HC Deb 21 February 1966 vol 725 cc169-92

10.5 p.m.

Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Building (First Amendment) Regulations 1965 (S.I. 1965, No. 2184), dated 23rd December, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th January, be annulled. It is one of the defects of our Parliamentary procedure that from time to time when the Opposition of the day wish to discuss a Statutory Instrument they have, if it is an Instrument subject to the negative procedure, to move that the Order or Regulations be annulled even though there may not be the slightest wish for annulment. That is our position tonight. I must make plain at the outset that the Opposition have not the smallest wish to annul these very modest amendments to the Building Regulations. Our complaint is that not enough Amendments have been made and that those made do not go far enough.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), in a powerful speech on an earlier occasion, pointed out the defects of these Regulations, and I must make plain to the House that it is almost, impossible to refer to the amending Regulations without referring briefly to the principal Regulations which we discussed last November. I hope that I shall be in order, therefore, if I make a fleeting reference to them in so far as they are directly relevant to these amending Regulations.

I hope that I have made it clear that we are not unduly critical of the Government for introducing the present Regulations. We wish that they had gone further, but if the Government can say that more comprehensive Amendments will be available shortly we shall be grateful, as I am convinced will be the industry.

I remind the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Public Building and Works that during the debate on the principal Regulations he told the House that it would be impossible for amending Regulations to come into force by February of this year. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby pointed out on that occasion that the principal Regulations could be treated only as a first instalment. Many points were raised during that debate on 10th November which showed that the original Regulations needed drastic amendment, and it is a little unfortunate that the opportunity has not been taken on this occasion to carry out more fundamental alterations.

The Parliamentary Secretary said then that the Ministry must consult the Building Regulations Advisory Committee before making any Building Regulations and he rather implied that this was one of the reasons why amending Regulations would be held up. The House will observe that at the beginning of these Building (First Amendment) Regulations there is a reference to the fact that the Minister after consultation with the Building Regulations Advisory Committee…hereby makes the following regulations:— We should like to know whether the new Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Philip Bennett was consulted before these amendments were made. It must have been consulted if the opening paragraphs in these new Regulations have any meaning. We should like to know also when the Advisory Committee was reconstituted and set up.

These new Regulations were made on 23rd December, 1965. If it was possible, as the Parliamentary Secretary had said on 10th November it was not for the Regulations to be amended and for the first Amendment to come into force on the same day as the original Regulations, that is on 1st February, why was it not possible for more important Amendments to be made, which were discussed very fully during that debate? What view did the Advisory Committee take of the amending Regulations now in front of us, which the Parliamentary Secretary reminded us must first be considered by that Committee? If these Amendments were not considered by the Committee, a great deal of the Parliamentary Secretary's argument on 10th November falls to the ground.

My second question is to ask, as these Amendments are inadequate to meet the volume of informed and technical criticism about some of the provisions of the Building Regulations, when may we expect the next list? Will it be within the next month or so? It ought to be. I do not contend that there will have to be frequent revision of the mandatory Regulations, but I contend that there is urgent need for a final definitive version of the Regulations so that everyone concerned may know exactly where he stands.

There ought to be regular revision, but not too frequent revision. What does the Parliamentary Secretary propose? Is it still the case, as we were told by the hon. Gentleman in the debate in November, that we shall have to wait till the autumn for the next set of Amendments? The hon. Gentleman did not say in specific terms that autumn would the date, but he gave the impression that this would be likely. That is far too long a time, and there are several urgent questions which these Amendment Regulations do not deal with adequately.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)

Order. We may refer to the need for further amendment to the Regulations, but we must not discuss it in detail today.

Mr. Channon

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I pass at once from that point and come to the present Regulations. When the new Amendments were considered by the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, what happened? The Committee did not issue a report on them; presumably it reported direct to the Minister. What is the drill in these matters? It is directly relevant to the present Amendments to know how they were produced and whether the same procedure will be followed for the next set. What is the normal procedure, and was it followed in this case?

In passing, I must tell the Minister that neither I nor, I am sure, the House will find the Explanatory Note to these Regulations adequate. Why cannot we be told more clearly what this set of Regulations is intended to do? To understand the Amendments correctly, one has to spend a great deal of time going through each one independently and setting it against the main Regulations. It would be helpful to Members of Parliament, if to no one else, if the Minister would arrange for these Ex- planatory Notes to do what they purport to do, that is, explain the effect of the Regulations to the layman. Perhaps he will be good enough to bear this in mind on future occasions.

