purchaser of the house built under the supervision of a registered architect would not have the facilities in regard to bankruptcy that are built into the Bill.
In the definition of "house", there are the words:… with a view to the sale thereof or for letting …The words "for letting" are obviously very loose, and could well be improved in Committee, if the Government support the Bill to that point. The thinking here was that by building houses ostensibly for letting one could at once circumvent the procedure of the Bill by selling the house three or six months' after the letting point, but I am sure that a formula could be devised to deal with that point.
I would draw attention to the opportunity that the agency could have to invite the National House-Builders Registration Council to transfer to it its assets, liabilities and obligations. Taking over the whole of that machinery would ensure the agency getting off to an extremely good start, and I understand that the Council would be delighted to co-operate in this way.
Jerry-building has been with us from time immemorial—we find it even in Norman cathedrals—but in view of the present awareness of consumer standards the time has come for the House to tackle 826 this problem I hope in the way indicated in the Bill.
§ 11.47 a.m.
§ Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)
I am delighted to have the opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) on his great good fortune in having a Bill sufficiently early in the Ballot to guarantee a full day's debate, and on choosing to deal with the halting of jerry-building and substandard building. I also congratulate him on the very convincing and constructive way in which he has dealt with his Bill.
I have not the slightest doubt that we are now discussing a real gap in consumer protection. Over the years, this House has sought to protect the consumer, and we now have many Measures on the Statute Book giving the consumer fairly adequate protection. I know that the Government have in mind a massive Bill that will go a long way towards filling the gaps still left in protecting people from fraud, exploitation, misleading advertising, and the like, but, as far as I know, no legislation is at present contemplated to protect good people who, often enough, make their first real purchase in their lives and the most important purchase. I think of young married people and old retired people who, for the first time, invest all their capital, and often mortgage their whole future, in the purchase of their homes.
I have twice submitted a modest Bill on this subject. I took the liberty of promoting a Bill to safeguard housebuyers based on experience in my constituency, where a number of my constituents had a very tragic experience. On one estate, half-a-dozen houses split in half because they were built over a disused quarry and proper foundations were not laid before the houses were built. Those good folk, who invested all their money in those houses, had no homes in which to live. Some of them had to be cared for by the local authority and they were tied up for many years in paying off the mortgage on their houses because the builder went bankrupt. There is no protection against house builders who go bankrupt, apart from new protection arising from an extension of the work of the House-Builders Registration Council, which I hope to deal with later in my speech.
827 Whenever right hon. and hon. Members initiate an important reform and make a speech in this House, invariably they receive complaints from all over the country. My experience concerning jerry and substandard building is much the same as that of the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge, who received 800 letters. I must have received about the same number. What I noticed particularly was that I received no complaints from Scotland or from the area covered by the London County Council. That seems to me to be significant. In Scotland, local authorities have greater power to deal with private builders than is the case in England.
§ Mr. Stainton
I hesitate to intervene after having spoken for so long so recently, but I have received one letter from Scotland. The important point is the ratio of privately built houses to the population in Scotland as compared with England. Speaking from memory, I think that the ratio in Scotland is 1 in 30. The houses tend to be built for the middle-class type of buyer, who is a fairly coherent individual who can sort out his own complaints. The ratio in England is one to every eight or nine. This goes a long way to explain the lack of response, as it were, from Scotland on this matter.
The situation in London is very much in line with what the hon. Member has said, but my postbag was pretty full from London. Indeed, some of the London County Council's own housing projects look rather glorious on the outside but I have seen quite a number in which there are dry rot and roofing difficulties, even on the L.C.C.'s own projects.
§ Mr. Edwards
That was not my experience, but I bow to the later experience and information of the hon. Member.
We are not considering the kind of house which costs from £6,000 to £10,000, because for a house that is built on the basis of a plan by the purchaser with an architect and with a surveyor watching the building at every level there is full and complete protection. We are not considering purchase of this kind of house, for which no protection is needed.
828 We are considering the house which costs under £5,000, the mass-produced House, the house built by the new private developers, who buy land at inflated prices and who must as quickly as possible get back the price of their land and a quick profit. Consequently, they exploit the desperate need of the people for rehousing.
In the London area, we have district surveyors, a fine body of dedicated men who have the power, which is granted nowhere else in the country, to inspect all house-building at every stage of construction and to check upon the material that goes into the houses. It seems to me that this is the way we must approach a solution of the problem.
In the next 20 years, about 6 million houses will be built, half of them for private purchase. This is the time for us to guarantee that those 6 million houses to be built during the next 20 years will be fit and healthy for people to live in. It is my view that we need legislation. We need compulsory registration of all house builders. We need compulsory insurance against bankruptcy and we need higher building standards.
I do not think that the voluntary method is practical. The building industry has had half a century to put its house in order, if I may use that term, but it has not been able to discipline and control its own members. Because this is a problem of increasing importance, we have to take this matter out of the hands of the building industry.
The best place to register a house builder is at the town hall. My view is that unless a house builder is registered with the House-Builders Registration Council, he should be compelled to register with the local authority, a choice thus being provided, because with the House Builders Registration Council the buyer has considerable protection. It is true that this organisation is not perfect. It is improving its structure. Indeed, it has recently brought on to its Council representatives of consumer organisations, so that the buyer—the consumer—would meet together with the builder, the expert, the technician and the independent persons and proper protection would be established.
829 The Council has recently dealt with a matter which we have debated in this House—the need for protection against bankruptcy—and now has built in with the protection which it affords an insurance that guarantees a house purchaser a sum equivalent to a maximum of £750. This is considerable protection, because the case to which I have referred in my constituency, when houses broke in half, were completely uninhabitable and had to be knocked down, was an exceptional one. It is a very rare case. It happens here and there. It happened in Ashtonunder-Lyne, which was the occasion for a debate initiated by Lord Rhodes. It happened in my constituency. It happened on an estate up in Yorkshire. But these are rare occurrences, and I should imagine that an insurance up to £750 would cover every problem which arises out of substandard and jerry-building.
Invariably, it is not the structure which is wrong. It is all the little things which go to make a house habitable—or uninhabitable: leaking roofs, front doors which will not open, back doors which will not close, windows which will not open, garages which cannot be used, paint which peels off, unseasoned timber, knotty timber, bad electrical equipment, bad plumbing. To put these right does not involve thousands of pounds.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I am trying to follow very carefully what the hon. Member says. Is he suggesting that it is a matter of putting these things right after they have gone wrong? I understand that the purpose of my hon. Friend's Bill is to prevent them from being wrong in the first place. That, I think, is the difference.
§ Mr. Edwards
It would take some considerable time—would it not?—to persuade the building industry to build a perfect house. This involves the question of skilled labour. There is an acute shortage of skilled labour in the building industry. It is short of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, stonemasons, and I should imagine that till we get a crash programme of training in the building industry, till we get proper co-operation between the Government, the trade unions and the building industry, many hundreds of thousands of houses will be built during the next ten to twenty years which will be substandard. I am sure the hon. 830 Member does not expect that by his Bill, right away, next year, there will be no problem of substandard building. Consequently he, and quite rightly so, is providing, although by the wrong means, if he will forgive me for saying so, for better building standards and for protection where building standards are below what is reasonably expected.
So it is my view that what is required is to strengthen the power of the National House-Builders Registration Council. Why create new machinery when effective machinery already exists? I am very pleased to note that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) is in the Chamber today because his father was the pioneer of this Council —long before its time really; long before the will had been created in the minds of the people to have this protection, or the need to have it had been generally recognised. I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is vice-chairman of the Council, and I am sure that he will very readily, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, be able to persuade this House that there is no need for new machinery.
It is, therefore, my view that three things have to be done. Firstly, we have to persuade the building industry itself that there is a need for higher standards. This is an industry which does every year a thousand million of pounds worth of business. It is one of our great industries. It will expand, because of the needs of industry, the needs of education, and, particularly, the needs of the people for shelter. We must persuade the building industry to put its house in order, to get rid of the incompetent builders who bring this great industry into disrepute. We have to persuade the industry to encourage and to create institutions and facilities for training for skilled labour. We have to persuade the industry to accept new forms of building and the use of plastics and new materials. This is the first thing we have to do.
The second thing we have to do is to protect the house buyer. Some 140,000 people buy houses each year, and it is these good people who need protection, and the people who buy houses at less than £5,000 each who are the people most in need of protection, and it is these 831 people who have no protection under the present conditions, unless their houses are registered with the House-Builders Registration Council. These, as the hon. Member has said, amount to about 30 per cent., I think, of the houses which are built in this country each year.
Only quite recently I inspected a very fine estate in my constituency, an estate with a Biblical name. Gospel Oak, they call it—a lovely estate, perfectly designed, built by a very fine, reputable firm of builders in the West Midlands. But the whole estate of 200 houses is seething with discontent. Despite the best will in the world, literally scores of complaints were submitted to me from house after house, the same usual complaints of leaking ceilings, paint peeling off walls because the paint had been put on before the plaster had dried, doors which would not open, windows which would not shut, concrete which had cracked, plumbing which went wrong, electrical installations which were cheap and put in by people without trained skill for the job. I am very happy to say that the complaints to the builder created a conference between the builder and the representatives of the estate. A questionnaire was sent by the builder to every house, with a guarantee that every substandard job and complaint would be put right within a year at the builder's expense. This is the kind of co-operation we want between the house buyer and the builder.
I should like to think this Bill would go to Committee and could be amended after debate, but I am afraid I do not think this is the way to tackle this problem. I am still convinced that what is required is that every house builder must be given the choice of compulsory registration with the local authority or membership of the House-Builders Registration Council, and that we should give the House-Builders Registration Council more power, extra assistance, so that it could do, more efficiently than it has been able to do in the past, due to the limitation of its resources, the job it was founded to do.
Although I cannot find within me a feeling of support for the Bill, I close by congratulating the hon. Gentleman. I am certain that he has done a very important piece of work by stimulating this debate, 832 because it is my experience that every time we debate this subject in the House, there is a very considerable improvement in building standards and added protection to the house buyer.
§ 12.11 p.m.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
Like the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards), I should like to start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) on his initiative in using his good fortune in the Ballot to bring forward a Bill on this important subject, and to bring forward a Bill of unusual complexity and difficulty, at any rate by the standard of Private Members' Bills. I am sure that he deserves the congratulations not only of the House but of the community as a whole for bringing forward the Bill.
I welcome the Bill as a notable step forward on the path towards better house-building standards and consumer protection for house purchasers. It is a path which was originally blazed, as the House has been reminded, thirty years ago; but the pursuit of those standards and of the consumer protection has necessarily been uneven and incomplete over the years.
It has been uneven because, scarcely had the voluntary mechanisms got going in the 1930s, than they were suspended in substance over a decade, first by the war years and then by the period during which it was not possible to have this form of house building, at any rate on any significant scale. It has been incomplete because, as the House knows, it has never been possible on a voluntary basis to include within the ranks of the registered house builders the whole or even a substantial majority of those engaged in the building of houses. The progress has been chequered in a sense also in that in recent years the boom in house building, following on a period of virtual shutdown of these activities, has naturally placed a very considerable strain on the technical resources of the House-Builders Registration Council.
Nevertheless, there has been very considerable and gratifying progress. It will always be the house which, in spite of the procedures of the Council, emerges substandard, and it will always be the 833 builder who has to be suspended from his registration, who attract the limelight, but in fact they are numerically small in relation to the very large number of cases in which the procedures of the Council have been able to eliminate defects in house building, and eliminate them at the most important point, that is to say, the latent defect which is not perceived by any inspection undertaken once the house is complete.
I have a considerable interest in the subject matter of the Bill. I have no interest to declare to the House in the technical sense. I have no financial interest in these matters. I am not, I am afraid, the vice-chairman, as the hon. Member for Bilston was good enough to describe me—I am nothing as active as that. But I am a vice-president of the Registration Council, and it is not an office of profit. I suppose that one effect of my hon. Friend's Bill would be to deprive me of this honorific office, but that does not prejudice me against the Bill and would not prejudice me even if it were an office of profit. I have been vice-president only since last summer and do not myself participate in the executive conduct of the Council.
My real interest, however, is rather different and of far longer standing and it has been already mentioned by the hon. Member for Bilston, who was good enough to recall to the House that my late father was one of the pioneers of the Registration Council. My hon. Friend was good enough to say, in the excellent speech in which he commended his Bill to the House, that this step thirty years ago was far in advance of its time. It came about in this way.
My father was at that time the director of the National Federation of Building Trades Employers, but he came to that position not by way of the building industry but against a long background of preoccupation with matters of housing, town planning and the like, first of all as a borough engineer and surveyor in England. secondly, and more strangely for an Englishman, as the City Engineer of Edinburgh—it is more customary to export engineers from Scotland than to import them—and, subsequently, at the Scottish Local Government Board and then as Director of Housing at the old Ministry of Health, 834 which in those days, as the House knows, had responsibility for housing.
What struck my father in the 1930s was that, although the private enterprise building industry was doing a very good job in the main, in that it was meeting an enormous demand for owner-occupied houses, generally speaking at good standards of construction and a very modest price indeed, nevertheless there was a fringe element of jerrybuilding which served both to bring the building industry into disrepute and to cause individual unhappiness and concern to those who were unfortunate enough to be the purchasers of that small minority of jerry-built houses. Of course, it was only a small minority. My hon. Friend referred to the 1930s as being the peak of jerry-building, but the figure of jerry-built houses was only about 3 per cent. of the total, a very large total, of house building going on at that time.
My father therefore took the view that it was necessary to seek to evolve methods to prevent jerry-building, to raise house-building standards and to provide consumer protection. Those views, I am glad to say, were shared by the best and the most enlightened elements in the building industry of that time, with the result that the National Federation took the initiative in setting up the Registration Council thirty years ago.
It was naturally a matter of great gratification to me when in the debate on 13th December tributes were paid to my father's work in this regard by Lord Rhodes and by hon. Members on both sides of the House, not least so because the debate took place just two months before his death. I am grateful also to the hon. Member for Bilston for his kind references today to his work.
Though the Council, therefore, was set up on the initiative of the building industry, it is not a builders' council in that sense. Two-thirds of the membership of the Council are non-builders, including local authority representatives, representatives of the professional organisations and consumer associations, and with observers from the Ministry.
I am sure that the House shares a double aim in this matter and shares it with the country outside and with the building industry as well, or the great 835 majority of it. It is the attainment of high building standards and, secondly, the best practicable protection for purchasers in what, as the hon. Gentleman has just said, is very often the most important transaction, at any rate commercial transaction, that the average citizen makes in his life.
In considering the attainment of this aim, three considerations seem to be particularly relevant. First, as I said in the debate in December, 1963, there has always been a gap in the law for the protection of the purchaser of a ready-made house. The law still treats him very much on the caveat emptor principle, although it is not a very suitable case for the application of the rigidities of that principle, because it is rather more difficult to detect a latent defect in a house than in almost any other commodity which one can envisage.
The purchaser of a ready-made house is in a sort of no-man's land. On the one side, the purchaser of a house built to order has protection and, on the other, the purchaser of goods and chattels has protection. The purchaser of a house built to his own order has the benefit of a contract with the builder which binds that builder to follow the specifications and drawings and to complete the erection of the house to the reasonable satisfaction of the architect. If he does not do that he is in breach of his contract. The R.I.B.A. standard form of contract includes, in Clause 15, a defects liability provision on which the purchaser can rely for the setting right of defects.
