§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (LORD FORBES)
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill let me begin by assuring your Lordships that while some of the detail contained in the Bill may appear complex, the main purpose of the Bill is not only simple but also extremely sensible. The general object of the Bill is to bring the existing machinery for the regulation of building in Scotland into an up-to-date form. This is an object which surely commands the support of everyone who may be concerned with the erection of buildings both large and small—that is to say, at one time or another practically everyone.
It may be of interest if I give a brief description of the circumstances that have led up to the introduction of this Bill. Its origin is in the Report by the Building Legislation Committee which was set up in 1954 under the chairmanship of Lord Guest. The Bill itself follows very closely the recommendations of that Committee. This in itself is surely a high testimony of the excellent work that Lord Guest and his fellow members put into their task. I need hardly remind your Lordships that the setting up of the Guest Committee was in itself recognition of the need for a thorough review of the state of the law of building in Scotland.
There can be few who would deny that the law regarding building at the present time is unsatisfactory. Indeed the existing requirements, with which a person who wants to build has to comply, have been described as archaic, confusing and restrictive, and I think they well deserve that description. To some extent the present code is embodied in legislation like the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892, and the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897, both enacted before the beginning of the century. To a greater extent it derives from building by-laws 697 based, in some places, but by no means all, on a model put forward by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
These by-laws are moderately satisfactory. They suffer however from two main defects: first, they cannot easily be brought up to date, and in consequence fail to take into account the most modern methods of construction and choice of materials; and, secondly, there is a difference between burgh and landward areas. Then again, apart from the defects in the building code itself, the existing law relating to the handling of applications for permission to build leaves a great deal to be desired. In particular, although in many special circumstances a good case can be made out for allowing a variation of, the code, facilities for relaxation are almost non-existent. Also the applicant who feels himself aggrieved by what he believes to be an unjust decision has really little or no right of appeal.
This Bill is designed to make a fresh start and to cure, or make it possible to cure, all these defects. One of the principal innovations in the Bill is in Clause 3 whore the Secretary of State is given power to make regulations in respect of building. These regulations are to be called the building standards regulations. These regulations will take the place of the existing building code which, as I have already pointed out, is partly statutory and partly takes the form of by-laws. The regulations will be drawn up by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State with the help of an Advisory Committee. The draft regulations themselves will be given a wide circulation so that everyone will be entitled to comment on them and demand a public inquiry if they wish. I cannot stress this point too strongly.
Perhaps at this stage I should assure your Lordships that there is no question of taking away from local authorities any real power, because the present building by-laws based on the model devised by the Secretary of State in consultation with other Departments and interested bodies have regularly been accepted by the local authorities with either the most minor or with no amendments at all. Now, in contrast to this, the regulations which it is proposed to make under this Bill will be subject to a procedure of full consultation under Clause 3 of the Bill, 698 under which incidentally local authorities would have, if anything, more real opportunity to influence them than they have had with by-laws in the past.
Some of your Lordships may also feel that it is wrong to take away from local authorities the power of making local by-laws because such by-laws could take account of the particular conditions in the area. In practice, however, the variations between different authorities' by-laws have not reflected different local conditions but rather local authorities' individual tastes and preferences. The main reason for varying standards of construction in different parts of Scotland is, of course, climate, and here I should like to say that the building code, although uniform for all areas, will be so framed as to take account of different climatic conditions where these are relevant to the building structure. For instance, the regulations might say that structures should withstand the wind loading to which they will be exposed. That means, for example, that the roof of a building on the summit of Ben Nevis will have to be stronger than the roof of a house in a sheltered spot.
Having dealt with the building standards regulations to be made under Clause 3, perhaps I might now deal with the most important of the remaining provisions. Clause 1 sets up buildings authorities to administer these regulations. These buildings authorities will, in burghs, be formed by the existing dean of guild court, while in landward areas, they will be formed by the local authority out of their own membership. The rules and procedures which the Bill lays down for these buildings authorities have been designed, on the one hand, to promote speed and efficiency of business, and, on the other, to ensure that openness, fairness and impartiality should be observed—in fact the principles which the Franks Committee laid down as essential for bodies dealing with public business.
The main task of these buildings authorities will be to administer the building standards regulations which will apply throughout the whole country. The advantages of standards covering all Scotland are many. To mention but a few, there will be the benefit conferred on the suppliers of building materials and components, as well as on the designers of buildings themselves, by the avoidance of 699 arbitrary differences in different parts of the country. In addition, architects and engineers will know in advance exactly what standards they have to comply with. The mere fact that one set of standards covers the country does not in any way mean rigidity, nor does it mean that in future our buildings will all look alike. There will be, of course, circumstances in which it will be appropriate for the requirements of the building code to be relaxed; and this is provided for under Clause 4.