The House will be aware that included within the main Regulations and the Amendments there are two kinds of regulation, mandatory Regulations and "deemed to satisfy" clauses. Regulation G4, which is amended by Amendment Regulation 6, is a "deemed to satisfy" clause. The "deemed to satisfy" clauses embody a different procedure. If a certain material or technique is used, this may be deemed to satisfy the requirements of the Regulations.

It has been suggested that the "deemed to satisfy" clauses will require amendment far more frequently than the mandatory Regulations. The present amendments to the "deemed to satisfy" clauses do not go far enough. We must at all times remember the need to encourage—I hope that everyone on both sides of the House concurs in this—new techniques and the use of new materials in the building industry. In order that less progressive local authorities may not hold up the advance of new techniques by playing safe, the "deemed to satisfy" clauses will have to be amended more frequently and, perhaps, be published separately.

Here is an example of one requirement which may well have to be amended in the fairly near future. I refer again to Amendment Regulation 6 which refers back to Regulation G of the Building Regulations. Regulation G deals with sound insulation, and the "deemed to satisfy" clauses for sound insulation of walls refer to traditional forms of construction. In recent years, however, there have been developments—the amendment does not deal with them—especially in connection with prefabricated timber houses. There can be cases in which sound insulation is effected by having a timber frame with plasterboard finish and a glass wool quilt running between the two. This is an example of a technique in respect of which both the main Regulation and the Amendment Regulation with their "deemed to satisfy" clauses may be out of date very soon. It is obviously helpful to the small builder and to smaller firms of architects that there should be more frequent amendment of the "deemed to satisfy" clauses. Do the "deemed to satisfy" clauses, these amendments and others that may later be made, have to have the approval of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee in the same way as the mandatory Regulations do?

During the debate on 10th November the Parliamentary Secretary told us that he agreed that there should be regular reviews of the Regulations. I suppose that we may say that this is the first example of a review. However, the hon. Gentleman would not commit himself to an annual review, which he said was an open question. I submit that there is a strong case for having the "deemed to satisfy" clauses reviewed at least annually, although it may not be practical to amend the mandatory Regulations so frequently. The House would like to know before it decides to accept the amending Regulations what progress has been made since November. Is the Parliamentary Secretary in a position to answer my points about the "deemed to satisfy" clauses, and can he tell us how frequently he will be able to carry out a review?

I turn to Amendment 5 in the amending Regulations. It is an amendment to Regulation E, which deals with structural fire precautions. The words "layer of combustible material" are to be included, so that the Regulation reads: …where the surface is required to be of Class O, the material shall…be non-combustible throughout; or…comprise a base or background which is non-combustible with the addition of a surface not exceeding 1/32 inch thick so that the spread of flame rating of the combined product is not lower than Class I in clause 7 of B.S. 476: Part I: 1953". It goes on to make a further rider.

I want to deal specifically with Amendment 5 dealing with the layer of combustible material. What will be the exact effect of the amendment? Of the 2,800 comments made on the draft Building Regulations, 888 dealt with the problem of structural fire regulations. It will be seen that there is still considerable anxiety about this section of the Regulations. The House is obviously of the opinion that we must have fire regulations which will minimise the risk of fire as much as possible, but there are nevertheless a number of objections to the Fire Regulations as they stand. If you are in an indulgent mood, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps I might just say that it is an anomaly that means of escape cannot be included. Is the amendment merely a drafting amendment, or does the addition of those words mean any change in policy? Can the Parliamentary Secretary give us a categorical assurance that the Fire Research Station has been fully consulted on the amendment and, indeed, on the Regulations as a whole?

Class O, to which the amendment is directly relevant, applies to the walls of institution buildings and to circulation spaces and protected shafts in every kind of building except small residential buildings. Has the Report of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee been followed in this? Is it now the case that as a result of Amendment 5 certain plastic-faced materials or plastic-faced metal will be accepted as a base or background whereas previously they would not have been? Can we be told? The Parliamentary Secretary will know that on this very point there has been considerable complaint from the plastic industry, and will no doubt have seen the November, 1965, issue of the magazine, British Plastics, which pointed out the extreme difficulty of the basic fire resistance tests as defined by B.S. 476: Part I: 1953. I understand that fire propagation and combustibility tests are now under consideration by a B.S.I. Committee. Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether the Amendment has any relevance to that? Can he say anything further in the matter?

If an institutional building is being constructed—institutional buildings are defined in the Regulations; a hospital, an old people's home and so on—what is the Minister's advice to the builders? What should the surface of the walls be made of. I am advised that even several coats of paint on plaster might not fall within the terms of this amendment; that some but not all wallpaper will; that vinyl coated paper might just; and that formica certainly would not. But nothing would stop a person from having fitted furniture units with formica on the front or finishing a wall with plaster and putting on formica later.