That does not mean that complaints do not arise in the case of contract-built houses under architects' supervision. They do; but one cannot judge these matters solely by the volume of complaint. One must analyse the complaints and see to what extent they are justified. In any event, the contract procedure is not appropriate for the protection of the purchaser of a ready-made house because that procedure depends for its efficacy upon the supervision of the building owner's architect, and in these cases he does not exist.
Similarly, there has never been any protection within common law principle, or within the provisions of the Sale of Goods Act—which flowed from the common 836 law—in respect of houses. If there were, the house purchaser would have a reasonable protection at law because, although the Sale of Goods Act does not give a general implied warranty—as non-lawyers tend to think—it gives two specific warranties which, if they were translated into house purchase, would be of considerable value.
The house purchaser relies on the builder's skill and, therefore, on the principle of the Sale of Goods Act, would be entitled to a warranty of reasonable fitness for the purpose for which the house is bought—that is to say, the purpose of living in it—and as the builder is a person who deals in houses the purchaser would also be entitled to a warranty of merchantable quality. Those principles do not apply because house buying has never been within the ambit of the Sale of Goods Act. Therefore, there is a gap in the law, and it is necessary to fill it, as I suggested in the previous debate. It is that consideration which animated the pioneers 30 years ago and which has animated my hon. Friend in putting forward his Bill today.
The second relevant consideration is the complexity, diversity and idiosyncratic nature of the building industry. Putting it in the language of league football, the building industry is almost unique—the civil engineering industry is in the same position—and differs from manufacturing industry, in that it has to play all its matches away from home. In manufacturing industry there are reasonably repetitive processes following a well-established pattern on the familiar factory floor. In each operation in the building and civil engineering industries, however, one has to deploy, on a new and previously unknown site, the whole of one's equipment, labour, material and the like, and operate the whole under the high vault of heaven—which in the British climate is not a very easy thing to do.
That being so, I have always retained a considerable respect for the mechanics of the building industry, with the one qualification, that I shall come to in a moment, that it is not always as receptive of new techniques and ideas as it might be. In recent years its diversity has been increased by a proliferation of separate operations with sub-contracting 837 trades. Many different and independent processes are going on, so that the main contractor becomes more of a coordinator than a primary executant. No doubt partly for this reason neither common law nor statute law has ever sought to include houses in the protection which is given in respect of the sale of goods. Even in the 19th century, when there were no installations of central heating, electric lighting, and so on, it was not thought possible to do so, and now it is a good deal more complicated.
The third consideration is that building is a sheltered industry. That is probably why it tends to be slow to change and adapt. It has not got the spur to innovation and efficiency which comes from the overseas competition to which most of our manufacturing industries are necessarily exposed. I suggest that a sheltered industry always requires a more vigilant scrutiny, and that there is always a stronger case for the regulation—whether voluntary or external—of a sheltered industry than of an industry which is not insulated from the shifts and shocks of changing world conditions and world competition.
Of late years the basic position has been aggravated by the condition of the economy—by the inflationary combination of a very keen demand for houses and full employment, both very good and desirable things in themselves, but obviously making it more difficult to exact a strict insistence on high standards. These have obviously been difficult years for the Registration Council. The conclusion that I invite the House to draw from these considerations is that it is desirable to apply and enforce standards, but that the nature of the industry makes it a complex undertaking. Facile criticism is easy but not very helpful, and it is a difficult thing to get the right machinery working.
The experience of the Registration Council has shown that the ingredients necessary for the successful application and enforcement of standards are seven —and the Bill follows those seven, with some improvements. First, there is the registration of builders to ensure compliance with standards; secondly, the prescription of standards in a standard specification; thirdly, the inspection of houses during construction—which is the best way to detect latent difficulties; 838 fourthly, the certification of houses which conform with the prescribed standard; fifthly, an appropriate guarantee or warranty and some provision for the rectification of defects; sixthly, conciliation procedures and arbitration machinery, and, seventhly, an undertaking to implement awards if builders should default due to bankruptcy, liquidation or other cause.
These are the hard core of essentials of the Registration Council's scheme, and they have been improved in a variety of respects. As appears in particular from Clauses 8 to 11 they are also the hard core of the provisions of the Bill.
The main differences appear to be three. First, the standards prescribed pursuant to the Bill would carry the high authority of the Privy Council, as we see in Clauses 11 and 12. Secondly, registration will be universal and compulsory, that is in Clause 3(1). Thirdly, the disciplinary provisions will follow the formula and pattern which has been found appropriate in various professional organisations.
So I come to my last point. The question remains—it was much ventilated in December 1963—is it necessary and justifiable to impose compulsion to obtain these desirable ends? Naturally, I should like to see what was started as a voluntary movement continue as such and embrace all elements of the house-building industry on a voluntary basis. But it does not seem possible to achieve that within a reasonable time, that is to say a sufficiently comprehensive representation from the house building industry.
If I may just shortly remind the House of what I said in December 1963, I said:I say straight away that this has been a voluntary movement and it would be preferable if what has begun voluntarily can be completed voluntarily. But if that should turn out not to be so and sufficient progress cannot be made, or made fast enough, there is no philosophical reason, as I see it, why a scheme such as this should not be made mandatory.Then I said:… I think that there is a case for the Minister to institute such inquiry as he can, as soon as he can, to see whether the answer looks to him to be that there are sufficient prospects of voluntary completion of this work or whether he should have to have regard to the possibilities of compulsory registration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1963; Vol. 686, c. 727.]This was followed by a working party with Ministerial representation on it. The 839 working party came to the conclusion thatwhile efforts to increase adherence to the principles of the voluntary scheme of house builders registration must be continued and intensified, they are unlikely to achieve within a reasonable time the coverage indicated by the Minister as essential to secure full success for the scheme in its present voluntary form.That coverage was 80 per cent. on the assumption that the remaining 20 per cent. would respond to the pressures of the market; but I am not absolutely sure that that would be so in a period of very keen demand. Therefore, I think that 80 per cent. would be very much a minimum figure. In any event, it appears that it cannot be achieved. Therefore, we must accept the principle of compulsory registration and standards, though that in no way derogates from the value of the work hitherto done on a voluntary basis.
I think that the disciplinary provisions which my hon. Friend has included in his Bill are perfectly appropriate. They include an investigating committee and an appeal to the High Court. I was glad to see the close resemblance in this to the Professions Supplementary to Medicine Act which I introduced to the House, as Minister, in 1960. I therefore respectfully submit that this Bill is on the right lines, but it would be naive to suppose that this, or any Measure, would ensure satisfactory building standards in all cases. However good the legislative scheme may be, it does depend in the event on resources. Here there is the logistical implication, the question of sufficiency of men and means; and in this regard the Agency may well meet the same difficulties as the Council. Resources of manpower and expertise are not readily available in this sphere. I am vice-president—I have been for many years, except when I was Minister of Health—of the Association of Public Health Inspectors and I am an Associate of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, so that I know something of the difficulties regarding manpower in this connection.
It may well be that the Agency, like the Council, will be limited not by its aims and ideals but by the resources it can command. Therefore this will not be an easy matter. When the House has done its work, and put the Bill on the Statute Book in the most satisfactory 840 form, the real problems and work, in many respects, will only just be started. But I think that in no way detracts from the debt that the House and the community owe to my hon. Friend for introducing this Bill today.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Mrs. Renee Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
Like the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards), I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) on introducing the Bill. I do not support it—I tell the hon. Gentleman at the outset—but I think, as other hon. Members have suggested, that the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge has done a service to the House, and, indeed, to the country, in bringing the Measure forward. It provides an opportunity to hammer out the matter in the House and look at the principle, and perhaps to move forward to future legislation. I am quite convinced that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has this matter very much in mind and is very anxious to make progress.
I have every sympathy with the aims and objects of the sponsors of the Bill and the idea that brought it forward. The Bill purports to protect house purchasers from substandard building and to provide a remedy where these interests are injured, but, in fact, it does not do either, although it attempts to do so at some length. I hope that I may be able to show the House the shortcomings of the Bill during what I have to say.
I do not think the Bill will provide a remedy against the jerry-builder. Nor do I think that it will bridge the gap mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East. It would set up a Housebuilding Standards Agency, but it does not give that Agency any teeth or life. The Agency would consist of a considerable majority of representatives of building organisations or organisations in some way connected with the building industry.
These would set up a registration system which, in my submission, would not be any more effective than the present National House-Builders Registration Council. It would be pointless for the 841 House to consider introducing legislation which would be no more effective than an agency which already exists. The Agency is also to lay down standards with which builders must comply. Those standards are not likely to be superior to the standards already established sufficiently in local by-laws and standards published by the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
The quality of materials used and the workmanship employed in building would have to comply, as at present, with the respective British standards and standard codes of practice. Obviously, they could not be below, but I think that it would be impossible for the Agency effectively to insist on higher standards in both these cases. Therefore, we should find, in practice, that there would be no real improvement either in building standards or in the materials used.
Now we come to the crux of the matter, the enforcement of standards. How is this to be done? I put to the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge a question about his proposed inspectorate system, and the numbers required, but I did not receive a reply. It has to be recognised that the establishment by the Agency of a certification system would have to be backed by a large staff of professional advisers and expert inspectors who would examine all houses and flats being built and issue certificates in respect of all those sold for owner-occupation. This must be so if the system is to be really effective.
I regard this as, very largely, window-dressing, because the system could not be enforced without the necessary staff and the staff just are not available. This same sort of thing lies behind the National House-builders Registration Council scheme, but it is not now being done. I, also, received a letter from the Council yesterday, with the brochure which it sent to hon. Members. The Council admits that there are delays in getting inspections done and it has not, in fact, the necessary pool of skilled inspectors to do the work if its scheme is to be really effective. My hon. Friend the Member for Bilston has already reminded us that the local authorities themselves, in operating their machinery, are short of inspectors, clerks of works and people of that kind. In fact, the shortage of skilled people to do this 842 urgently needed inspection work has reached embarrassing proportions for the local authorities. Where will the new Agency get its staff from? They have to be produced from somewhere. If it is to be worth anything at all, the Agency must be effective and its standards must be enforceable. If the men are not available to do the inspections, the whole system will collapse.
It is my assessment that, to make the Bill effective and make the Agency work, we should need between 1,500 and 2,000 building inspectors working for the Agency. I do not believe that we should be able to find them. In effect, the Bill is intended to set up another organisation parallel with what already exists under the local authorities and, to some extent, the insurance companies, and, in my view, it is both unnecessary and unworkable.
The warranty which it is proposed should be given to a house purchaser is vague in its terms as laid down by the Bill. In some ways it is excessive and in some ways it is impracticable. For example, how would a two-year warranty in respect of interior decorations work? Many tons of water are used in the construction of a house, and this water has to be evaporated from the structure after completion. Inevitably, there is shrinkage and cracking, but this is not necessarily the fault of the builder. It is something which happens, and it happens within two years. I wonder whether the sponsors of the Bill have considered this rather difficult problem. A five-year warranty in respect of the structure of the building, on the other hand, should be backed by a compulsory insurance scheme, without which such a warranty would be useless because of the financial obligations involved.
Have the sponsors of the Bill considered the system which is used in France? Under an insurance system which has been in operation now for some years—
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Lady says, but has not she noted that Clause 11 provides for a compulsory insurance scheme?
§ Mrs. Short
Yes, but my point is that it is not enforceable, and I hope to show why.
843 I was saying that there has been a system operated in France for some years which puts an undivided responsibility for continued structural adequacy over not less than 10 years on both architect and builder, and to cope with the quite considerable financial obligations involved builders and architects are covered by insurance policies taken out in respect of each and every building scheme which they undertake. The insurance companies in France, to protect themselves, have established a comprehensive and extremely well organised and administered system of building inspection. They have—this is where I got my figure from—over 1,500 qualified building inspectors for this purpose. France, of course, has not the same fairly elaborate machinery of local government inspection and building legislation that we have, so the French insurance scheme fills a gap which exists there as compared with the kind of local authority system in Britain.
It seems to me, therefore, that the avowed object of the Bill, that is, the protection of the purchaser, could best be achieved in this country by providing adequate financial help to the local authorities to improve and extend their existing inspection and enforcement machinery. The hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge was good enough to refer to the Question which I put to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government recently on this very matter. I suggested that we might enable our local authorities, with their present depleted inspectorates, to recruit more staff by some sort of levy on the construction industry.
My right hon. Friend said that I was, perhaps, "jumping the gun". I am not quite sure what he meant by that. I was making a suggestion which seemed to me feasible and practical. In some way, we must make it possible for the local authorities to extend their building inspection system, but without putting the burden on the local ratepayers, which would be unfair. I suggest that this may well be something to be considered in the future.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
I am following the hon. Lady's argument with great care. I have worked 844 under the system in France and the similar system in Belgium. Will not the hon. Lady agree that that system runs because the insurance companies will give financial cover as against their own inspectorate? As I understand it, her argument is that the local authority inspectors should do the inspection. Is she suggesting that the local authorities should become insurers and guarantee liabilities if their inspectors fail to carry out their job?
§ Mrs. Short
No; I was trying to show that there are two means of approach here, the insurance system as it is worked in France, and the strengthening and improvement of the local authority building inspectorate, the local authorities having powers under the planning Acts to enforce proper building standards. The difficulty at the moment is that there are not enough people to do the job. Nevertheless, I believe that the local authority inspectorate has power to enforce proper building standards if this were the agreed policy. We can consider the advantages of both methods, either a strengthening and improvement of the local authority inspection scheme or the kind of insurance system which is worked in France.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
The hon. Lady referred to the planning Acts. She meant, of course, the Public Health Acts. The point of substance is that inspections under the byelaws relate to matters arising under public health and safety measures, but the matters contemplated by the Bill and, indeed, by the National House-Builders Registration Council scheme now go wider than that because they cover workmanship and materials as well.
§ Mrs. Short
Yes, but there are powers now for the local authorities to enforce proper standards. If houses are not built according to the planning permission given, the local authority can insist that the conditions are observed.
I therefore feel that the Bill would not achieve its object. It would not protect the house buyer. It would not ensure that houses were built to adequate standards, but would provide yet another smokescreen for the bad builder who is able to get away with a good deal. The Bill would not make him pull his socks up and build to proper standards.
845 The only sanction against a bad builder under the Bill would be to remove him from the register. But there is nothing to prevent a bad builder from doing what many bad builders do—either go into voluntary liquidation and start up again, or start another firm in his wife's, brother's or aunt's name. There are ways of getting round this. The threat to remove a bad builder from the register would not be a real sanction against those determined to carry on with their undesirable practices.
I cannot support the Bill, but, once more, I congratulate the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge on introducing it. I feel that he has done the House a service.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I support the Bill. I think that it is a matter for congratulation by the whole House that my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) has shown initiative arid done some very hard work in preparing if. I am glad to support it not least because I represent a neighbouring constituency in Suffolk, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will not mind my saying so in the knowledge that some of the research work done in preparing the Bill was done by the son of my predecessor in the House, Sir William Aitken.
The hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short) will forgive me if I do not take up all the points that she made, but there are one or two to which I should like to refer. I cannot believe that what she said about the public health laws and inspection was right. The inspection of houses carried out by local councils is of health and other public conditions. The Bill deals with defects which arise from painting, plumbing, and things of that sort, which are not caught by the local authority's inspection. Therefore, I do not believe that her point is valid.
The hon. Lady also said that the Bill would not work because there were not enough people available to implement it. I hope that she will commend that point of view to her right hon. Friend the Minister of Land and Natural Resources when he introduces his legislation on the Land Commission. That would be a telling point.