While these building standards regulations will relate to new buildings or to buildings whose use is being changed, there is, in addition, a special arrangement under Clause 10 by which a local authority will have the power to require an existing building to be brought into conformity with one or more of the building standards, provided that they consider that the improvement is not only desirable but also reasonably practicable—and this aspect includes the question of cost. Here let me point out that this is no new power, for it already exists in connection with certain aspects of housing under the Housing Act. We do not expect that this power will be used often, but there are bound to be circumstances when it could be most valuable.
In addition to the facilities under Clause 4 for the granting of relaxations in appropriate cases, there is also, in Clause 15, provision for the hearing of appeals by the appropriate sheriff against decisions by buildings authorities. This will ensure that the building code will not bear too hardly or inappropriately in any particular case. In short, the rights provided by these two clauses, together with various other safeguards provided by the Bill, have been devised to ensure that in every case justice will not only be done but will also be seen to be done.
Having painted a general picture of this Bill, perhaps I may end by saying that this Bill has been designed to fulfil two main purposes: first, to increase efficiency, and, secondly, to remove unnecessary restrictions whenever possible. The general acceptance which its principles have received is surely evidence that it will be generally welcomed. My Lords, this Bill undoubtedly has a backing of good will among all the interests concerned, and I can therefore recommend it to your Lordships with con- 700 fidence. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Forbes.)
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, having read what was said in another place on the Second Reading of this Bill, and having now heard the noble Lord expound it here, I am bound to say that he has made of it as good a job as that made by the right honourable gentleman the Minister in another place. It is true that this Bill divides itself into two parts, the first dealing with a national code for buildings, and the other with the machinery through which this national code will be put into operation.
In regard to the national code which will now replace the local codes of authorities throughout Scotland, one cannot repress a feeling of regret at the effect in the case of Glasgow, for example, for which there was promoted and finally brought in an Act—the Glasgow Streets, Sewers and Buildings Consolidation Order Confirmation Act of 1936—a very complicated and, incidentally, very expensive promotion, with 255 clauses and three Schedules. That has all to be scrapped, presumably on the grounds that although that was done only in 1937 a good deal of it is already out of date and obsolete. As evidence of that one is reminded of the Model Building By-laws issued by the Department of Health in Scotland, printed in 1954 and reprinted in 1955, which say:The model building by-laws for burghs issued by the Department of Health in 1937"—which of course coincides with the date of the Glasgow Act—have become out of date as a result of advances in building methods and technical knowledge. This model has been drawn up with the advice of a technical working party. The main objectives are to allow greater freedom in the use of new materials and methods; to secure economy and the best possible use of materials; but at the same time to set safe and certain standards.To achieve this it has been necessary to draft model by-laws very different in form from the previous ones.So you have already to-day a Bill which says that the by-laws are obsolete, and that in view of the introduction of new materials, new systems of structure, new systems of design and different ideas of cost, it is necesesary to have a code applying to the whole of the country which 701 local authorities will now be compelled to adopt.
It is true, I think, as the noble Lord has said, that a rigid system of regulations will not be laid down, because there will be two safeguards: first, the powers of relaxation where these are thought to be necessary; and, secondly, the power of appeal for the discontented applicant. Also, of course, there is the overriding safeguard that no regulation is to be put into operation without consultation with an advisory committee, presumably of experts. So there is this kind of protection. It does not follow that there will be no room for modification or improvement, but the picture as we see it to-day, before we know what the regulations will be, appears to be reasonable and one to which I think noble Lords on this side of the House will see no reason to object.
When, however, the noble Lord refers to the regulations which the Secretary of State will be empowered to draw up, there is, I think, some room for questioning whether the proposed method of procedure is the best one. For example, will either House of Parliament have the opportunity of considering in some detail what these regulations entail? Will Parliament be able to criticise or amend these regulations, and will it be able to say, before they become operative, whether they should be improved or modified in any way? Secondly, there are the doubts of the Corporations of Edinburgh and Glasgow which have been expressed in a letter to me through their Parliamentary Agents—and replicas of this letter, I understand, have been received by other noble Lords in your Lordships' House. They are very much concerned about the method whereby these regulations will abolish local authority regulations—whether, in fact, the Government are not going about it in the wrong way. If we abolish the whole of the Local Acts, including powers which have no relationship whatever to the contents of this Bill, does it not seem to be the wrong way of going about it? They say that it is quite wrong that Local Act provisions which have nothing whatever to do with what is in the Bill or the building code should, first of all, be repealed by the Bill and then, before the commencement of the Act, be reinstated by order of the Secretary of State. I think perhaps the noble Lord might deal with that point when 702 replying, because there is, I gather, a good deal of apprehension in the minds of both of these Corporations as to what is the best procedure.
That being, in a sense, my general approval of that part of the Bill dealing with the building code, perhaps I may now say a word about the machinery. Here perhaps I ought to declare a personal interest, and it is this. I happen to be a member of the Merchants House, and in that way one of the guild brethren. I also happen to be a member of the Trades House, and thus find myself a craft member because of my membership of an incorporation. If it should be thought that here is a conflict of interest, I should like to make it clear that in the deans of guild I have known, and among the many deacon conveners I have known, I have never come across one who has not been a man of eminent capacity, although, as noble Lords will know, there may be some objection to their membership of a corporation on the ground that they are not democratically there as representatives of the electorate.