It is fortunate that this Chamber was built in the 1940s and the 1950s, for I doubt whether it would be possible today, under the Regulations as amended, to have wood panelling, although, since we are in London, we might have been treated differently under the London Building Acts.

Would not the Parliamentary Secretary agree that one of the difficulties of the amending Regulations is that they might mitigate against factory construction methods? It seems anomalous that, despite these quite properly severe fire precautions, one can have inflammable wallpaper or factory-made book shelves on walls like this. We certainly want precautions and do not want to encourage any lowering of standards for safety. We want them, however, to be practical and in a form that will not discourage safe and modern techniques. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to say that the Amendment is only the first of many to be made to Regulation E on fire precautions.

Even with the Amendment, the position of large industrial installations remains difficult. Such installations were exempt from the provisions of the previous byelaws. But for some reason they have not been granted exemption under the Regulations. At the moment, only single storey industrial buildings are exempt, and then only partially so. The main difficulty arising out of Regulation E, as amended, is that it is not possible for a factory below 90 feet in height to have a cubic capacity of more than a million cubic feet and for a factory exceeding 90 feet in height to have an area of more than 20 thousand cubic feet per storey and a cubic capacity of more than 200,000 cubic feet. There are many outside that limit.

No doubt the hon. Gentleman will say that power is given, in relation to Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5, to the Minister but not to local authorities to dispense with or relax the amended regulations in relation to any particular case—and I do not quarrel with the fact that the power is not given to local authorities. I am sure that the Minister's waiver power will be used sensibly and in the best interests of the industry. We have been told time and again that that will also be true of the new building control provisions.

Under these Regulations, several hundred waiver applications will be submitted each year. But is not the waiver system intended for unforeseen circum- stances primarily and not for the sort of case I am putting? What has the Minister in mind about the large and frequently automated factories which have little human occupation? Large departmental stores are also affected by the amended provisions and this aspect needs dealing with quickly.

What is to be the policy about waivers? Will a library be kept of the small waivers granted? Will the Minister's waivers be circulated generally in suitable cases? Local authority waivers will not concern Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5 but are directly related to every other amendment, except possibly for Amendment No. 1. What will happen in these cases? The local authority is allowed to waive any regulations which do not fall within Regulations dealing with structural stability or structural fire precautions. Do the Government intend that local waivers shall be collated? It might be a good idea for local authorities to make a return to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to show what local waivers are granted. There are occasions when there are special local conditions, but the idea of the amended building regulations is that there should be a general code throughout England and Wales, except for the old administrative County of London, and it would be interesting to have information about local authority waivers.

I turn briefly to Regulations L and M dealing with chimneys, flues, pipes, hearths, fire place recesses, heat producing appliances and incinerators. These are amended to some extent by the proposed Amendments 7, 8 and 9. But there still remains the problem of oil appliances which are treated in these Regulations in the same way as solid fuel appliances. There are many safety devices which can be attached to oil furnaces and which can give a far greater degree of control than can be the case with solid fuel, but there is evidence that even with the Amendments certain oil-burning appliances may be increased in cost by more than 10 per cent. as a result. It is clear that temperatures experienced in modern small oil-fired appliances are comparable with those of similar size gas appliances.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is now getting on to a subject which does not come within the scope of these amended Regulations.

Mr. Channon

I think that there is some relevance to Amendments 7, 8 and 9, but I bow to your Ruling at once, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I naturally move on.

During the last debate on the subject, the Parliamentary Secretary was allowed by Mr. Speaker briefly to say that legislation would be needed to get rid of the many anomalies in the Building Regulations, but I would not dare to trespass on your Ruling by suggesting that the Parliamentary Secretary should tell us what progress has been made, although I am sure that that would be directly relevant to the amending Regulations.

The amendments and the Regulations themselves are warmly welcomed by the Opposition. They are the co-operative work of both Conservative and Labour Governments. However, we regret that, in spite of the amended Regulations, there still remain many anomalies and difficulties. I recognise that this raises other problems, and what we want to hear from the Government tonight is a progress report on some of the issues which I have raised and which, I hope, are directly relevant.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That would be out of order.

Mr. Channon

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to comment on my remarks about these amendments. He will know that our main anxiety is to know that these are one of a long series of amended Regulations which will come before us. We hope that he will be able to give us some news. If he can, then the Opposition will be well satisfied with this evening's work.