846 I should like to comment briefly on some of the remarks made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), who spoke with such authority and experience in this matter. He rightly said that the building industry plays only away fixtures, but I should like to tell him that increasingly it is able to play on covered grounds. Not very long ago I did some work on a building site. When it rained I was glad to take shelter under the polyethylene plastic sheets which are increasingly used in the building industry and which enable construction to continue even when it is raining very hard.
§ Sir D. Glover
My hon. Friend has raised a very important point about the building industry always playing away from home. I do not think that the point is whether one gets wet or has a roof over one's head. The conditions on sites vary. The subsoil may be different. One always faces different conditions in an away fixture from those which one encounters at home.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I agree. I was not seeking to controvert my right hon. and learned Friend's argument. I was merely seeking to point out that one is not quite as unsheltered as one has been in the past.
The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) also spoke from great experience, but I found it extremely depressing to hear him accepting the prospect that over the next 20 years many houses with defects in them will continue to be built. The hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East interjected to say that this was inevitable, and the hon. Gentleman went on to tell us of his experience on what he called, I think, the Gospel Oak estate, where the owners were up in arms and were complaining about almost everything that they could complain about.
The hon. Gentleman put it to us that it was a matter for celebration that the builder had agreed to put things right within a year. I do not think that that is anywhere near good enough, and I find it depressing that hon. Members opposite believe that we must accept defects and that they should be cured afterwards. The purpose of the Bill is 847 to prevent defects arising in the first place. I hope that that is where we shall place the emphasis.
I support the Bill because, above all else, over the last decade or so, there has been a virtual explosion of home building, and, I am glad to say, of home owning activity. Now, 42 per cent. of our people own their own homes. This is a very high figure, one of the highest in the world. All parties in the House are encouraging this tendency, some perhaps more than others, and they are right to do so because the one thing which every family wants more than anything else is to own its own home.
The decision to buy the home in which it lives is the most important single economic decision which the average family makes. For that reason, it is all the more important that it should get a good home which it can be proud of and which, above all, gives it value for the money which it has saved for the purchase. The Bill helps to do this by proposing the establishment of the Housebuilding Standards Agency. I cannot believe that there can be any objection to this proposal in principle. We have agencies for almost everything else and I cannot see why the houses which are so important to people should be excepted from the standards procedure.
Secondly, the Bill helps by proposing to create a register of house builders. I have spoken to a number of builders in my constituency about this. I am convinced that very few reputable builders would object to going on the register. If builders do object, that is almost prima facie evidence that they have something to worry about.
Thirdly, the Bill assists by permitting the Standards Agency to issue certificates to the effect that the houses in question are good. The hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East said that she felt that the Bill had no teeth. I cannot possibly agree with that. If the builder is not able to get a certificate from the Agency, he does not get his money. If that is not putting teeth in a Bill, I do not know what is. In short, under the Bill, the purchaser is provided with a guarantee and I believe that, as the preamble says, it provides an economical 848 and, I hope, a speedy redress for a purchaser who makes a bad bargain.
I do not think that there can be any doubt on either side of the House about the need to introduce the Bill. The great majority of builders do a first-class job, and I should be no party to general charges against British builders. On the contrary, I would say, having lived in many countries, that we have a very good, if sometimes slow, building industry.
We would not accept some of the buildings which I have seen put up and called homes. In the Soviet Union, for example. Even some of those which are put up by the new prefabricated methods in the United States would not suit people in this country, although it must be recognised that they are erected very quickly. Although our general standards may be high, there cannot be any doubt that they are not high enough. Many houses which are downright shoddy are still built, and we must call them by their proper name.
Recently, I did a survey of young families. I went to see more than 100 families in several parts of Britain—Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, and so on—to discover what their attitudes were to present-day problems, particularly consumer problems. The thing which concerned them perhaps more than anything else was the difficulty of getting a good place in which to live. I was shown examples of windows which did not fit, cracks in the plaster, poor paint jobs and the rest of it. All hon. Members are familiar with these defects.
There is nothing more annoying to a young family, having saved for a long time to buy a house and being faced with extremely high interest rates on mortgages, to find that the house does not measure up to their rightful expectations, so that in many cases they must pay for the house to be repaired once they have moved in.
I have had some personal experience of erecting a building. At my former home in Sussex I had a building erected, only to find that the quality of workmanship was appalling and the expense extremely high. As a result of that experience, with the aid of a friend and a relative, I built the next one myself. That was when I experienced working under the shelter of polyethylene sheets. We erected the 849 building more quickly, certainly more cheaply than had I arranged to have it constructed by a builder and I believe that the quality of our work was such that we would have obtained one of the standard certificates envisaged by the Bill.
The building industry is comprised of people and firms of all kinds, some good and some bad. The Bill seeks to catch up with the bad ones. In this connection, I must cite greater authorities than myself. The Royal Institute of British Architects recently drew attention to the… sudden decay of houses erected only a few years ago.The Times, commenting on the subject this morning, referred to… doors and windows so faultily made that many an Englishman's home soon becomes a highly organised system of draughts".There is much in that. There was a recent incident in Manchester, where a brand new building left some of those who were dining in it plastered, in the completely true sense of the word.
The Association of Municipal Corporations has been tackling this problem. The Minister is, no doubt, aware of its recent report, in which it stated that the standards of many houses built for owner occupation had fallen very far, especially in the South-East. It pointed out that rules covering the minimum sizes of rooms were often ignored in practice. I have with me many details—although I will not weary the House with them—of three-bedroom bungalows in which two of the bedrooms are of only 50 sq. ft., which is a good deal smaller than the top of the table below the Clerks of the House. That is not good enough. The Report concluded by stating:Against these influences public demand for higher standards seems to be making no headway at all, so that builders are able to sell whatever houses they choose to build.That is the problem caused by the present tremendous demand.
We should also consider electrical installations in houses. More than 90 per cent. of these conform to the standards laid down by the professional bodies and there is no trouble in the majority of cases. However, I understand that about 10 per cent. of cases do not officially conform to the standards. This may not be irrelevant when we consider that many fires break out due to faulty electrical installations. I have the statistics 850 and I would be glad to give them to the Minister, although he no doubt already has them.
I understand that there have been about 17,000 fires due to faulty electrical installations in the last 10 or so years. In 122 of those fires there were fatalities. It cannot be argued that these fires all resulted from defective electrical installations, but it can be said that a sizeable number of them may have been. It suggests that not 90 per cent. but 100 per cent. of electrical installations must come under the sort of control envisaged by the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge spoke of the Which? survey and I go with him in accepting that it was an exaggeration when it stated that 91 per cent, of houses completed have defects. That was an erroneous impression and while I do not say that Which? actually stated that, it did allow that impression to arise. The survey showed, however, that in a substantial number of houses there wasbad plastering; not only cracks from drying, which seemed to be almost inevitable, but also uneven surfaces and in some cases plaster falling away".That does not need to happen. Referring to woodwork and joinery, Which? examined not only… complaints about shrinkage and rough finish, but doors and windows were often badly hung or warped; handles, catches and locks were often missing or faulty.We all know that that happens. All hon. Members have been given examples of these defects. Which? went on to refer to paintwork and stated:… some coats were missed out, others skimped and sometimes knots don't appear to have been sealed and resin was oozing through.My hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge also referred to central heating and I agree that it is becoming increasingly important. One of the oddest complaints I have come across, and I was glad to see that Which? referred to it, was the… complaint which was often made was that garage floors sloped in such a way that water tended to drain into them instead of out.That happens all too often.
We can reasonably ask why there are so many of these defects. I believe that 851 one reason is the practice of sub-contracting. Often a builder is not able to take complete responsibility, from A to Z, of the construction and lets work out to half a dozen, sometimes more, sub-contractors. In that way responsibility often evaporates because of the large number of hands into which the job is put.
Another reason is the shortage of labour, particularly skilled labour. This tends to mean that some jobs are skimped and it makes the task of discipline difficult for many builders to impose. Another point which must be recognised is the delay in the delivery of building materials. Many builders suffer from this and are unable to organised their work properly.
Probably the main reason for these defects is the extremely large number of new small, and sometimes fly-by-night people and companies who have recently come into the building industry to take advantage of the present boom. To illustrate this, I will quote from a letter which I received yesterday from a big builder in East Anglia. He writes:I am aware of people setting up in our industry with no previous knowledge whatsoever … I know of at least two retired boxers, members of pop groups, an Army colonel and a titled lady all of whom have found their way into our industry to get in on the apparent building boom.I am making no charges against retired boxers, pop groups, titled ladies or anyone else, but simply pointing out that such would not appear to be the best basis on which to become involved in the building industry.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
Until a short while ago the hon. Gentleman appeared to be saying that acceptable standards were possible from such people as retired speech writers. If so, might not the people to whom he now refers be able to turn their hands with similar effect?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I appreciate the point of that intervention, but I was erecting a building for my own use. I was preparing to use it myself, whereas I am speaking about people who are setting out to build houses for use by others. There is a great difference. The letter from my East Anglian correspondent goes on to say:This, too, goes for men armed with a hammer and a saw or a trowel who present 852 themselves as carpenters and bricklayers, who would not of course be engaged by a firm such as ours but who would readily find work with the people I mention … because they themselves have no knowledge of what is right and what is wrong.They have little or no knowledge of what is right and what is wrong in building standards. This is a genuine problem and complaint. The letter concludes by saying that it is from these people very often that we get much of the shoddy and bad workmanship.
In fairness, I should say that this builder raises a number of queries about the Bill that I cannot answer and which I would hope to see thrashed out in Committee. For example, there is the requirement in the Bill that builders should give a guarantee of five years on the structure of buildings for which they get a certificate. That sounds all very well, but how can a builder be expected to give such an undertaking unless the brick companies, the tile manufacturers, the timber merchants and the manufacturers of windows and all the other components equally give a five-year guarantee or at least a guarantee that they will replace, free of cost, any of their components seen to be defective?
Unfortunately, conditions of sale of materials in the industry, be they from the manufacturers or the merchants, at the moment state clearly that the goods are accepted on the condition that no warranty whatsoever is given. There is, therefore, a genuine problem about asking the builder to accept liability for a five-year period. There is no coverage in his own case for the materials he is using.
The second question raised by the builder who wrote that letter is one also mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, concerning inspectors. Here I am bound to say that, while I sympathise with her point of view, although possibly for a different reason, just as the Minister of Housing and Local Government has said that he is prejudiced against landlords I am prejudiced against snoopers. It is for that reason as much as anything else that I have some reluctance in supporting the idea of a large number of inspectors going into the industry, and in Committee I should want to ask questions about how this could work, how we could be sure that they themselves would 853 be competent and whether there was not some danger of imposing delays.
My final query laps over into an aspect my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge touched upon quickly. It concerns the construction of houses for councils. I recognise that the Bill is not taking into account council houses and therefore it would be out of order for me to mention that subject. But if we are to try to impose standards on the building industry it is important that such standards should apply equally to the construction of houses for and by public authorities as well as by the private builder for the owner occupier.
Nevertheless, having raised these questions, I strongly support and welcome this extremely valuable and timely Bill. It is part of the search for higher standards that is going on in the country. We all know that a great deal needs to be improved in Britain, whether it be tile quality of service, workmanship, the telephone system or anything else. We know that there is a desire for higher standards and I believe that the Bill is one of the many ways in which Parliament can give expression to the desire, particularly among younger families, not only for higher living standards but for a higher quality of life.
I welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend on his initiative.
§ 1.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
Like all other hon. Members who have spoken, I welcome the purpose and intention of the Bill, but unlike some hon. Members I believe that it is enforceable. Having said that, I must add that the way in which the Bill goes about enforcing these desirable intentions is somewhat oblique. The nature and cause of the obliqueness was made clear during a reply the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short). He said that he hoped that the onus would remain on the builders to keep their standards high and their work acceptable. He said that he hoped that the inspectors would act as assistants—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say give assistance to builders rather than supervise their work.
854 I cannot believe that if these two things were possible now they would not have happened over the last 50 years. The simple fact that a Bill of this sort is necessary and has excited topical interest and great enthusiasm gives the impression that the builders are incapable or unwilling to accept the onus to improve their own standards. It seems to me that what they need is not assistance, but supervision and, in the last analysis, some sort of compulsion.
Before I explain the way in which I believe that it is desirable to proceed, I want to say something about what I believe to be omissions from the Bill. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) mentioned them in passing. I accept that it may be my own shortcomings or the result of a rather facile reading of the Bill, but my understanding is that the Bill talks about standards in one sense without talking about them in the other sense.
The hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge made an excellent speech and quoted from the October manifestoes of all three political parties. By some perversity, the only passage dealing with this subject that I can remember is that of the Liberal Party manifesto. I think that what the Liberal manifesto said on this point was echoed by the other two parties. It said thatstandards must be raised and jerry building eliminated".As I understand that phrase, the standards about which it talks are those laid down in the Parker Morris Report, "Homes for Today and Tomorrow". They are to do with the things mentioned by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds—with the size of rooms, garage space, storage facilities and the way houses are heated. I could not welcome a Bill which intended to improve the qualities of workmanship and materials, but ignored completely the problems to do with housing design standards.
§ Mr. Stainton
In Clause 8(2,a) the hon. Member will find that standards have to do not only with construction work, but with finish and convenience. That provision was expressly designed to embrace the kind of point raised by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I take the point. I have noted the provisions in Clause 8(2,a) and (2,b). It appears in most force in (2,b), line 33. Perhaps, after all, I can plead not guilty to my own accusation of having read the Bill in a facile way. But it seems to me that if the hon. Gentleman is concerned with such things as room size, storage facilities, heating and garage space, neither Clause 8 nor the way in which he moved the Bill gives that consideration sufficient prominence.
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the Liberal Party manifesto, I should make it clear that that provision was not intended to apply specifically to the manner of building construction. In fact, the Liberal Party's working party on building standards made this clear and, at a party assembly, the whole question was dealt with in the manner prescribed by this Bill.
§ Mr. Hattersley
There is a great deal of unanimity on the point I am making that the standards of workmanship and materials cannot be dissociated from the overall design standards. I am delighted that this point is made with force by hon. Members from all three political parties virtually simultaneously. I do not believe that the way it is put in the Bill gives this aspect sufficient force. Nor has sufficient emphasis been placed in the debate on the implications of improving standards in both senses.
The clear indications are, however, that if we are to obtain these improvements the price of housing will increase enormously. The standard reply of the housebuilder, when told that the workmanship and materials put into a house built by him are not of the quality they should be, is the reply given by a motor manufacturer whenever complaints are made about one of his cars. The reply is that if there were to be an adequate system of supervision of the quality of the craftsmanship and materials this would appreciably increase the cost of the house. The Parker Morris Report makes an analysis of the extra cost of the design standard it advocated. It would add about £200 to £250.
I do not suggest for one moment that this is a reason for running away from the problem. I am one of those—I know 856 that they are to be found on both sides of the House—who believe that larger proportions of the national income should be devoted to housing, that there should be some way in which more of the money we spend is spent for this purpose. I offer the point as something which we must carry in our minds and take into consideration.
I offer it also because I believe that our entire consideration of the sort of houses we build and the way in which we build them must be influenced by the form in which payment for the house is made. Our control and supervision of the sort of houses we build and live in can be influenced by the price of the house, and whether it is paid for directly by the family living in it, or whether there is some State assistance.
The hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge rightly said that the National House-Builders Registration Council includes 57 per cent. of building firms but only about 26 per cent. of the houses which are privately built. This again underlines the difficulties of allowing the control of standards, materials and workmanship to be in the hands of a voluntary or quasi-voluntary organisation, because the percentage of builders who are outside the agreement and the percentage of houses which are not included under its supervision comprises those builders and houses about whom we complain the most.
