HC Deb 11 November 1980 vol 992 cc403-6

Lords amendment: No. 122, after clause 135, in page 114, line 11, insert— Q.—(1) The Secretary of State may make an order under this section directing that, subject to the provisions of the order, an urban development corporation shall have in its area (or in such part of its area as may be specified in the order)—

  1. (a) the functions of a fire authority under the Fire Precautions Act 1971;
  2. (b) the power of a local authority under section 36 of that Act (power to make loans to meet expenditure on certain alterations to buildings occasioned by the Act); and
  3. (c) the functions of a local authority under any scheme made by virtue of section 1 of the Homes Insulation Act 1978 (schemes for the making of grants towards the cost of works undertaken to improve the thermal insulation of dwellings).
(2) On the order coming into force, the corporation shall have the functions conferred in relation to the area (or part) instead of or concurrently with any such authority, depending on the terms of the order. (3) The order may provide that any enactment under which the corporation is to exercise functions by virtue of the order shall have effect in relation to the corporation and, where the corporation is to have any function concurrently with another authority, in relation to that authority, as modified by the order. (4) The order shall have effect subject to such savings and transitional and supplementary provisions as may be specified in the order. (5) The power to make an order under this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument. (6) No order under this section shall have effect until approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

Mr. King

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take Lords amendments Nos. 123, 124 and 129.

Mr. King

Clause 136 gives power for the UDC to be a housing authority. The amendments are technical. They bring the UDC's powers, if it were to be a housing authority, into line with the full powers that it would need over such matters as issuing fire certificates. I hasten to add that we are not concerned with giving powers to run a fire fighting service. This misapprehension caused excitement in another place. The clause has nothing to do with that. It concerns the UDC's powers as a housing authority.

I should like to make clear that we have no present intention of transferring housing powers to the UDC. If it is at a later date felt desirable that such powers should be transferred, it is clearly essential that they should be up to date.

Mr. Spearing

The Minister owes the House a fuller explanation. I am not yet convinced that the amendment is purely technical. He says that there is the possibility of the UDC being a housing authority. We have discussed that issue. Improvements and other such matters would be involved. In subsection (a) the amendment includes: the functions of a fire authority under the Fire Precautions Act 1971". That opens up enormous potential. The functions of a fire authority under the Fire Precautions Act 1971 concern mainly the issue of fire certificates relating to the standards of buildings and of escape. Section 6 (2) states: A fire certificate issued with respect to any premises may impose such requirements as the fire authority consider appropriate in the circumstances". We all know that for the fire authority fire certificates can be expensive.

I cannot see any reason from the debate in another place why it is necessary for the UDC, even as a housing authority, to be given all the functions of a fire authority under that Act. Fire authorities under the post-war Acts are local authorities that run the fire brigades. I concede that the idea in another place that the UDC will have its own firemen and fire service was misplaced. However, if the amendment is passed, issuing fire certificates for the entire area for which the UDC is responsible, and particularly that part of it that may or may not become under its aegis an enterprise zone, will be within its discretion and not that of the existing fire authority—the GLC. If I am wrong, the Minister will no doubt correct me, but if I am right he must tell us why he is giving UDCs what appears to be extraordinary powers. They could be significant in permitting different types of processes. The 1971 Act states: In so far as a requirement imposed by a fire certificate issued with respect to any premises requires anything to be done or not to be done to or in relation to any part of the relevant building and so on. That has considerable impact on matters such as rents and capital expenditure on buildings.

1.15 am

If there is to be any effect on the standards of fire safety requirements in any part of the proposed UDC's area, which includes half of my constituency, the House ought to know about it.

The Minister should think carefully before asking us to pass the amendment. My logic may be at fault, but if I am right the Minister should think again, because he is asking the House to pass an amendment which would give lower fire protection for my constituents, for which there is no justification. In that case, it is not a technical amendment.

Mr. King

I think that I can clarify the point for the hon. Member. The amendment would give UDCs access to certain powers and functions under the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and the Homes Insulation Act 1978. Briefly these functions are related to issuing fire certificates and—if and when such functions are commenced—powers to make loans to meet expenditure on alterations to buildings required under the 1971 Act and powers to make grants towards the cost of thermal insulation of dwellings.

A UDC might need the powers if it were to take on a housing improvement role within the urban development areas and it had been decided to commence certification under the Fire Precautions Act. As with an order made under clause 136, the order transferring any powers under this clause would be subject to affirmative resolution and the powers would be exercised by the UDC instead of the local authority or concurrently with the local authority, depending on the terms of the order.

The powers would of course not be needed unless it were decided that an order giving local housing authority functions to a UDC were necessary. They do not, as might have been assumed, give UDCs any roles in relation to fire fighting or allied services provided by fire authorities.

Mr. Spearing

Will the Minister now clarify the points that I put to him? The home thermal insulation orders are different from fire certificates. The Minister has confirmed my view that UDCs would be able to give fire certificates. He has given no reason for granting them that power. Existing boroughs do not have the power. Can he justify its inclusion in the Bill?

Mr. King

It is included in anticipation of a decision to commence certication under the 1971 Act. It may be necessary to introduce other legislation to cover other authorities. This is the provision for UDCs. But we are not imparting the power now. That will be covered by an order.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 123 and 124 agreed to.

Mr. Spearing

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the House; I was concentrating on the fire regulations. Is it possible for the Minister to explain amendment No. 129, or is it too late?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Minister has already spoken to the group of amendments. It is too late.

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