10.28 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

My constituency has seen a building development in the last few years on as great, and perhaps a greater, scale as that of the other fast developing areas in the country and both my constituents and the local authorities are therefore particularly sensitive to the need for good, sound Building Regulations. Accordingly, when the first amending Regulations came out, I wrote to the clerks of the four district authorities in my constituency to ask for comments. Their response was interesting. Each consulted his engineer and surveyor and one replied to say that before commenting on the first amendment to the Regulations, there were, he feared, many points in the Building Regulations, 1965, which needed clarification.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot discuss those tonight.

Mr. Braine

I am fully aware of that and I was going on to say that it is not possible to discuss them. In any event, the local authority associations are making their own representations on the subject to the Minister. As a result, no doubt we shall get further clarification. My hon. Friend has asked a formidable barrage of questions and it not my intention to delay the House for more than a brief moment.

I have only one small point. One of the clerks wrote to me as follows: It seems a pity that the Amendments alter the scale of block plans. The original printing giving 1/250 scale was considered to be a desirable improvement over the Building Byelaws which required 'not less than one inch to very 44 feet.' (1/528) The Amendment now quotes 1/1250—a much smaller representation. On the face of it, this is an extraordinary amendment. The original scale was 1/250. This was altered in the main Building Regulations 1965, to 1/1250, which at the time was considered to be a great improvement. Now in these Regulations a smaller scale than that which was considered desirable in the 1965 Regulations is introduced. We are going back to the situation which was amended by the 1965 Regulations. What is the reason for this? Who asked for this amendment?

Local authorities—perhaps I may be permitted to say this—not only in my constituency but up and down the country—are battling with acute staff shortages. Nowhere is the shortage more acute than in the offices of engineers and surveyors. There may be a case for smaller scale plans being required. If so I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say something about it. The point I want to emphasise is simply that this chopping and changing in minor detail is confusing already over-burdened local authority staffs. This amendment is brought forward with no explanation. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will justify the amendment when he comes to reply and explain how it came to be made.

10.34 p.m.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Eton and Slough)

The last time we discussed this subject, on 10th November, I brought to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary a case with which I am sure he is only too familiar, arising out of illuminated ceilings. I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman if he will enlighten me on this. I have had a careful look at this Amendment No. 5 to see whether it goes any way to meet the point I raised in the last debate.

As far as I can make out it does not. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would be kind enough to say if this is so. It seems a rather shocking state of affairs that a mistake, or oversight, which was admitted to have been made by his Department in drafting the Regulations should take so long to rectify. If it is going to take as long as this to rectify such a simple mistake, how long is it going to take to alter the Regulations in the light of the changing needs which will arise as we evolve new materials, new methods and so on? I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman can give me some satisfaction and at least assure me that if this particular amendment does not cover the case I brought to his attention, there will be a further amendment to do so.

10.35 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Public Building and Works (Mr. James Boyden)

I should like to refer first to column 333 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the last debate, because the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) rather teased me about it. I did not make any commitment there.

Perhaps I might explain what I like to call "the arrangements" for altering the building byelaws. There are three groups. There are those that we are discussing tonight, which are problems of drafting and have no substantive significance at all. If one looks at my statement on 10th November, I suppose that it could be said that I had included this group. These are simple amendments that could be easily made, but they do not make any substantial alterations to the Regulations at all.

Then there are the substantive amendments, which are the ones which cannot be under, discussion tonight but which were discussed on the previous occasion. Those are serious and important amendments that take a considerable time to draft. At the risk of being nearly out of order, I will give a brief explanation of what is happening with those.

Then there is the new legislation which has been referred to. That is a very important matter which the Ministry of Public Building and Works is actively preparing. But it is a very long job.

The matters which are strictly under discussion tonight are very small indeed. They are, in the main, minor corrections to, and clarifications of, details in the original Building Regulations. The addition of one local authority, Hambledon R.D.C., to the list of those in whose areas special treatment of soft-wood timber is needed against attack by the longhorn beetle is the only amendment of any significance.

I can hardly give the rest the description of "amendments". There are about 30 alterations on 170 closely printed pages, containing lots of figures. I did an exercise, and, putting them into my own words, they can be incorporated on one sheet of paper. That is what, within the rules of order, we are discussing.

Perhaps I could explain how they come about. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) made a very big meal about the plans. In fact, it was a typing error or misprint. There has been no storm about having the smaller plans, and it is generally accepted that the smaller plans would be highly acceptable. I imagine that anyone who wanted to submit a larger plan could do so. The plain fact is that the figure "1" had been omitted.