I readily agree with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds that an overwhelming proportion of the houses built in this country are built well. What we are talking about today is a small proportion which are built badly. They are built by those who at the moment choose to remain outside any system of supervision and control. In my experience, these do not in the main include the large building contractors. I am well acquainted with the example quoted by the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge of the housing estate in Yorkshire, where many of the 90 houses suffered from a physical crumbling of the bricks. The moral to be drawn from this case is not that there was some deficiency in the bricks—this there certainly was—but the fact that the contractor concerned spent time, money and energy in putting the job right and setting aside 857 two houses into which people could move temporarily while their own houses were rebuilt. This is the characteristic behaviour of the large contractor.
What we have to worry about today is not the large contractor who either does the job well in the first place or remedies it after mistakes have come to light, but a certain type of small contractor who, I agree, despite my rather frivolous intervention, probably should not be in the building business at all and who possibly has no specific training or qualifications to carry out his task.
Some small builders are undoubtedly very good. In the part of Yorkshire which I left six months ago where the Peak Park Planning Board exercises a minute, precise and almost penal control over the sort of houses that are built, only the smallest builder can and does still build the high quality special appearance house which is required in that part of Yorkshire and Derbyshire. This is the good side of the small private builder. The bad side is very bad indeed. It is this sort of builder which the Bill and any other sort of legislation would try to prevent from carrying on in the way they carry on at the moment.
I do not believe that any legislation or any proposals or any system can altogether eliminate certain defects being found in any house six months, nine months or a year after the occupier has moved in. In what I hope he will not mind my describing as a characteristically polemical way, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds accused my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) and, indeed, all of us on these benches, of accepting that defects would and must continue. What we accept is that in any building there will immediately after its completion he certain teething troubles. There will be problems which not the best will, nor the most precise supervision, nor the most careful management, in the world can either foresee or prevent. What we must insist on is not the perfect house on the day of occupation but the builder who does his best to build a perfect house and is then prepared to remedy the defects which we know must and will come about. In my experience, the large builder is normally prepared to do this.
I should have thought that the only way in which control of the type we 858 need can be brought about is by some sort of system of supervision by local authorities. There are three principles which I believe are necessary in any supervisory scheme. The first is the basic principle of the Bill, namely, the elimination of jerry-building. The second is the necessity to supervise the building during its construction, not only because many of the defects can be found only at that time, but because of the necessity, or at any rate the preferability, of saving the tenant or owner-occupier the inconvenience of having to move out while new walls are erected or of having to move round while now floor boards are put in.
The third principle which I believe must characterise any such scheme is the principle which takes the onus of proof, the onus of complaint, and, if necessary, the onus of prosecution, out of the hands of the individual family. The individual family certainly does not have the technical knowledge and usually does not have the financial wherewithal to pursue this matter in the way in which it needs to be pursued.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The ordinary family, in such circumstances, often lacks the money to pursue such a redress.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Yes. The term "wherewithal" was meant to imply or specify that. I will learn to avoid Yorkshire colloquialisms as the months pass.
I am particularly pleased that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds made this point, because I read with very great interest an article he wrote about this type of problem five weeks ago in which he painted sad pictures of the young man of 30 earning a little more than £2,000 a year, owning a new Zodiac car, unable to find a deposit for a new house. Although I do not share the sorrow that the Daily Telegraph then offered us on that family's behalf, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that many young families, in rather different circumstances, would find it quite impossible to take the legal action that is necessary to pursue, and to pursue successfully, the sort of builder about whom we are talking today.
I believe that the only body that can pursue them successfully and continually is the local authority. I believe that the local authority should and must do this job. To begin with, although there has 859 been some dispute about this today, local authorities are already doing a great deal of supervision in terms of building standards. I accept that the supervision is to do with local byelaws and certain health regulations, but there are great similarities.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East was led astray over this point, she was, I think it is fair to say, led astray by the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge—[HON. MEMBERS: "0h."] I specified "over this point". The hon. Gentleman gave as one of his examples, as he opened the debate, the case of the house which was finished with some type of weather boarding, beneath which there was virtually nothing.
This example is one which proper inspection by local authority employees, interested in the maintenance of building byelaws, would have brought to light. In both the city which I represent, and the city which was my home town, it would have been a contravention of the most elementary byelaws. There is this great overlap, and local authorities are in an ideal position to take over the job in a good deal more detail and with more enthusiasm than any other body that one can envisage.
I do not accept the argument about the shortage of appropriate employees. If there is a shortage for one body, there is a shortage for another. If there is an overall shortage, the job cannot be done, and I am sure that no one in the House is so pessimistic as to think that the job is so beyond us that the right sort of man, and the right sort of attitude, cannot be obtained. This costs money, but everything that improves building in this country, and everything that improves housing, costs money, and that is a problem which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government must face at some future date.
My final point concerns money in the form of subsidies, grants, and payments for houses. I believe that when the scheme for special low interest rate mortgages is made available it must be made available to a large spectrum of the population who will in the future—or have in the past—decided to buy their own houses. This is, of course, a housing subsidy, but it is a 860 subsidy which must be granted to tenants of privately built houses, to owner-occupiers, and to corporation tenants.
The ideal way in which the sort of scheme about which we have talked today can be organised and administered is for the Government to say that the subsidy, the low interest rate mortgage subsidy, will be available for all new houses built, as long as they are built to certain minimum standards. Those minimum standards will be concerned with design, the Parker Morris standards, as well as with workmanship and material.
Once that principle had been established, there would be no objection to the Government going on to say that a person would get the money only if he conformed to those standards. There would be Government inspectors—Government clerks of works—because this is what we really need—
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman is making a very interesting point, but the experience of recent years has been that public authorities have had control over the standards of council houses which have been built, yet there are far greater defects there than in private building.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, because it enables me to remedy an omission in my speech. I disagree with what he said.
The local authority for which I had some responsibility in Sheffield, the London County Council and several new towns, have the highest standard in the country in terms of design, space and the other things about which the Parker Morris Report was concerned. Local authorities such as those have led the way; but I agree that some small local authorities provide examples of bad building, bad workmanship, and bad design. This is a very complicated argument, and I am sure that I shall not be allowed to pursue in any detail my involved proposals for a two-tier subsidy system, but let it be said to the local authorities who are building badly and inadequately that the first subsidy will be paid only if their houses are built according to the accepted standards.
What overshadows the debate today is a double obligation. We have a primary 861 obligation to the people who move into new houses and who suffer from banging windows, doors that do not shut, roofs that leak, and floors that warp. Bat we have a second obligation, to the people who will buy the houses in, say, 80, 90, or a 100 years' time, because the second phase of the slum clearance programme into which I hope we will move in the not too distant future is the clearance of buildings erected 90 or 100 years ago, which were not good even by the standards of that time. One of the aims of the Bill—this is a problem which more precise proposals will help—should be to ensure that in 40, 60 or 80 years' time the then Minister of Housing and Local Government will not be faced with the problem of having to remedy the defects of house building in 1964 and 1965.
I believe in the need for a Bill of this kind. I believe in the necessity to improve standards of workmanship, material, design, space, and all the other things. I do not believe that the Bill goes far enough, but I accept that in the end the distinction between the two sides might almost be a psychological one.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that he was prejudiced against snoopers. I do not share that fear and that prejudice. I accept that if one has to build 400,000 houses a year, and if one is to insist on them being built to a certain standard, one must have people to watch them as they are being erected to make sure that the defects are remedied then, and not when they have been built. I accept that one needs a vast apparatus of control, a vast army of inspectors. These are the pejorative phrases which we heard between 1945 and 1951, and which we have heard during the last six months, but if one is to supervise in this precise and careful way, one needs an army of supervisors to do it.
If one runs away from that fact, one produces a Bill of the sort that we are discussing today. But if one accepts that fact willingly, one imposes a new supervision which, according to my judgment, will be best run by the local auithorities.
§ 1.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
I intervene in the debate only 862 to raise two points, because this matter was introduced in a most attractive and competent way by my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton), and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) dealt with the legal aspects in a way which makes it very difficult for anybody else to touch on that side of the matter.
I wish to make one appeal to those who, on reading the Bill, take the opportunity to shoot down legislation, by saying that it has so many loopholes that it was not worth while going any further with it. I have often found that people who do not take kindly to lawyers are inclined to accept their advice when they want to shoot down legislation. I agree that it would be easy to pick holes in the Bill in detail, but I hope that the Minister will not rely for his case on doing that, because I think that it would be worth while giving the Bill a Second Reading and investigating it further and improving it in Committee.
Difficulties have been raised about the number of people who might be necessary to carry out the proposed inspection. Difficulties have been raised about how the Bill will be administered if it becomes law. My hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge has, rightly, provided for the provisions of the Bill to come into force at different stages.
By far the most useful thing which can be done under the Bill initially is to set up a register. This is more likely than anything else to raise standards voluntarily. The very fact that a builder is registered, and wants to keep his good name and not get into difficulties in the courts or in arbitration, and to avoid constantly being involved in litigation, will mean, even without sufficient inspectors in the early days, that builders will be very careful to make sure that they do not get into this kind of trouble.
I have had experience in the last few years of houses in which repairs have had to be made. My own experience has been satisfactory, but I know of one instance which shows that in London standards are far from being as satisfactory as was the work done for my own house. The differences have been so great that one could see the different standards employed.
863 It is well known that the basic problem is the small builder. The large builder, after building many houses on an estate has resources and inspectors and an obligation, in that he wishes to continue to sell on the estate, to make sure that his houses have reasonable standards. The small man is often under-capitalised and may find it difficult to keep a steady flow of materials to the site, and often finds it difficult to ensure that the wood and brickwork are of adequate standards. It is often because of such builders that one hears later complaints about inadequate supervision of plastering, putting wallpaper on too soon so that it peels off when the wet comes out, wood than shrinks and electrical fittings which are not right. If all these builders were registered, a good deal of the trouble would be eliminated.
I particularly commend early legislation, because I think that it would eliminate the present position which arises when someone finds that something is wrong with his house. Registration will inevitably improve standards because registered builders will voluntarily raise their standards. In the present situation, if anything goes wrong, the trouble and difficulty with arbitration is such that it is not lightly undertaken. It is often very difficult, a year or eighteen months or two years after the house has been built, to say when the cracks first appeared, or when something which is now obvious first started. It often means the employment of professional men to examine the house at an early stage, and, even if the issue goes to arbitration and not to the courts, there is still expense, because professional men are required to give evidence and they charge high fees.
Knowing the background to such almost tragic cases, when young couples have put almost all their money into buying a house and have found it very difficult to face the extra expense involved in going to arbitration, with all the attendant risks, people are often inclined just to continue with the house as it is and to make do and mend on their own.
Because I hope that we can eliminate at least some of that distress and difficulty, I commend early registration and 864 the implementation of that part of the Bill as a clear step forward. This more than anything would raise standards voluntarily, which is what we all want.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Will Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
Like every other hon. Member, the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) has welcomed the Bill, so ably introduced by the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton). I am not sure whether the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. I shall have more to say about that later.
I want, first, to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths). He fascinates me more and more every time I hear him speak. During the short time in which he has been in the House he has slowly unfolded the diversity of his talents—speech writer to the Leader of the Opposition, journalist, and the other day I heard him inform us of his knowledge and authority on pig farming. This morning he has informed us that he is a "do-it-yourself" builder.
§ Mr. Will Griffiths
This all adds up to make the revelations of the hon. Gentleman which are yet to come an exciting prospect for all of us.
One thing that struck me about the hon. Gentleman's speech was that he was concerned to make a nod of obeisance to the building industry, saying that, in general, it was O.K. and that its members were a good lot of chaps, then going on to make a devastating indictment of the industry as a whole. He later said that he did not want an army of snoopers.
Earlier in his speech, tears sprang to his eyes like miniature Niagara Falls when he spoke about the fate of young people buying these houses. All that is wrong with the hon. Gentleman is that he lacks the will to do anything about the problem which he posed to the House this morning. He poses the problem and denies authority power to put right the defects and shortcomings, in at least a substantial section of the industry, which he so vividly illustrated.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that my hon. Friend supports the Bill and wants to do something.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I know that. I fully understand the lip-service which the hon. Gentleman paid to the Bill. My criticism of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who, incidentally, is quite able to look after himself, is that he lacks the desire to give authority power to remedy the evil which he so vividly demonstrated.
I welcome the Bill. I do not know whether it will get a Second Reading. but if it does I warn the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge that it will need radical revision in Committee. No doubt we shall have an interesting time in seeking to reconcile our differences and in hoping that what emerges is for the common good. For example, perhaps for reasons entirely different from those of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, I am very dissatisfied with Clause 8, which contains the provisions for enforcement. We shall see later today whether the Bill is to go to Committee. Like every hon. Member, I have no doubt that there is need for legislation of this kind.
I am an unrepentant supporter of public ownership. I believe that the needs of our modern society, economic and special, would be met by considerable expansion of the public sector. I would have thought that many of the criticisms so ably made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds were a savage indictment of the building industry.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I must repeat what I said over and over again—that the building industry as a whole does a first-class job. I confined my strictures to that very narrow segment which causes the problems which the Bill is seeking to solve.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Let us see how narrow it is. The hon. Gentleman fairly said, and I agree with him, that the findings of the Which? survey, published in February of this year and sent to every hon. Member, had been misunderstood and misreported in some quarters as giving the impression that 91 per cent. of defects were found in all new houses built. The hon. Gentleman said, 866 quite properly, that this was not what the Which? report said. What it said was that out of 1,600 questionnaires completed by its members, 91 per cent. reported defects of some kind. That can hardly be defined as a small problem, as an illustration of a limited problem of the building industry. In fact, it is substantial.
The defects in new homes and the shortcomings of the building industry in the repair and maintenance of old homes are one of the most irritating problems affecting an increasingly large section of the community, perhaps matched only by the irritation of so many of our constituents with the services which they get from garages. An increasing number of our fellow men and women who own their own houses and their own cars are far too often exposed in the building industry and in the motor repair industry to people who are incompetent and who exploit difficulties and who profoundly irritate a large and increasing number of people. Therefore, any Government have a duty to protect people from these consequences.
The Which? survey has been mentioned by many hon. Members. It was based on the completion of a questionnaire by 1,641 members. Of those, 91 per cent. reported defects, a number of which were accurately and straightforwardly quoted as printed by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. Some of the quotations from the questionnaires are tragi-comic, because those who completed the questionnaire say such things asWhen my living room fire was lighted, my neighbour was smoked out.Here is one for the builders:Blue tits have eaten all the putty. No fault of the builder, but he says that he will fix this.That must be one of the good builders to whom reference has been made.
Again:Plaster cracked round doors and windows. I did not claim for repairs as the repairs were worse than the cracks.Again:Drainpipe apparently suspended by the grace of God.One bit of skirting board was nailed to a gas pipe.And so they go on. Those are some of the reports from the questionnaire.
867 A matter which has been referred to this morning, but which, perhaps, has not been given the attention that it deserves is the widely advertised scheme of the National House-Builders Registration Council to protect the buyer. I was fascinated by what the Which? report had to say about its activities, because it reported that of 1,641 questionnaires completed 528 were from members whose houses had been covered by the scheme. Having compared their answers to the questionnaires with those of people who were not covered by the scheme, Which? comes to the conclusion that the claim of the National House-Builders Registration Council that its standards cover every item and eventuality is clearly untrue. It does not cover everything. It covers only the house itself.
Which? points out that the National House-Builders Registration Council scheme does not cover garages, sheds, boundary walls or sewers. All these are excluded. As we have been told earlier in the debate, it does not cover central heating. This is of interest to us all when one considers the question of voluntary disciplines by the industry. Although I agree that this is not entirely a matter for the industry, it is interesting to see how the scheme has worked and to study the Which? findings on its activities.
Which? went on to say that it had examined the questionnaire to see how well built a house was when the standards and inspection of the N.H.B.R.C. were available to the purchaser. On examination of the facts disclosed in the questionnaire, the scheme did not come out too well. The Consumers' Association picked out reported faults which would clearly defeat the intention of local byelaws—that is, leaking roofs, leaking W.C. waste pipes and blocked drains —and found that when comparison was made of both sets of questionnaire, the 500 or more covered by the N.H.B.R.C. scheme and the rest,There was no practical difference in the number of faults in houses inside or outside the scheme or in the number of houses without faults.This is a fairly devastating indictment of the scheme.
I am certain that this will be of interest to the hon. Member for Bury St. 868 Edmunds. who has studied this document closely and quoted from it. The paragraph in the report which would surely interest him would be the comments of the Consumers' Association on the activities of the inspectors under the scheme. Which? states that in 1963, under the scheme of the N.H.B.R.C.,there were some 40 inspectors, who certified 35,000 houses. They spent on average a total time, including travelling time, of under three hours for all of their visits on each house.The Consumers' Association went on to say that it consulted architects—admittedly, unnamed—who said that although they recognised that the amount of inspection and the time spent on a house clearly varied according to its size and the availability of certain parts of the house—even I can understand that —nevertheless, the time could not have been adequate. I do not think, therefore, that the scheme comes out of this report very well.
We can look at all these matters if the Bill goes to Committee—
§ Mr. Stainton
I should make it clear that I am not here to whitewash the N.H.B.R.C. It has many shortcomings, but the important point is that if one studies its activities one sees that it has improved its performance considerably during the past 12 months or so. I deliberately make this point because. in the event of my Bill not proceeding, further, there will be considerable delay, in any event, until the Minister presumably brings forward some Government legislation. In the meantime, the N.H.B.R.C. has the floor and it has to do the job. We should appraise its activities with the utmost restraint and with a sense of responsibility.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Very well. By all means let us give the Council a caress, but let us also give it a spur. I hope that something will be done about this matter.
The hon. Member seems pessimistic about the further progress of the Bill. I do not know what will happen to it; I have not talked to my Front Bench. I hope, however, that we make progress in some form. If, as the hon. Member seems to fear, his Bill does not make progress, let us hope that our debate today, even if it is not read by a very wide section of the public, will at least be read by a wide section of the building industry. Let us 869 hope that it provides them with a stimulus to do better.
Before the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge intervened, I was saying that many of these matters could be reconciled if the Bill goes to Committee. For my part, I do not see why we should be, as so many hon. Members have been today, so pessimistic about the use of local authorities. I know that the size of local authorites and the staff at their disposal to carry out their many tasks varies enormously. We have had to meet this problem from time to time when embarking on new policies, notably, for example, when creating the National Health Service, immediately after the war, when it was decided by the Government that the local government structure was unsuitable for use as the instrument of administration of the Health Service. In arty event, let us look at these matters. If and when we get into Committee, we will discover; that local authorities can be used.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge on his good fortune in having the opportunity to introduce a Private Member's Bill and I applaud his choice of Measure. If he is unfortunate enough not to see his Bill get a Second Reading, I hope that he will have spurred everybody forward to achieve his objects a little sooner than might otherwise have been the case.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) on his choice of subject, aid I sincerely hope that his Bill will receive a Second Reading. We have had considerable discussion about what a purchaser should expect to find in a new house, whether it is reasonable that there should be cracks all over the ceiling and down the walls and to what extent there should be cracks at all. We who live in old houses have become so used to the cracks in our houses that we do not seem to notice them. To that extent, it is very much like buying a new car. When the first scratch appears on it, one goes "right up the wall" and is heartbroken. After a year's driving, one forgets all about the scratches. And so it is, perhaps, with cracks in houses. Nevertheless, the standard that should be set is very important.
870 I should like to read a letter which I received recently concerning a house which I subsequently visited. This is what was written to me:Although one enters an agreement to purchase with one's eyes open, it is not very easy for the layman to see all the faults. Soon after our occupation, a stair gave way, in fact the whole staircase shifted and all the treads have since worked loose. A large crack opened up in the lounge from floor to ceiling, the breeze-block wall being fractured clean through. This wall has had to be rebuilt and I was able to see that in the original construction of the cavity walls very few wall ties were used.There are similar cracks throughout the house; not a door frame is square or a door properly hung. The brickwork, the plastering, the joinery are all disgracefully shoddy. Every wall and ceiling in the house has cracks—not small ones either!The crack in the living room was some inches in width. The other cracks are the normal small cracks which, as we have heard today, one should expect.
The doors were not hung vertically. If one measures the frame of a door against the corner of the wall, there might be 3 in. difference at the top and 1 in. difference at the bottom. Consequently, a door either does not open or, if it does open, there is an enormous gap above the floor. When doors are not hung square, there are bound to be draughts and difficulties. In the ceiling of one of the rooms, there is a difference of more than 1 in. in the level of the ceiling. I cannot believe that normal construction produces these results. Therefore, I very much welcome the idea that there should be a severe censorship of shoddy construction.
I turn now to a rather different subject. The "Daily Mail Year Book" for 1965 was published on 3rd February this year. It contained a description of a house built in my constituency by McManus and Company at a quoted price of £7,450, including the cost of central heating. As soon as the book was published, a Mr. Freeman applied to the agents for one of these houses. In reply, he was told that he could have it, not for £7,450, but for £8,600. He has taken the matter up with me and I have made inquiries about it.
The reason for the difference in price of no less than £1,150 is, first, that it was apparently an error that central heating was quoted. It was an unfortunate error, but I accept that it was a genuine 871 mistake. That does not, however, account for the whole difference in price. The other explanation is that the £7,450 advertisement referred to one site and the £8,600 site is some hundreds of yards away. The explanation is that this site cost more and therefore the houses cost more.
I was interested to know whether there was ever any intention of selling those houses as described. In fact, at the date at which this notice was sent to the "Daily Mail Year Book", in September last year, there were 26 houses on this building site. Ten of those had already been sold; another 10 had already been reserved but the contracts had not finally been exchanged. That left six houses, which were going like hot cakes, so that by the time the Year Book appeared there was not the slightest prospect of there being any houses available, other than those on which reservation was cancelled, and that occurred in two cases, and those houses were promptly offered to people already on the waiting list. Therefore, it is quite clear that Mr. Freeman had no prospect of ever seeing a house at the price of £7,450.
I do think that this is another feature of protection which householders require, and that it is most unreasonable that householders should be led to answer advertisements for houses at one price only to find, when they apply, that they are at a substantially higher price. I hope, therefore, very sincerely, that the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ 2.11 p.m.
§ Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
I should like to start by congratulating very sincerely my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton)—under two heads: first, on having selected this particular subject, which, as the debate has shown, although I think we all knew it before, is one of very considerable interest as well as importance; and, secondly, on a really remarkable effort of drafting.
This is one of those problems which in principle is perfectly straightforward. We all know what we are out to do and that is to protect the purchaser from bad workmanship and defective structural building, but, as the debate has shown, it 872 becomes a good deal less straightforward when one gets down to the particular approach which one should take in doing this, and even less straightforward again when one gets down to the details.
Moreover, we all know, too, that in this subject we are dealing with practical matters on the ground where, although we all know the difference, when we see it, between bad workmanship and finish and so on, it is not exactly easy to define it, and still less easy, I think, is it to determine whether a falling short of the best standards does so in any particular case to a degree that really goes to the root of the matter so that it ought to be replaced, or whether it is something which one must accept if one is, so to speak, buying a Mini and not a Rolls-Royce. Quite clearly, there are limits to the standards which one can demand when trying to buy, or to build, indeed, down to a reasonable price.
However, I think that there has crept in over the years a certain lack of interest in the high standards we used to see, I think, in most craft trades. I remember that when I was at the Ministery I opened a council estate of which the council, up in the North-West, was very proud. I was taken round the show house. I admit to being a little bit particular, being a rather enthusiastic do-it-yourselfer, but I noticed, when walking up the stairs, that the skirting board had been painted over but had not been planed in the first place; one could see the splinters sticking through. This is something which does not go to the root of the structure, but, equally, it is not something one would gladly accept, if paying for high craftsmanship. We are also dealing with defects which, in many cases, one cannot possibly discover by an inspection once the house has been completed.
So I very much hope that my hon. Friend's attempt to deal with this matter will be welcomed by the Government, as it has been in the debate, as not only a worth-while objective but as something for which, again as the speeches have shown, and with many hon. Members giving examples, there is a very real need even if the actual number of cases is not a large proportion of the total number of houses which are built.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman, when he replies, will not do as I think most 873 Government spokesmen are tempted to do, whatever their party, make too much of any defects of draftsmanship. The Government have a monopoly of the Government draftsmen on public legislation, and the best thing a private Member can do is to get some help from Parliamentary agents who deal with private legislation, which is really a different art. I know that my hon. Friend has taken the advice and help of an eminent Parliamentary draftsman, and has done so, in the public interest, entirely at his own expense. I think that we do owe him a considerable debt for that. Having had the privilege of being associated with him in the preparation of the Bill to some extent, though I would not claim to have done a great deal of the work, I have been immensely impressed by the hard work and interest which my hon. Friend himself has put into it.
I think that we all appreciate that we are dealing with, so to speak, two different types of defects. We are dealing, in the first place, with major structural defects which may result in the roof blowing off or the foundations collapsing, and, in the second place, with those defects of finish which are often much more difficult to deal with, though it seems to me we can at least console ourselves that they have no such catastrophic effects on the purchasers as do the major defects when they appear.
Turning to the first type of defects, the major structural defects, several Members have referred to the debate which was raised in the last Parliament by the then Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, Mr. Hervey Rhodes, now Lord Rhodes. He told us about an estate in his constituency which had been built on land which was known to be liable to subsidence, and, in addition, the concrete for the foundations had been mixed with an aggregate which, again, was well known in the building industry to produce a chemical reaction which resulted in the whole of the concrete, so to speak powdering, and being completely incapable of bearing the strain put upon it.
§ Sir D. Glover
May I correct my hon. Friend? He is absolutely right in what he says about Lord Rhodes's point raised in a debate about that estate in his constituency, but I think he said 874 that this was something which became known afterwards but was not known much before that time.
§ Mr. Corfield
I thank my hon. Friend, but I think I am right in saying—I admit that I have not checked in the last day or two, but I am fairly certain—that before that estate was built there had been articles published in the building trade Press pointing out that this particular type of aggregate, which, as far as I remember, was a by-product of coal mining, was not suitable for concrete, at any rate concrete which was to bear any form of stress. If I am wrong I should not like to cast aspersions which are not justified on builders, but I am fairly certain that that is what happened.
The results on the houses were absolutely devastating. Mr. Rhodes produced some photographs which, in some cases, showed whole floors had collapsed. I remember that in one case the whole corner of the house had fallen completely out. The costs of reinstatement, if I remember rightly, were estimated to be up to about £800 a house. I am bound to say, having looked at the photographs, that it seemed to me a considerable underestimate. I was not readily convinced that that sort of damage could be put right at that sort of price.
However that may be, they were costs which, in relation to the purchase price of £3,250 or £3,500, could have had an absolutely catastrophic effect on the finances of the purchasers, because many young people buying houses at that sort of price are already mortgaged to the hilt of their resources, and could not even begin to contemplate such an addition. —which amounts to buying a house in a bracket, perhaps, £1,000 more than they had contemplated, and which they certainly could not afford to pay.
Among other cases that came to my attention was a house which, three or four years after completion, was found to contain very rampant dry rot. Investigations showed that the allegedly waterproof floor material was in no way waterproof and, underneath, did not have even the beginnings of what we would regard as a damp course. The result was that the dry rot had run right through the house in a very short time. 875 The contract-maintenance period had expired, and in any case the purchasers had no contractual relationship with the builder as they had purchased from the developer. As a result of that and other cases brought to my attention, I have become absolutely passionately convinced that we must stop this sort of thing.
That is not to say that I suggest for one moment that all this is very widespread, but it is quite clear that when it does happen the effects are simply devastating. Further, as we increase the number of our houses, however small the proportion of defective structures it can still mean a very large number. That is why we are not only grateful to my hon. Friend but why we hope that the House and the Government will give serious attention to getting this Bill—which no doubt is improvable—through Committee, and so enable some protection to be given to the purchaser.
In some cases, it means that one is really buying something that is called a house, but which is not a habitable house by modern standards at all. Here we have a very sharp differentiation between the laws governing house purchase and those governing the sale of goods. In the latter case, one at least has the opportunity to follow a defect through the retailer and the wholesaler to the manufacturer, whereas the purchase of a house has normally no such protection other than that given by the contract under which he buys.
I also suggest that the whole of our housing problem, in terms both of numbers of houses required and the shortage of land, is such that we cannot afford either the land or the resources to build structures if that is the word, which purport to be houses but which cannot be made into habitable houses without further expenditure—often completely in-determinate. Quite apart from the expense, of course, there is the very considerable inconvenience caused to those who have just moved in.
Both my hon. Friend and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D.Walker-Smith) referred to the National House-Builders Registration Council, to which I think some hon. Members opposite were 876 rather less than fair. This organisation has set itself out, recently, at any rate, to improve its standards very considerably, and it is fair to say that it is trying to meet the problem within its sphere. I think that the difficulty is that, as the Council itself would admit, its sphere is perhaps not wide enough—
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Charles Loughlin)
I know that it is unusual for a member of another Department to intervene in this way, but on this occasion I have a personal reason for doing so. I have just had personal experience of this Council. It did an extremely good job for me with builders, and I should like to pay tribute to it.
§ Mr. Will Griffiths
Perhaps I, too, may intervene—at least I have taken part in the debate. Does the hon. Gentleman accept, or does he not, the Which? findings which showed that in practical terms, out of 1,600 questionnaires filled in and returned to Which?, over 500 had had their houses built under the Council's scheme, and the defects in their houses were as extensive and exactly the same as in those built by people outside the scheme? What does the hon. Gentleman say to that?
§ Mr. Corfield
I would say that as far as I recollect that article, which I read with some interest, there was no single instance of the major structural defects about which I have just been talking. It is in that respect that the Council's work has proved particularly valuable. I will come later to what I call the defects of finish—the warped doors, and so on.
It is the structural defect that has the devastating results that I have mentioned. I think that the hon. Gentleman would be very pushed indeed to find examples of the sort of thing I have just been talking about, and about which Lord Rhodes talked, which had slipped from the net of the National House-Builders Registration Council, without at least the purchaser getting the remedy—and that, I think, is the crux of the problem.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
Would my hon. Friend also make it clear that part of the remedy of the Registration Council is to set right defects that may be legitimately complained of; and that, as well 877 as prevention, cure is also part of the Council's function? Secondly, would my hon. Friend agree that the Council has been right, at a time of stretched resources, to concentrate on defects of structure, because they are latent defects which will not be so readily susceptible on completion, whereas defects of finish are more obvious but far less fundamental?
§ Mr. Corfield
My point is, indeed, that it is structural defects that are devastating when they occur, and which I agree should have the priority. Defects of finish are so much more difficult to define. I doubt whether any of us have employed a builder of whom it would not be possible for us, if faced with an invitation to complain, as was the case with the Which? questionnaire, to put clown something derogatory if we wished. We should bear that in mind.