Mr. Braine

I would not have risen but for the fact that the hon. Gentleman said that I was making a very big meal of this. As a result of a typing error, local authority officials who are already overstrained may be doing something that is wrong. Unless someone asks the kind of question that I asked, no explanation is ever given. Far from making a big meal, it is a blessing that there is a Parliament which can check Ministers, who sometimes are too complacent.

Mr. Boyden

Now the hon. Gentleman knows that it is a typing error. Half the mistakes are of that sort. It will probably be convenient if I refer to the page numbers. On page 147, there are four "nils" omitted from the tables. On page 134, on two occasions "4" has been substituted for "3". On page 125, two sets of figures have been transposed. On page 37, a "(b)" footnote has been left out. On page 38, an asterisk has been mistakenly put in for a dagger. I am sure these matters should be discussed in the House, but this sort of thing can happen reasonably easily.

There is still one mistake which hon. Gentlemen have not yet noticed—

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

The hon. Gentleman has said, for example, that, in one case, an asterisk was inserted instead of a dagger. But that astersik referred to a note which said that there should be no fire resistance in certain basements. This is a vital point when shops are concerned. This may have been a mistake, but it is not a trivial matter.

Mr. Boyden

It has now been put right. I do not see what the hon. Gentleman is grumbling about—

Mr. Graham Page

I was not grumbling: I said that it was not a trivial matter.

Mr. Boyden

"Trivial" means "small", and these are small matters—

Mr. Page

Basements are not small matters.

Mr. Boyden

Considering the thundering about important matters like fire and things of that sort, these are relatively de minimis.

There are 10 cases—that is about one third—of slight alterations of words. For instance, the hon. Member for Southend, West referred to page 38, where, under the heading "Elements above ground", the sub-heading "External walls" should read "Other elements". There is a similar one one page 49, which the hon. Member for Southend, West referred to, where it says that the material should: comprise a base or background which is non-combustible with the addition of a surface… "Surface" is a philosophical concept and not one suitable for the Building Regulations. The words left out are "layer of combustible material", to make it read: …surface layer of combustible material… About seven or eight further alterations were required there. For example, there are six referring to gas fires, where the words "gas fires" needed to be put in to distinguish between space-heating gas fires and gas boilers. This is on pages 79 and 87. There is another set of alterations in which words are needed to clarify the position. For example, on page 76, the National Clayware Federation suggested that a new type of chimney lining should be added. This has been done.

Similarly, the Gypsum Plasterboard Development Association suggested, with regard to pages 136 and 137, that the word "gypsum" should be substituted for the words "(or perlite)". This has been done in about four or five cases.

Therefore, the only things which have any special significance are the addition of Hambledon R.D.C. because of the longhorn beetle, over which there was consultation, and the alteration of the plans. That is the only consultation which has taken place. The rules about consulting the Building Regulations Advisory Committee and the interests concerned were not thought to arise in this case because they were all matters of this kind, which the Advisory Committee would have agreed to.

Mr. Channon

How can the hon. Gentleman say that they were not thought to arise in this case, when his own amending Regulations say: The Minister of Public Building and Works in exercise of the powers conferred on him…in that behalf, after consultation with the Building Regulations Advisory Committee…"? How can he purport to make Regulations which say that he has consulted the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, if the Committee has not been consulted?

Mr. Boyden

Surely the hon. Gentleman thinks that printing errors and typing errors should be put right without consultation. He is making heavy weather of consultation. It is the substantive amendments, which I understood he is anxious should be prepared, which require consultation and considerable thought. He asked what is the present state of play on that.

A second set of amendments to the Regulations—to substantial and important Regulations—has been formulated. The proposals have been put into legal form as draft amendments to the Regulations by the Treasury Solicitor, and they will be circulated to interested bodies in the course of the next week or two. The Advisory Committee has been established. I have had discussions with the Chairman and put to him the need for urgency combined with accuracy. This will be the first task of the new Advisory Committee.

The subjects which are ready for submission to the Advisory Committee are small sheds, buildings housing large industrial plant—a point made by the hon. Member for Southend, West—damp-proof courses, sprinklers—mentioned in the previous debate—plastic insulation, plastic ceilings and plastic tiles.

May I tell the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Sir A. Meyer) that we have had two discussions with the firm in which he is particularly interested, and the subject in which the firm is interested is included in the first set of substantive amendments. I must be cautious about this because there are all sorts of vicissitudes in this life, but it is highly probable that the first set of substantive amendments will be ready for the summer, and I hope then that the firm of Isora, Ltd., will find the amendment satisfactory.

May I explain to the hon. Gentleman how the situation arose? When the draft Regulations were sent out there were no representations by that firm at all. The draft Regulations were circulated widely. It was not until the final draft was published on 27th September, 1965, that the first formal representation was received from the firm, and since that date the firm has been in correspondence with me and its chief representative has had discussions with my Department on two occasions.