As my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out, the limitations of the National House-Builders Registration Council are, first, that as a voluntary organisation, it does not cover the whole field, and it is fairly clear that although its membership has considerably increased in the last six to 18 months, it will be some years before it begins to have anything like 80 to 85 per cent. coverage.
Secondly, until it does that, house builders who are outside the scheme will be regarded, so to speak, as perfectly normal instead of being the exceptions which require looking at by prospective purchasers with some suspicion. It will be too slow a process to rely on the voluntary principle to extend so as to cover the whole field.
My right hon. and learned Friend's intervention was particularly welcome, because some of us are aware of his long association in this connection, and particularly of the great contribution that his really very remarkable father—to whom he has been kind enough to introduce me and to meet on a number of occasions—made in this direction. But my right hon. and learned Friend and others—and particularly the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short)—raised the whole question of the adequacy of the possible supply of the inspectors.
878 It is true that this skill, as is the case with many other skills, is in great demand by local authorities, insurance companies and also by the National House-Builders Registration Council. But it is also true that we can go a long way if we can extend this inspection scheme gradually over the country, especially in areas where there is the greatest pressure and where, by definition, the greatest number of houses will be built within a reasonable area and where a minimum number of inspectors can carry out a maximum number of inspections in a relatively short time.
The further problem is that, praiseworthy and important as it is to try to prevent these things occurring, it is also important to ensure that when they do occur the purchaser has a remedy. Here again, I thought that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East was rather destructive in her remarks. The Bill ensures that the remedies will be infinitely better than anything that has been available before.
The hon. Lady said that her right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government would look at the matter sympathetically. That may be so, but he will have the same problem of recruiting inspectors. It is no good saying that we can guarantee to prevent structural defects arising unless we have somebody to inspect during the course of construction—because after construction these defects cannot be seen. The problem of recruiting therefore arises whether a local authority, an insurance company or the Minister himself recruits. This criticism does not go to the root of the problem.
Several hon. Members opposite asked why this job should not be done by local authorities. However good their staffs may be, even in the area covered by the London Building Act they could not do this job without recruiting more staff. Two problems would arise if we gave this job to local authorities, apart from the difficulty of recruitment, which is common to all suggested schemes. First, if a local authority officer passed a building, would there be any protection to the purchaser if it subsequently turned out that that officer had made a mistake and that his warranty was valueless because of that mistake? It may be that he signed something wrongly, or had not looked at the 879 construction very closely. Would the local authority be financially responsible to the purchaser? If that were to be the case it would certainly be an entirely new concept.
That is a strong reason why there are grounds for saying that a local authority is probably not the best sort of body to intervene as an arbiter between a private builder on the one hand and a private purchaser on the other. A local authority has to carry out many other duties, and I am not sure that it would be helped in its public relations with its electorate in carrying out those duties if it sat in judgment in what amounted to a private dispute—which, in this country, we have always regarded as being either the function of a court or some form of arbitration or tribunal. I suggest that this point should be taken into account before anyone glibly says, "Let us employ lots more local authority inspectors to do the job."
Several hon. Members referred to the new building regulations. We would all agree that these should be a great improvement on the rather odd collection of byelaws and the odd differentiations between the byelaws of different local authorities which have grown up over the years. As I understand, however, when those building regulations are introduced they will cover only the same sort of standards as were covered by the bye-laws. Until we have fresh legislation I do not think that the problems of electrical wiring to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds referred, or the methods of escaping from fire for example, can be covered. I admit that this is a purely historical matter, but it is impossible for us to cover by legislation matters other than those dealt with by byelaws under the Public Health Acts. As I understand, these regulations cannot be the comprehensive regulations that hon. Members have in mind as having a real bearing on the workmanship and structure of houses, with a view to providing some degree of protection to the purchaser.
I now turn to the question of minor defects. I agree that although they may be classed as minor defects they can be extremely irritating, and can involve sums of money which are by no means to be dismissed, especially in relation to 880 the people that we have in mind. We are thinking mainly of people who have just made the biggest investment of their lives—people who have invested every penny of their savings and who can at that moment be considerably embarrassed if they are faced with the prospect of having to find even an extra £15. Nevertheless, we must remember that in this respect we are up against a much more difficult problem, both in terms of definition and of the enforcement of any standards which are laid down.
We are dealing with such defects as bad paintwork, warped doors and ill-fitting windows. If we are to make progress it would be wise that a warning should go out to prospective purchasers that it will be difficult quickly to work out a wholly satisfactory scheme. Even if the Minister undertakes the task, any scheme that we can produce to deal with this side of the problem is likely to have to evolve, with a considerable degree of trial and probably error.
We cannot sit down here and now and work out a scheme which will precisely determine which sort of lowering of standards should create a right to obtain a remedy from the builder, and which sort of lowering of standards we can accept because, as I said earlier, we are buying a Mini and not a Rolls-Royce. There is also the difficulty involved in the case of those defects which are so bad that they almost come into the major defect class, although they are, as it were, on the surface.
The Bill gives us an opportunity to try to improve still further the standards of building and therefore the living standards of our people. It will be a very odd society if we ever reach the stage in which anything that we have done can be said to be perfect, and to have no room for improvement. There is no party clash here; there is no question that because an improvement may be made somebody has fallen down in the past. We must always be going forward. We are all agreed that there is some room for improvement here, even if the number of houses affected forms only a very small proportion of the total number of houses built, and the number of builders forms only a very small proportion of the total number of builders.
881 I hope that the Government will give the Measure a fair wind, so that we can go forward into Committee. I hope that there will be a common aim to improve the Bill not only as a vehicle designed to protect the house purchaser but also as something to be welcomed by the house-building industry, which wants to see the elimination of those who give the industry a bad name which the great majority of builders certainly do not deserve. It may be that the Minister will suggest that it will be better to withdraw the Bill and start again with Government help. That will be a matter for my hon. Friend. That will be very much better than nothing. But if that is to be the attitude of the Government it is a pity that the Minister of Housing and Local Government did not seize the opportunity which my hon. Friend offered him to come in right at the start and help with the Bill, thereby—apart from anything else—saving my hon. Friend a good deal of time and a not inconsiderable amount of money.
If this is to be the attitude of the Government I hope that they will bear in mind that this is a matter in respect of which there is no case for delay, even if we cannot cover the whole field. I agree that the setting up of an inspectorate is a fairly formidable task. But in the meantime we cannot afford to leave the purchaser in the curious situation in which, if he does not happen to have a contract with the builder, his chance of obtaining a remedy—let alone preventing something happening—becomes extremely remote if anything should go wrong two, three or four years afterwards which can, nevertheless, be fairly easily traced to an original defect in the building.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say that we should send the Bill to a Committee. Obviously, it contains defects—there are defects in all Bills—which may be discussed during the Committee stage, so that it may be put into first-class condition. If the hon. Member cannot say that, I hope he will give an undertaking that there will be no delay in pursuing the first part of the task or of following it very soon with the second.
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)
I am sure 882 the House will agree that this debate has been on a very high level. We are indebted to the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) for introducing the Bill. On behalf of my right hon. Friend, I say to the hon. Gentleman that we are sincerely grateful to him for giving us an opportunity to have this debate and that what I have to say later will, I hope, give him a great deal of satisfaction—I hope so.
Some of the things said by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) illustrated the problems. The hon. Gentleman has great experience in these matters. He was my predecessor in my present office. He has great knowledge of the problems which we face in trying to promote any scheme, whether voluntary or compulsory, to achieve what we all desire.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) made a notable speech. It is right that it should go out from the House that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who has a great personal knowledge of this matter and associations with the industry, has come down in favour of a compulsory scheme. In the light of experience he considers that a voluntary scheme is not right today. It is important that the House should clearly understand that already, since the debates which we had in late 1963, there has been a change of emphasis. We all recognise that this is a non-party matter.
Before I refer in detail to the Bill and to some of the difficulties visualised by the Government, I wish to refer to some of the things said in the debate. All hon. Members who have spoken have considerable personal knowledge of this subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) has a fine personal record. He introduced his own legislation which was not accepted by the House. If I may say so, my hon. Friend was trying to achieve the same sort of thing which the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge is trying to achieve. My hon. Friend favours local authority control. He believes that the voluntary method has failed. One cannot ignore his opinion, in view of the fact that he has spent many years studying the problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee 883 Short) said that there was a lot to be learned from the French system with regard to the question of fixing responsibility, imposing fines, and so on. I understand that she, too, favours a measure of local authority control. Here we have two Members, with some experience, who believe that local authorities should be the deciding bodies.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) made a reference to pop singers going into the building industry. I agree that there are some odd people in the industry. If the standards of the people he referred to are no better than some of the singing, they will be pretty low. Part of the trouble is that the industry generally has a pretty good name. In fact, some of the people to whom reference has been made have nothing whatever to do with the building industry as such.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Will Griffiths), who did not see why the hon. Member should refer to inspectors as "snoopers". It could be argued that public health inspectors are snoopers, but no local authority could do without them. The part which public health inspectors play is essential to the system of maintaining health. Let us get it clear that the hon. Member who introduced the Bill is introducing a system which would result in the provision of a large inspectorate. I shall have something more to say about that. If these people are snoopers, I can only comment that they would be snooping for a good purpose which most of us would welcome.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred to standards of workmanship and materials and hoped that whatever happened in the future the Parker Morris standards would be those on which we should insist at all levels. He did not think that the Bill went far enough. One thing which has emerged from this debate is that all hon. Members hope that the Government will make it clear that they do not oppose the Bill merely for drafting reasons. I am advised that the Bill has been drafted in a first-class manner. I could not find fault with it, even if I wanted to, on the basis that this or that Clause would have to be 884 redrafted. That is not the reason why I shall ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his Bill. I say sincerely that it is a remarkable effort which tries to achieve what hon. Members on both sides of the House want to achieve.
As I have said, we welcome the opportunity to discuss this question. The House will be aware that it is the intention of my right hon. Friend to provide better protection for the house purchaser. I am asked to say that he has every sympathy with the aim of the promoters of the Bill. The question we have to answer is whether the provisions in the Bill are necessary. We should, first, look at the size of the problem in order to get it in proportion. Not all builders are bad builders. Most of them are good builders. Only a small minority get the limelight, and all the evidence available, including that contained in the controversial article which appeared in Which?, suggests that there is little bad building but that there is slipshod workmanship and bad finish.
The first question we have to ask is whether the complex machinery of registration, inspection, certification, recording and the approval of schemes by the Privy Council is necessary to protect the house purchaser, if we agree that it is bad finishing which is at fault. It may well be that it is not necessary and that we are proposing to set up this whole apparatus to deal with one small section of the building industry.
We know that something must be done. but what is done must not slow down house building. That is very important. We are all asking that house building should be quicker and better and we must make sure that whatever we do to achieve the standards we desire will not slow it down. My right hon. Friend has thought it right to consult all the interests most concerned, the consumer, the builder, the building trade operatives, local authorities, the building societies and the professions.
My right hon. Friend did this after he had received the report of the working party set up by the National Federation of Building Trade Employers, which had reluctantly come to the same conclusion as the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East about the need for compulsion, and compulsory 885 registration under the National House-Builders Registration Council. My right hon. Friend is not convinced that compulsory registration with any body would necessarily be the right approach.
I am sure that hon. Members will agree that what is done should be done or the broadest possible base of agreement among the interests concerned. Otherwise, it will not work. Consultations are not complete, but I can tell the House that already there is a wide range of different suggestions about what needs to be done. I will tell hon. Members some of them. The Consumers' Council, the body best able to speak for the purchaser, is against compulsory registration but this body, like the Association of Municipal Corporations and the Urban District Councils' Association think that the position of the purchaser in law should be improved.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Chartered Auctioneers and Estate Agents' Institute believe that, if structural defects are to be eliminated, there must be a compulsory scheme, but they would like at the same time to see stronger building regulations. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South asked me about building regulations. I understand that they are likely to be published in the summer and they will come into effect early in 1966.
§ Mr. Corfield
I think that I was right in saying that they cannot be comprehensive until we have new legislation.
§ Mr. Mellish
I gather that that is so.
Other bodies favour an extension of building regulations or a scheme enforced by local authorities as likely to give the right answer. Here are some of the comments which have been made. The Royal Institute of British Architects says:Jerry-building should be stamped out by the strict enforcement of modern building regulations".The County Councils' Association, in a letter dated 24th March, says that a compulsory scheme could best be administered by local authorities. This is a matter on which there is already a difference of opinion, and no such provision is made in the hon. Gentleman's Bill. However, that is the view of the County Councils' Association.
The Association of Municipal Corporations thinks that compulsory registration 886 is desirable, but for the limited purposes of giving the purchaser an assurance that he is dealing with a competent concern and to facilitate compulsory insurance. It considers that the main solution should be found in building regulations, going on to make the important point that the supply of qualified building inspectors is limited and that those who are available would be better employed by local authorities than by some new statutory body.
Whether we like it or not, this is the problem. Is there the number of people available to do the work? They really must be qualified. There is no question here, as there is in some other kinds of inspection, of sending an assistant health inspector round to check on multi-occupation, for instance. These must be men who know what they are looking for and where to look.
The National Federation of Building Trade Operatives thinks that the real reason for jerry-building is subcontracting, saying that if a subcontractor doing concrete foundations makes a mistake, he is not concerned that the bricklayer will be inconvenienced. A sub-contractor taking on the bricklaying is not concerned about putting right what the concreter has done wrongly, and so the job may be progressively botched up as each trade does its bit. Incidentally, we understand that the notorious hand-basin only 2 ft. above the floor which was mentioned in the famous article in Which? was the work of a sub-contractor.
The Building Societies Association is studying the possibility of advances being dependent on either a standard form of warranty being given, or builder registered with the National House-Builders Registration Council, or on construction being supervised by a qualified architect or surveyor.
Although we welcome the Bill as an imaginative contribution to the thought which is being given to this problem from many sides, the Government must take the view that the Bill is at this moment premature. To say that this is the very best that can do would at this moment be wrong, in our view. We must complete our consultations.
I would like also to mention the House Buyers Protection Bill, which my hon. 887 Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) recently introduced, which tackles the same problem in a much broader way. I assure my hon. Friend that his Bill, too, is being very seriously considered with a view to deciding whether his ideas, or some of them, ought to be implemented. We are also studying the Report of the Working Party on the N.H.B.R.C. scheme and the action taken subsequently by that body to improve the scheme. Hon. Members will recall that this is a voluntary scheme operated by a Council which includes a wide range of representation not by any means confined to the building industry and which now covers almost 40 per cent. of private house building.
If I may say so, the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge and my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston were wrong in the figures which they gave of the number of houses in the private building industry which are the responsibility of the Council. It is important to have it on record that the Council has now achieved 40 per cent. membership by number of houses in this sector. I think that the hon. Gentleman spoke about 20 per cent.
§ Mr. Stainton
I have no wish to mislead the House. I took my figures from the report on house-builders' registration put out by the National Federation of Building Trades Employers. In fact, my information was taken straight from the statistical details appearing on page 9. That information takes us up to 1963, and 1964 has now intervened. I have here a handwritten note from the director of the N.H.B.R.C. saying, "We have probably a little over one-third of all houses under construction". There is still a wide difference.
§ Mr. Mellish
Well, there it is. I can only say that the advice I have been given from the people concerned is that they have 40 per cent. membership by number of houses among those engaged in private building.
The Council's scheme provides for a specification, a system of inspection and certification, and an undertaking to make good defects, and provision for arbitration. The N.H.B.R.C. has recently provided consumer representation on the 888 Council, and it has now ensured protection to house purchasers against builders who go bankrupt during the building of a house up to a maximum of £750 a house. It has also agreed that, if the builder should go bankrupt after a house is built, the N.H.B.R.C. will remedy any significant defects which may arise.