Sir A. Meyer

Is the hon. Member saying that the firm was shown the draft Regulations at a much earlier stage than publication—that the firm had the opportunity of seeing what was in the wind?

Mr. Boyden

No. Individual firms cannot easily be sent copies of Regulations. They are circulated to the trade associations and one expects associations and firms in the associations to get their information in that way. But Isora, Ltd., did not make any formal representations until relatively recently. I am suggesting that my Department has acted with commendable speed in dealing with the firm's representations.

Mr. Braine

In the main Regulations it is stated that block plans shall be on a scale of not less than one in 250. I understand from what the Minister says that this was a misprint, a little error, of no substantive significance at all. Until his admission tonight, had his Department taken any steps to inform local authorities that this was a misprint in order to avoid their laying up stocks of larger maps or plans? Has the Department taken any such steps or has it landed local authorities in unnecessary expenditure?

Mr. Boyden

It is assumed that local authorities will read the amendments in a great deal more detail than does the hon. Member.

Mr. Braine

I hope that the hon. Member will not persist in saying—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If the Minister does not give way, the hon. Member for Essex South East (Mr. Braine) must resume his seat.

Mr. Braine

The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair. He suggested that I had not read the Regulations carefully. In fact, I made it plain that I raised the matter because the clerk of one of my local authorities had raised it with me. Officers of that authority were puzzled. I am now asking for a direct and categoric answer to this question. Was this misprint drawn to the attention of local authorities so that they could avoid unnecessary trouble and expense or is the Minister's statement tonight, the result of my having raised the matter, the first news that local authorities have been given about this error?

Mr. Boyden

The Regulations were published on 23rd December. They have been available for a considerable time to local authorities.

I was also questioned about oil-fired equipment. One of the difficulties is that the oil concerns have not been able to fulfil the experimental conditions put to them in the same way as the Gas Council—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not think that oil-fired appliances come within the scope of these Regulations. I have already stopped an hon. Member from speaking about them.

Mr. Boyden

The matter had been raised, so I wished to comment on it. It is rather difficult to speak on this matter, because practically everything which is subject to substantive amendments appears to be out of order. However, I have dealt with most of the amendments that are coming through the pipeline, although there are others.

Since the Regulations were published in July, 1965, 140 proposals for amendments have been received from various bodies. Of these, about 40 arose out of discussions between the bodies concerned and Ministry officials. Eighteen of these proposals are included in the draft Building (Second Amendment) Regulations, to which I have referred. Of the remainder, 33 have been provisionally rejected as not being satisfactory. About 30 are being prepared for consideration by the new Advisory Committee and about 50 are under technical consideration.

I mention this because I wish to emphasise the enormous amount of work that is involved in dealing with these amendments, having discussions about them and so on. Hon. Gentlemen opposite sometimes speak with two voices on this matter. While on the one hand the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) referred to the great losses due to fire and the need to take special precautions against it, on the other certain hon. Gentlemen opposite say that we should get on with the amendments as fast as possible, presumably suggesting that a short cut should be taken. It is not much use, making quick amendments which result in a situation where there could be grave risk to life because we had not been absolutely thorough. Some of the resources available—for example, for fire testing; the sort of resources left us by the previous Government—are nothing like adequate. That is another difficulty.

Several of the Parliamentary Questions asked by hon. Gentlemen opposite have implied that there are far too many civil servants and that certain Departments should be reduced. Yet here is a case where there is need for additional staff and—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting wide of the Statutory Instrument, which deals with certain specific amendments. That is all that we can discuss tonight.

Mr. Boyden

I was asked about waivers and relaxations. Local authorities have power to relax any provisions of the Regulations except those in Part A, general, Part D, structural stability, and Part E, structural fire precautions. The Minister has power to relax Parts A, D and E but, in fact, only relaxations under Part E are likely to be normal.

I was then asked about advice being given to people. The Minister is contemplating the possibility of publishing selected appeal decisions on the same lines as in the planning sphere. He will also consider whether any publicity could usefully be given about the Regulations. Referring to waivers again, we expect not several hundred but several thousand each year, and we are preparing for this. I have indicated the way in which the Department will deal with them.

I was also asked about amendments in relation to fire. Of course, the Fire Research Station is consulted about these and, as I think I indicated in answer to a Question, I have had discussions over this matter. The Fire Research Station is seeing in what way it can expand its facilities to cope with the situation that is likely to arise.

I was asked about the "deemed to satisfy" clauses. The Ministry has followed the advice of the Advisory Committee here. The trouble with "deemed to satisfy" clauses is that the builders like them in black and white. They like to have specific examples—it gives them a sense of certainty. But one of the difficulties is that it tends to freeze technological development, because those concerned with materials and processes that are not in the "deemed to satisfy" provisions are inclined to feel that there is prejudice against them. This is not true, of course, but that is the feeling that operates. On the other hand, architects and designers tend to prefer not to have any limitations; they do not want to feel tied. There is no easy answer to this. One of the great advantages of the new Regulations, the new system, is that additions to the "deemed to satisfy" clauses can be much more readily made. That is one of the matters that is very much under consideration by the Ministry of Public Building and Works.

The hon. Member for Essex, South-East asked for an explanation of a particular point. I would point out that an Explanatory Memorandum was issued at the same time as the Building Regulations. Another, more technical document was issued on 31st January, which dealt with specific technical aspects of the Regulations and in which the Department had the assistance of a firm of architects. This has all helped to ventilate the Regulations, and to have them thoroughly discussed. A private firm has also issued an explanatory document about the Building Regulations. My Department has arranged conferences and discussions, and local authorities have done the same. The hon. Member can therefore rest assured that there has been very considerable discussion—and, of course, the documents, including this amendment which has been the subject of this debate, were sent to all local authorities.

All possible steps are being taken to ensure that the substantive amendments are produced as soon as possible. The Department has been very thorough in making these minor alterations now under discussion, and I can assure both the hon. Members for Southend, West and for Essex, South-East that this will continue to be the attitude of the Department, and every possible step will be taken to see that those matters that can be dealt with speedily will be.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

The House would be justified in complaining about the Explanatory Memorandum to these Regulations. I know that, strictly, the Explanatory Memorandum is not part of the Regulations, but the Memorandum leads us to believe that the Regulations contain minor corrections and clarifications. The hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary used much the same phrase—in fact, a little more strongly, perhaps—suggesting that we really need not bother about them at all. He said that they were just trivial and drafting, but as he went on to explain it was obvious that they were not trivial and drafting.

The first one, which occurs as an amendment to page 37 of the main Regulations, is an amendment to the Fire Regulations relating to offices. It provides that where there is a non-compartment wall or floor the fire resistance need be only half an hour instead of an hour as in the original Regulations. This is not a trivial matter.

When we turn the page to the next amendment we see a column headed "Elements above ground" and another headed "External walls". It includes many things besides external walls to which certain materials of fire resistance apply. That certainly is not a minor amendment. Nor is the one concerning the asterisk and the dagger, which may or may not have been a misprint. It certainly relates to shops and applies the rule to shops. No fire resistance is required if the elements form part of a basement storey which has an area not exceeding 500 square feet. There again there is a different form of construction.

Regulation No. 4 alters the wording from "within a distance of" to "less than". Reading the Regulation as amended on page 41, it states: Any cladding on any external wall, if such cladding is situated within a distance of 3 feet from any point on the relevant boundary, shall be non-combustible Previously the wording was: situated within a distance of 3 feet. The hon. Gentleman's Department has produced an admirable book of technical explanation of the Building Regulations, but unfortunately, the book used the wording of the Regulations before amendment. What is to be done about the book? Will it be rewritten and amended, for it uses the words: within 3 feet of the boundary It is not a trivial matter to have a substantial book like this reprinted and amended and sent to everyone who had the original.

Regulation No. 6 deals with sound insulation between residential flats. Whereas the original Regulations required this under one specification, they are now amended to come under four. That may be a vital matter for those who live in flats. Sound insulation between two residential flats may make all the difference between decent living and nuisance from one flat to another.

Regulation No. 8 originally said that the Building Regulations applied in this instance to all space heating appliances. Now the provision is limited to gas fires only. That surely is a substantial amendment. I hope that if the hon. Gentleman is to bring forward any more amendments of this sort he will see that the Explanatory Memorandum gives some assistance in understanding what the amendments are about and that he will treat them as serious for those concerned in the trade.