The Council has varied improvements in train, perhaps the most significant being a substantial improvement in its standard of specification. I understand that it hopes to publish a part of these specifications shortly—the part which will cover certain design standards such as better planned and safer kitchens, the number of electrical socket outlets, thermal insulation, and certain heating and safety aspects. We have yet to hear from the Council about this. The new construction standards, which will include the building regulations and some detailed requirements in the matter of workmanship, will be published when the building regulations are made.
The Council has other things in train, for instance, the extension of the guarantee period from two to five years for construction work. It has called in a firm of management consultants to advise on how its inspection service can be improved, and it has other ideas in mind to deal with the recalcitrant builder in its scheme. I do not think that I need go further. I take it that almost all hon. Members will have received the same letter as I received yesterday, with the appropriate booklet, from the National House-Builders Registration Council.
When our consultations are completed, my right hon. Friend will proceed with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works, who is very much concerned in this problem, to consider which of the several possible lines of action we ought to pursue. There are a number of difficult and complicated decisions to be taken, and I am sure that we shall be better able to arrive at wise decisions when we have fully studied the many valuable suggestions which have been made.
Here are a few of the problems. If registration and the prescription and enforcement of standards are generally desired, then we must consider whether these should be compulsory or be met by extension of the existing voluntary 889 arrangement, that is to say, the scheme administered by the National House-Builders Registration Council with the improvements which that body is introducing. It may well be that the voluntary scheme will prove to be the best, with the improvements in it which the Council is about to suggest.
If it is agreed that a compulsory scheme is needed, there is then the question of choice of method. It might be possible, for example, to make the N.H.B.R.C. scheme compulsory, as the working party proposed. Then there is the method proposed in the Bill—that is, a new statutory body. The third possibility, which I know finds favour on my side of the House, is that this should be the responsibility of local authorities. If this were the solution, it would require quite a different Bill from the one proposed by the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge. I have no doubt that some hon. Members opposite may well favour local authority intervention and control.
As I have said, some of the views which we received expressed a strong preference for local authority administration, and this would pose its own problems. I say to some of my hon. Friends that they must not ignore the problems which a local authority take-over would create.
How do we relate such a scheme to the building regulations? Should the scope of the building regulations be widened? Should provision be made for the purchaser to have some redress, which is not available at present? Should local authorities administer the regulations and a separate scheme? If the latter, how should inspection, which is the essential ingredient of any effective scheme, be geared with local authority inspection for building regulation purposes?
There is great attraction in a compulsory scheme being carried out by local authorities, but at this stage there are so many imponderables in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works, with his responsibility for the building regulations, is so closely concerned that without further consultation and study it is quite impossible to say what is the right and practicable answer at this precise moment. What I can say is that we could not be sure that we 890 had reached the best solution until all the possible lines of advance which I have mentioned have been fully considered.
One matter pressed on me from many quarters is the need to improve the remedies available to the purchaser. There are several ways in which this can be carried out. It can be achieved by a warranty operated by the body which enforces the standards, as is proposed in the Bill. It can be done by a scheme operated by the building societies on the lines to which I have previously referred which is being studied by the Building Societies Association. But would a warranty be enough? May there not be a need for legislation to change basically the contractual position of the purchaser? We shall certainly want to consider something on these lines before we bring forward any proposals.
Another suggestion which has been made to us is that 10 per cent. of the purchase price should be paid to the local authority or some other body to hold for a specified period of time and paid at the end of that time if defects which had arisen had been remedied. I ask hon. Members whether they believe that this is a practicable proposition. Obviously, from what we have heard, it is doubtful whether this is even a starter. But it has been proposed to us by people in local government service.
Part of the problem may help to solve itself by the use of industrialised methods of building. The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East twitted us that the trouble with the building industry was that it was like a football team always playing away from home and on other people's ground and never playing on its own home territory and that, unlike normal factory manufacturers, it did not work in nice dry conditions, and so on. There is no doubt that with the growth of industrial building it will be playing at home all the time.
§ Mr. Mellish
I agree. Obviously, traditional building methods will continue. No one believes that we shall reach the stage when traditional building methods have been abolished.
As I have said, industrial building methods can help. Finishes are applied in dry factory conditions so that there 891 is not the same possibility of finishing defects as there is in houses built by traditional methods in the open air with wet and natural materials. But we do not, of course, intend to rely on that.
I hope that I have said enough to show that the Government intend to do something about the harassing, frustrating and aggravating situation in which some house purchasers find themselves. But I hope that I have convinced hon. Members that the answer may not lie in this Bill. However, I undertake that the Government will make a statement as soon as they have formed a view on the large number of issues which have arisen.
May I say something personal to the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge which, I hope, he will accept from me as being very sincere. I think that he realises that there are many complications. If the Bill is given a Second Reading, and goes upstairs to Committee, I do not know whether it would remain in anything like its present shape. I give him an assurance that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be coming to the House to make a statement of intent. I hope that that statement will be made reasonably shortly.
I cannot promise legislation, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that before he makes that statement of intent my right hon. Friend will consult the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge and my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe, and he will consult, on a non-party basis, those in the House who have a special interest in this matter to ensure that at the end of the day they understand the reasons for the conclusions which he will formulate.
The hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge has done the House and the country a great service in promoting the Bill. He has enabled a first-class debate to take place between people who have a genuine interest in making sure that those who buy homes have the right to protection against a very small but important minority of builders.
I would like to place on record my appreciation of the work that has already been done, and that is being done, on a voluntary basis by many people. There is indeed scope for their activities. However, if the hon. Member decides to press the matter to a division I must advise 892 the House, in view of the statement I have made, to oppose the Second Reading.
I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will accept my assurance and will appreciate that we wish to achieve the sort of thing he has in mind.
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
It is customary for hon. Members to declare their interests when speaking in debates. I do so at the outset because I am a builder with some little interest in house building. I must also, before proceeding, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) on drawing attention to the matters raised by his Bill and for introducing the Measure.
I have listened to the whole debate with much interest, and the discussion has done credit to the House. Since the Joint Parliamentary Secretary expressed the hope that my hon. Friend would withdraw the Bill and indicated that other Measures would be brought in at a later date, I hope that it will be convenient for me to give my views on the various points that have been adduced, since I speak with some practical knowledge of the building industry. I am sure that all the views expressed have been put forward in good faith, although some of them might have been adduced without the hon. Members concerned having had much practical experience.
The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) mentioned that when he was introducing a Measure he had had only one letter from Scotland and none from the London area, where the district surveyors operate. It should be remembered that very little house building for sale goes on in Scotland, where there are such uneconomic rents that it is somewhat unrealistic for people to buy their own houses. As to the question of there having been no trouble in houses built under the supervision of district surveyors, I remind the hon. Member for Bilston—and I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will confirm this—that district surveyors work on a quite different basis. They operate under London building legislation and their position is very much more that of consulting engineers than local building inspectors. Further, 893 relatively few houses are erected in the areas which they control since, in the main, high density development goes on in those areas. It should also be remembered that the fees which the district surveyors charge for inspecting buildings are very different from those which a local authority would impose.
I was delighted to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) refer to his father, because I, too, have very happy memories of him. My uncle was the president of the Institute of Builders at the time when the hon. Gentleman's father had just been appointed. His father was kind enough to say that due to the support of my uncle, his father was given the impetus and enthusiasm to establish a registered housebuilders' organisation.
Much play has been made about builders never having to play at home like the average football team. I think I am correct in saying that the only industries similar to building are farming and shipbuilding, since their activities also mainly take place in the open. It has been suggested that building is a sheltered industry and that, because of that, there cannot be proper competition with other countries. It should be remembered that many builders do not only operate in their own countries but throughout the world. If it were a sheltered industry we would soon find builders from other countries coming here to build houses. Indeed, it has hardly happened at all.
It is interesting to note that one of the firms that began as house builders in this country, Wimpey's—it is a competitor of my firm so I am not indulging in personal advertising—is the largest contractor in the world. It has activities all over the world based on the hard experience it has had in this country and it has been extremely successful.
I always seem to be taking part in debates in which the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short) also takes part. I thank her today for allowing me time as opposed to the case last Monday when she left me only three minutes. The hon. Lady made a very good point but a very weak case. She referred to the fact that local authorities should provide the inspectors. When I asked whether the local authorities in that case would insure 894 the buildings and take responsibility she did not give a satisfactory answer.
The crux of the problem is whether we give people authority without responsibility or responsibility without authority. The only ultimate responsibility in this problem is, who pays the bill to put things right in the end? When the Minister is considering what he can do to fit such a scheme as this in with his own doctrinaire approach, I ask him to bear in mind that there can be a whole army of inspectors but, if they are not really responsible for paying for the thing in the end, they will do little good.
The hon. Lady also referred to the fact that a bad builder might be put out of business but could get his wife to take over. I do not think that she has read Clause 9, whereby registration could be prohibited to anyone who had not made a reputation.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke with extraordinary Yorkshire candour but had some difficulty in separating that Yorkshire candour from Socialist principles. I only make the point because he made a very good suggestion about increasing efficiency but went on to say that he thought that this would best be done by the local authorities. There was some cross-talk then about whether the private builder or the local authority would produce the better products.
I have some experience of this because, when the Labour Government came to power in 1945, I was called in by the Minister then responsible, Nye Bevan, to discuss with him how private enterprise houses could be rented. My company was then building houses at Elm Park, a place which is in the news at the moment. Mr. Bevan wanted to discuss with me how these houses, instead of being sold—which was against the policy of the Labour Government at the time—could be taken over for the local authorities for renting.
We readily agreed. A builder does not mind who he is building for as long as he can get on with the job. I remember the figures so well because, of course, I was closely connected with the case. We were building houses at the time for £1 a ft. super. That may now seem to be a remarkable figure. The Minister said that in taking them over in order to rent 895 them to tenants, the Government would like the builders to incorporate in the houses certain recommendations by several committees. In my innocence, I thought that this was perfectly sensible. One of the first recommendations was that every house should have a downstairs lavatory. The only way to put a downstairs lavatory into this type of house was to put it under the staircase. Although on a plan a W.C. under the staircase would seem to fit easily into the slope of the stairs, in point of fact ultimately it never works, because people bump their heads at the most unpractical of times. A number of other suggestions were made.
The point of this story is that at the end of two or three months the price of the house had risen from £l to 23s. per ft. super. Within two years it had risen to 28s. These houses have now been standing for 20 years. Anyone interested should compare these houses which started with exactly the same plan, but one cost about 25 per cent. more than the other. This was because there was local authority interference and a committee said that what the practical builder had decided was wrong.
That is what I fear about the new legislation. I fear it much more at present, because people in the industry realise it is not yet public knowledge, although the Minister may know it by now—that the present high Bank Rate has so dried up the supply of money that practically all the big companies are having to stop building houses to sell, because they know they cannot get funds. What looks like an easy situation is not so. I am convinced that unless something is done about this immediately the 200,000 houses which have in the past normally been supplied by private enterprise will dry up within a year. It cannot dry up immediately, because a number of starts are ahead of completion. For the sake of those waiting in the queue for a house, I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is able to persuade the Treasury to implement the Labour Party's promise of a low interest rate for house purchase, because nobody is putting money into building societies today when he can get a higher rate of interest elsewhere.
Much has been said about the report in Which? It was a very interesting but 896 unrealistic report. If a group of people were asked to make a report about anything for which they had paid a considerable amount of money, those who were dissatisfied would be the ones who bothered to write in complaint, whether it was about motor cars, refrigerators or anything else. What I found amazing about the Which? report is how anybody, however ignorant or frightened, could take delivery of a house with a washbasin two feet above the ground and not complain before they paid for the house.
One of the problems connected with building which could not be covered by this legislation, nor indeed by any legislation brought in by the party opposite, is the maintenance of buildings. The B.B.C. is doing much to help by educating the public more. Although it seems to be common knowledge that one should not take a brand new car and immediately drive it at 60 m.p.h., people today turn on the central heating to its full pitch and try to dry the house out within a few hours. Then they wonder why they get cracks.
The problem which we are discussing is the building industry as a whole, and how to legislate to get better control, and a better sense of responsibility, and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have been kind enough to say that the larger building firms have a sense of responsibility. Much has been made of the fact that a number of very small firms, from chimney sweeps upwards, have started to build houses. One of the problems of the building industry is that any Member of this House, or any member of the public, can buy a ladder, a bucket and spade and say that he is a builder.
When people talk about the motor car industry, it is easy to appreciate the difference between B.M.C. factories and the local garage, but nobody really appreciates the difference between a large building firm, which is equivalent to a British Motor Corporation company, and a little local jobbing builder—some of whom are extremely good of course—in the village, who is the equivalent of a little garage proprietor.
Just as the small, inexperienced garage proprietor gives garage proprietors as a whole a bad name, so the small inexperienced builder who suddenly starts up in 897 business, having bought himself a bucket, a. spade and a ladder, gets the building industry a bad name. What we have to do is to make it much more difficult for people to class themselves as builders.
I believe that the Institute of Builders, of which I am a fellow, has been making great strides with this of late. I hope that in due course it will come to the House for a Royal Charter, because the crux of the matter is ensuring that a person obtains a qualification before he is given the responsibility of building houses. If we are going to bring in legislation, let us bring in legislation which covers the whole of the building industry, and not just this aspect of house building.
Everybody has talked today about builders and about dissatisfied clients, but nobody has made the point which I should like to make from practical experience. There are really three types of client, if not four. There is the person who does nothing whatever about anything until he gets into the premises, and then, if he is not satisfied, he grouses. Next there is the client who comes along and feels that he wants to take an interest in the work that is being done, and he nags and nags and nags, with the result that people do not respect his judgment. The third type is the person who is able to praise. I have been amazed at clients who have come along and praised the men doing the work. It has had an amazing effect on them and on the quality of their work.
Perhaps I might tell the House of my experience when working fairly near this Chamber. My company had the privilege of rebuilding Lambeth Palace after the war. We had a very keen and enthusiastic gang of men at work there. They were encouraged in their work because the then Archbishop of Canterbury went round once a week, and when he saw a particularly good piece of plasterwork he insisted on going to the foreman and saying, "That is a beautiful wall. Who did it?" The plasterer was then presented, and with due ceremony the Archbishop congratulated him on his work and, by Jove, the next week that man did even better work.
At the end of that contract the Archbishop decided to hold a tea party, as a continuation of his policy of good client relations. He said that he wanted all 898 the men who had worked on the job to have afternoon tea with him and to bring their wives. Unfortunately I could not go myself, but afterwards I asked one of our gangers what he thought of the Archbishop and he said, "You know, Sir, that man is a b … Christian". When I told the Archbishop of this, he said: "That is the first unsolicited compliment I have ever had." That is one part of the chain of events.
Hon. Members opposite have said that when they bring in legislation they will consult all parties. I hope that they will consult all practical parties; that they will visit areas where houses are being built, and will accept the suggestion that we should have a qualification, possibly through the Institute of Builders, to cover the whole industry.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I am glad to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), because in this excellent debate it is about time that someone paid more than passing tribute to the high standards observed by the great part of the building industry. Of those hon. Members who have sat through this debate, I probably have more occupiers of new houses of my constituency than any, and although I shall have some critical things to say I am sure that satisfied customers in those houses represent the overwhelming majority. Many of the houses are delightfully built and well constructed, and I do not think that the occupiers have any complaints.