I have an even more serious point to put than that of chiding the hon. Gentleman for not explaining matters fully or passing them off as trivial., He said that the Building Regulations Advisory Committee had been fully consulted on these Regulations. When a Minister is required by an Act to consult somebody, a committee or other industries, before making Regulations, it is customary—indeed the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments has asked Departments to do it again and again—for a recital to appear at the beginning of the Statutory Instrument confirming that the Minister has carried out those consultations. That appears in the recital to the Statutory Instrument before us. Reading it, one assumes that the statement is correct. It says that these powers have been exercised by the Minister after consultation with the Building Regulations Advisory Committee and such other bodies as appear to him to be representative of the interests concerned… It is obvious—the hon. Gentleman will stop me, I hope, if I misunderstood him—that the Building Regulations Advisory Committee had not been consulted on these Regulations because he said that in some cases it was not thought necessary to consult the Committee. He mentioned that certain other bodies had been consulted about them, which I took to be such other bodies as appear to the Minister to be representative of the interests concerned. But the Building Regulations Advisory Committee had not apparently been consulted about all these Regulations. In Section 9(3) of the Public Health Act, 1961, which is the Statute giving the Minister the power to make these Regulations, and the only power which he has to make these Regulations, there is the following provision: Before making any building regulations, the Minister shall consult the Building Regulations Advisory Committee and such other bodies as appear to him to be representative of the interests concerned. I cannot question what other bodies appear to him to be representative of the interests concerned. That is in the discretion of the Minister. But it is not in the discretion of the Minister one jot to decide whether or not he shall consult that Committee. He is required by Statute to consult that Committee before making not "some" Regulations, not "general" Regulations by "any" Regulations. I will read the words again— Before making any building regulations, the Minister shall consult the Building Regulations Advisory Committee… Unless the hon. Gentleman can assure the House that that was done in the case of the Regulations, then these Regulations are ultra vires and he should take them back.

Mr. Boyden

The statutory requirements have been complied with. These were mistakes, typing errors and things of that sort. The original consultation was made with the Advisory Committee on the substance of these matters which have been put right.

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman now confirms definitely that these were ultra vires. It is not sufficient to consult the Advisory Committee upon some previous Regulations and to refrain from consulting that Committee when making further Regulations, even though they may be merely amending Regulations. The subsection says clearly: Before making any building regulations, the Minister shall consult the Building Regulations Advisory Committee… I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has confirmed again that these Regulations are now ultra vires. It is quite outside the power of the Minister to make these Regulations without coming to the House and confirming that he has consulted the Building Regulations Advisory Committee on each of these Regulations. That is what the Statute obliged him to do, and that is what he must do before he brings the Statutory Instrument before the House—before he makes it, lays it and brings it into operation.

I am sorry that we have this situation. The amendments have got to be made to these Building Regulations, but the House cannot disregard a direction in a Statute to a Minister on something that he must do as a condition precedent to bringing the Regulations before the House. From what the hon. Gentleman has said, there can be no other conclusion than that these Regulations are ultra vires.

Mr. Boyden

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps I may say that I am assured that the statutory requirements have been complied with.

11.9 p.m.

Mr. Channon

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has certainly raised an important issue and it shows the value of moving a Prayer of this kind. I may say that I cannot pretend to know whether the Minister is right in his assurance about the statutory consultations having taken place, or whether my hon. Friend is right in his interpretation which, at first sight, seems to be the correct one.

I would ask the Minister to consider that if he is correct in his interpretation, it is nevertheless unfortunate that it should say at the beginning of the amending Regulations that they had been made after consultation with the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, when he now tells us that they have not been done after consultation with the Building Regulations Advisory Committee.

No doubt the hon. Gentleman will be considering as a matter of some urgency whether or not my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby is right in his statement to the House that all these amendments are ultra vires. I suggest to the House that although to the Parliamentary Secretary some of these Regulations appear to be de minimis, to use his words, thank goodness this not a case of de minimis non curat lex because we hope that the Minister will amend some of these Regulations. It has been shown how some authorities have been misled by the errors. I have no doubt that owing to the size of the Regulations there were bound to be errors no matter how careful the scrutiny but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) has shown, they have been the cause of the serious misleading of the authority with which he is connected.

On the points about future Regulations, we are grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for his assurance, and I am sure that the industry will be grateful to him as well. As I said earlier and have said on many occasions, the original drafting contained a number of anomalies and contradictions. These first amendments have gone some way to removing some of the smaller doubts about the Regulations. We are all delighted to know that legislation has been prepared and that the Minister will come forward earlier than we originally thought he would with further amending Regulations. This is important to the industry and the House and we are delighted to be told that.

Therefore I shall propose to ask leave to withdraw the Motion, first because if the interpretation of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby is right these Regulations are in any event ultra vires. Secondly, even in the unlikely event of my hon. Friend being wrong—and I have never known that to happen before—and the Parliamentary Secretary being right, these amendments are modest ones to the original Regulations. Except possibly for the case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East, they are improvements and none of us wishes to inhibit the Minister from making further improvements. We are grateful that that task is being tackled with speed and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.