I say that they have no complaints, but that is probably not quite true. I have lived in my present house for 30 years, and if, even after 30 years, I were asked to fill in this Which? questionnaire, I could certainly find something to complain of to the builder, if I knew where he was. That is inevitable with house building. We hear the complaint about a washbasin 2 ft. from the floor—obviously made for a gnome of Zurich; probably here on a permanent mission—but these things do happen from time to time. Perhaps the plumber who fitted the basin was himself a little man and thought that to have it 2 ft. from the floor was about right. That sort of thing happens in even the best regulated families.
899 I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) on bringing in this Bill and presenting it, as I thought, magnificently—with clarity, vigour and cogent argument. And then he was congratulated—something that I do not suppose often happens to a private Member —by the Government spokesman saying that his Measure could not be faulted on draftsmanship. I shall be sad, however, if my hon. Friend accepts the Treasury Bench advice and withdraws his Bill—that would be a pity, as it is one of the best Private Members' Bills I remember being presented. If it is withdrawn, it will show the very hard road that the private Member must tread to get legislation on the Statute Book. If, despite that advice, my hon. Friend were to take the view of the House, I would support him, even if no one else did.
The only thing I objected to in my hon. Friend's speech was that he seemed to think it a sign of inefficiency that someone on a building site should be called Alfy. Does he think that on a building site someone wanting the foreman shouts "Honourable Foreman"? Presumably the significance of being called Alfy was to indicate inefficiency. It has been said today that jerry-building has been known as that since the Norman Conquest. Perhaps it is high time that we coined a new word and called it "Alfy-building".
I should now like to refer to some of the faults of the occupiers of these houses. It may be that the National House-Builders Registration Council should send out far more information to buyers of houses about the things they should not do. We hear that people have complained that the plaster was cracked. When I went into my house, my builder told me that I would be very foolish if I ever put wallpaper on the walls and ceilings because, with the drying-out process, they would inevitably crack. That happens in every house as it dries out.
The hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short), whose speech I enjoyed very much—and with parts of which I was nearer to agreeing than with some of 900 the things said on this side—said that when one bought a house one bought a mass of water which had to be dried out. If that is done too quickly—as my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe said, by turning the central heating fully on—one inevitably creates faults which, because of lack of knowledge, one blames on the builder. If the central heating unit is put on full blast, the doors will warp, and all the rest of it. That is not the builder's fault, but the fault of the occupier, who has not been told enough about what he should and should not do in a new house.
Equally, anyone entering into a mortgage—which is probably the largest financial transaction he will have in his life—and takes over a house that has no door handles to it is probably not the sort of person who should buy a house at all. One has to accept that anyone buying a house is sufficiently composmentis to be able to count the door handles and try the doors themselves on taking over. A very large amount of responsibility rests on the occupier who has entered into this financial commitment to see that he is getting value for money.
I was looking recently at a group of houses in my constituency, when one of the householders, very irate, said "Our house is overrun with rats." When I asked why, she said, "Come to the bottom of the garden." There I saw a pile of railway sleepers that had been there for about 20 years. We climbed over the sleepers and on the other side was a rubbish dump which had been there for 30 years. Those people had bought the houses, but not one of them had ever climbed over the sleepers to see what was on the other side. One would have thought that people entering into a commitment of £2,000 or £2,500 would be sufficiently interested in the surroundings to make sure that such an eyesore or obnoxious business was not within 20 yards of the main bedroom window. Of course, it attracted rats. It was most unfortunate, but it was not anybody's responsibility any more than that of the person buying the house. I would not have bought a house in that area. It must, therefore, be taken into account that some of these problems are the responsibility of the purchaser just as much as of the builder.
901 I want to make it clear, as 1 think I have done, that I am not attacking builders as such. I believe that the bulk of them have done a very good job. I now come, however, to the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East. If my hon. Friend's Bill were to become law, I should like Clause 11 to be altered much on the lines of the hon. Lady's suggestion in the way of a 10–year compulsory insurance, because quite a lot of the structural things that go wrong with a house go wrong for no cause that the builder when he built the house had any reason to suspect. They are the things that may develop slowly.
The case has been cited of the bricks which suddenly began to collapse. Those bricks might not have collapsed for 10 years, but in this case the damage appeared to show earlier. I do not suppose that the builder knew that the bricks were of the calibre that would create the trouble. Therefore, in the structural building and foundation side, because of subsidence or for some other reason, trouble might occur, not in the first two or three years, but, perhaps, not for 10 years.
There was the celebrated case which Lord Rhodes raised in this House in 1963. There is a similar case in my constituency of live shale. The builders were of the highest repute and when they used the material way back in 1952 or 1953, they did so with complete confidence that it would be satisfactory. The damage to the houses did not develop for eight, nine or ten years, and by the time the damage developed many of the houses were in their second and third ownership. Where was the responsibility? There was no legal responsibility on the builders. We have, in fact, come to an arrangement with the builders, who are paying a substantial sum to help put the houses right. But it did not happen until nearly ten years afterwards.
An insurance scheme such as the hon. Lady for Wolverhampton, North-East suggested, which goes further than my hon. Friend's proposal, is necessary to cover that kind of structural fault that might develop in a building. The cost of such a compulsory insurance scheme would be very small, because the number of main structural faults of that nature 902 which develop is only a tiny fragment of the total number of houses built. I am sure that this insurance cost would be far less than for fire insurance. If it covered only the structural condition of the building for, say, 10 years, it should not be an additionally heavy burden on either the purchaser or the builder, because in my view the premium should be paid by both.
That kind of arrangement would remove the greatest danger to the owner-occupier. Although the owner-occupier naturally gets irate if somebody puts the washbasin only 2 ft. from the floor or if one of the doors warps, does not open and has to be planed down and altered, most of these are annoyances rather than disasters. It is the structural fault in a building that brings disaster to the owner-occupier, who, perhaps, has paid all the money he can find, is mortgaged up to the hilt and cannot get any more finance. If one of these disasters then comes upon him, he does not know what to do. He cannot get a second mortgage because the damage has shown in his house. He cannot get more money from the bank, and his wage or salary is already committed. It is, therefore, the structural fault to which the Government, when they introduce their Bill, should pay the greatest attention. The other matters are, in most cases, matters of detail. They are annoying. The Government should do everything they can to increase the standards of house building and responsibility.
In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe who is not now present, one must be a little cautious about saying that anybody who gets a bucket and ladder can become a builder. My hon. Friend is now at the head of one of our largest building and construction firms, but if he were to go back about 100 years we might find that their ancestors had a bucket and a ladder and started a business. The great firm of Unilever was started in a back room in Wigan making soap in kitchen utensils. That kind of thing would be ruled out by legislation of the sort which we are discussing, but quite a lot of the mammoth organisations of today started in a small way.
It does not necessarily follow that an ex-colonel, who was cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds
903 (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), is incompetent. He might have been in R.E.M.E. or the Royal Engineers. He might be highly qualified to build houses. It does not necessarily follow that even beatniks or a beat group are incompetent. Nobody knows what they were doing before they became famous as a beat group. They might have been building operatives and be quite competent to do the job. So we cannot generalise, but have to take each case on its merits.
I think that probably it is true that today, with modern technology, the modem means which we use for house building, the emphasis is on economy and that there is emphasis on the larger firms of house constructors, yet some of the best houses in my constituency have been built, not by people of that category, but by medium-sized firms who perhaps build 50 or 100 houses in a year. Their reputation in the district—and whose only reputation is in the locality—is very high, and they have to keep that reputation, and they are the people who build some of the best houses all round my constituency.
We have had today one of the best debates on a Friday we have had for a very long time, and my hon. Friend should be congratulated on doing a very worth-while service to the owner-occupier and the building industry, even if he does not get his Bill on the Statute Book. All of us have learned a lot from today's discussion, and we must all be encouraged by the amount of party agreement there is on this problem because everybody wants to achieve the same thing. The only argument there is, and it does not separate us all that far, is on the question whether the inspectors should be from the National House-Builders Registration Council or from the local authorities.
I think the real answer to that the House has got to face is that it does not matter whether they come from the local authorities or the Registration Council, but that the real problem, as the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East pointed out so clearly, is that we shall have a job to find them. I agree with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that these people, if they are to be any 904 good and not a disaster, have to be very experienced people.
I think there is a very valid point on our side of the House that his Department ought to take into account in deciding who should have the responsibility for the inspections and where the inspectors should come from, and that is that, under the proposals, as I understand them, of my hon. Friend the people who accept the responsibility for inspecting houses being constructed accept a degree of financial responsibility on behalf of the housing agency if in fact their inspection turns out over the next five years to have been inadequate. I think I am right in saying that. Therefore, the house occupier under these conditions is getting some insurance, as it were, which I do not think he would have from the local authority person.
It is a fat lot of use to me if the local authority person comes to inspect a house built for me and says, "It is absolutely fine, everything has been done as it should have been", but if, two years later, the floors blow up or collapse or something goes wrong, because the local authority is not going to say, "We passed it, we will pay".
I do not think it would, and I, personally, would oppose its putting this additional heavy burden on the local ratepayers to pay because I am in trouble. I would not understand it. On the other hand, the housing agency people would be accepting a financial responsibility to cover my costs of replacement, or repair of faults which had developed.
I think I have now said all I made notes during the debate to say. I should just like once again to congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing this Bill. I only wish it could have gone down in history as the Keith Stainton Act for the protection of the householders of Britain. No doubt it will go down under some famous name, but it will not be forgotten that the real germ of the matter and the real discussion and argument arose under my hon. Friend's auspices—and I think the House should be very grateful to him indeed for introducing this Bill.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
This has been a very interesting debate. As a Scottish Member, I am glad to take part, although the hon. Member for 905 Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) excluded. Scotland from the provisions of the Bill. I am not quite sure whether that is bad or good or, in the event, irrelevant. I am glad to intervene because, although I am a Scottish Member, I live in England and have suffered at the hands of the kind of builder the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) referred to the faults of the purchasers and, of course, to some extent he is right. But all the fault, he will agree, does not lie with the purchasers.
§ Sir D. Glover
I am glad the hon. Gentleman has referred to this point. I hope that I did not over-emphasise it too much. I said that we had had an extraordinarily good debate but that this point had not been made. I would not want it to be thought that I think that full responsibility does not lie upon those who build the houses.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have to get this matter into perspective. There are faults on both sides. The Bill is designed, however, to protect the purchaser and it is with that aspect that we have to deal.
I have been interested by the attitude of hon. Members opposite. I have wondered what their reaction would have been, if we had been in opposition, to a Bill introduced to allow for inspectors at every point in what is essentially and basically a privately-owned industry. We would have been charged with wanting to snoop and interfere with the rights of free enterprise. Indeed, we had some words to that effect from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), who said that he did not like the idea of snoopers going around.
But, of course, the Bill is designed to protect the consumers from the avarice of unscrupulous private enterprise builders and it is significant that, in this Parliament of, so far, relatively short duration, we have had Bills to protect people from avaricious builders and—earlier—from avaricious landlords and that hon. Members opposite did not oppose either Bill because they realise that unfettered private enterprise cannot be allowed its rein in this country. We have to control it in order to safeguard the consumers from the abuses by a minority at every point.
906 Quite frankly, this is a Bill to put the building industry on a leash in the public interest. I have long felt that in no other field is the consumer so unprotected as in house purchase. Yet in no other purchase in his life does he need more protection. Indeed, excluding the marriage contract itself, house purchase is almost certainly the biggest deal in the life of a person. The majority of purchasers are young people with very small savings stretched to the limit, as the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge said, and with very little business experience. They are unable and often unwilling to afford the extra advice, for instance, of an independent surveyor. They are often prepared to take undue risks in their anxiety to get a roof over their heads. People like this are fair game for the unscrupulous, dishonest, shoddy builder.
The position is made worse by the fact that we are living very much in a sellers' market, and will continue to do so for a long time. Unless this House acts there will be a rich harvest for the jerry-builder and a burden of headache and misery for millions of people. The fact that a considerable measure of protection is necessary is not challenged by anyone except the jerry-builders themselves.
This description has been bandied around for a long time, but it is difficult to define exactly what we mean by a jerry-builder. Whatever we do mean, however, and whatever the facts may be, a protective agency should not be objected to by the good builder. It certainly must be used against the avarice and incompetence of the bad builder. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have given examples of deficiencies, large and small, within the building industry. The imagine of the industry generally is not good. In perhaps no other industry —with the possible exception of agriculture—is the gulf so great between the very best and the very worst.
We all read recently in the newspapers about the case of a newly-opened hotel in Manchester, where, because of deficiencies in the raw material, or in the building processes, the ceiling fell in. I believe that an investigation is now being carried on in the matter. The same kind of thing was reported in respect of the National Heart Hospital, in Westmoreland Street, where two operating theatres 907 had to be closed because of major faults in plastering, although this had recently been built as one of the most modern and best equipped hospitals in Europe. These examples show how sick the industry is.
Repeated congratulations have been offered to the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge. I am bound to remind him, however, of the fate of Bills introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards). This Bill reminds me very much of other Bills introduced by Conservative Members of Parliament during the short duration of this Government. Hon. Members opposite became aware of these problems as soon as they were in opposition, having studiously ignored them for 13 years while their party was in office.
§ Mr. Stainton
It is most important to differentiate between the Bills in question. The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) introduced his Bill under the Ten-Minute Rule, whereas I acted through my privileged position in the Ballot.
§ Mr. Hamilton
There is a technical difference in respect of the procedures of the House, but, in principle, the Government could have accepted my hon. Friend's Bill, or offered to introduce their own. They did neither. However admirable it may be, a Bill of this kind is not an adequate substitute for the modernisation of the building industry. Today, there is an ever-growing emphasis towards big firms, and in addition to introducing legislation to protect the potential house buyer the Government ought to be encouraging rationalisation within the industry. It is expected that there will be a 40 per cent. increase in output in this industry between now and 1970. This is an enormous challenge to an industry which is not exactly famed for its efficiency.
Four vitally important factors must be borne in mind if we are to achieve that target. First, we must ensure an adequate supply of raw materials. Secondly, we must increase productivity in the industry. Thirdly, we must ensure adequate supplies of skilled labour. There is a great shortage of skilled labour in almost every trade in the building industry. Fourthly, there is the enormous increase in industrialised building. I think it is calculated that 50 per cent. could be saved 908 by the introduction of industrialised building.
Last, but not least, there is the increasing standardisation of components in the industry. On April 4th there was an interesting article in the Observer giving an example of ordinary water taps. In the United States one manufacturer produces six tap designs for the whole of the United States market. The same firm produces several hundred different tap designs for the British market.
I can quote an example from my own experience. During the last 12 years I have moved house four times. I have a box at home, about half the size of the Dispatch Box, filled with electric plugs. If anyone wants any electric plugs, he should refer to me. I found that every house had different plugs. Standardisation of that kind of thing would cut costs enormously and do more to help a house purchaser than a Bill which is designed to protect him when he is actually making the purchase.
The same applies to the multiplicity of building systems. I understand that there are about 400 in Britain. This is absurd. If we are to get the benefits of efficiency from industrialised house building, we ought to reduce, and the Government should be actively engaged in reducing, the number of industrialised systems to a manageable amount.
Contrary to what some hon. Members may think, I have no wish to talk the Bill out. I wish to give the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge the opportunity which I think he desires to withdraw the Bill. We admire his pertinacity and sincerity in introducing it and the motives which prompted him to do so. I am certain that the Government want to do something. We are committed to do something, all parties are. The only difference between this Government and others is that we fulfil our pledges.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Stainton
With your leave, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to speak a second time. I wish to ask that the Order for Second Reading be discharged and that the Bill be withdrawn.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.