As the Guest Report makes quite clear, the different kinds of deans of guild courts up and down the country, and the different forms whereby questions of this kind are considered, are largely related to historical events and not to any kind of principle underlying the creation of these bodies. When the Guest Report indicates what the historical origin of these various bodies is, I have the feeling that perhaps the Committee do not go back in history far enough; because if one reads, for example, a history of Glasgow (particularly, if I may say so, Volume II of the late George Ayrton) one would find there that the merchants and craftsmen were not always in the friendliest relationship, as they are to-day. The merchants were regarded with some jealousy because they became immensely wealthy and influential; the craftsmen, however, beat them later on, because what they did not possess in wealth they possessed in numbers. As a result, they were able to stand out against the other body, and only much later—very much later—did they come together and form a friendly unity in the kind of duties they are fulfilling to-day.
But it must be admitted that neither the guilds nor the craftsmen are performing these duties because they have special qualifications for the job they undertake. 703 They are now, as noble Lords are well aware, mainly benevolent, philanthropic societies which do an immense amount of good work, not only in helping members who happen to be in poor financial circumstances, but in many other ways—for example, by encouraging educational projects. But I think it would be a real stretch of imagination to pretend that they possess some kind of inherent qualification for the consideration of questions of this kind. I would therefore ask the noble Lord to say whether the time has not come when the composition of these bodies, dealing with these immensely important and immensely complicated and technical questions, ought to be reconsidered. I am not suggesting that all the members of a dean of guild court and all the members of a building authority should be elected representatives on local authorities. I have not said that—indeed, if I may say so, I have been long enough a Member of your Lordships' House sometimes to think that the prerogative of wisdom and virtue does not lie wholly with elected members. But I would ask the noble Lord to consider whether or not there should not be some modification of the composition of these bodies which would embrace, if you like, a selected number, but certainly an elected number, of members in these different authorities or these dean of guild courts. Although, as I say, we reserve to ourselves the right to put forward Amendments in Committee, I hope that such thoughts as I have thrown out to-day will be sympathetically considered by the noble Lord the Minister.
§ 6.0 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord, the Minister, if, on a future occasion, he could do anything about the very short notice we have had of this Motion. We in Scotland heard nothing about it, and had to come down at the last moment in order to make our comments. I am afraid that, speaking for myself, they are therefore very sketchy. I have sympathy with the Bill, but I have also some misgivings; and, so far as I could ascertain in the very short space of time available to me, my misgivings are shared by quite a number of notable people in Scotland. May I make it clear at once that I probably have a vested interest. 704 I have been putting up buildings in civil engineering since 1929, and I am also a democratically-elected member of my county council, although, admittedly, I have been returned unopposed twice since then. Nevertheless, I consider that the model building by-laws of the Department of Health are quite the best thing I have ever come across during the period I have been working, and I do not know of any case of difficulty in the landward areas under the existing system. However, the successful application really depends on the "deemed-to-satisfy" clauses which are in these building by-laws, and also on the discretion which is allowed to the county councils who administer them.
Before coming South I sought the views, so far as I could get them, of the Association of County Councils, as their outlook covers a far greater area than just one council—and I must say that their views give me considerable misgivings. So far as I know, they are at least still on the file and have not been withdrawn; and if your Lordships will permit me, I will read a few clauses of a letter about them which I received from the county clerk. They are quite short, and are as follows:As you will know, the precursor of this Bill was the Report of the Committee on Building Legislation in Scotland (Cmd. 269). A sub-committee of the Health and Welfare Committee of the Association of County Councils in Scotland reported on this Report to that Committee on 20th February, 1958. The Sub-Committee agreed to recommend that the following observations be forwarded to the Department of Health for Scotland:I received this letter just before came down, and as far as I know it has not been withdrawn; I do not know for certain, but the Minister will probably be able to toll me. That is why I have certain misgivings. It may seem curious that the Association of County Councils condemned, I think one can say, the landward proposals of the Guest Committee, and I read the Guest Committee Report to find out whether I could get a clue of why that may be. The first thing is the terms of reference of the Committee. These, again, are very brief, but I think give a clue. The terms of reference, if I may read them, are:
- (a) The Association disagrees strongly with the proposals for building control bodies in landward areas with full power to exercise control independently of county councils and the exercise of their functions in the manner of a court. The function of the building control body for the landward area will simply be to decide whether or not a particular application complies with the national regulations. It cannot exercise any discretion—relaxation of requirements falls to the Secretary of State. It is considered, therefore, that the application of dean-of-guild procedure to extensive landward areas would be unnecessarily cumbersome, time-wasting and perhaps misleading to applicants and co-terminous proprietors. It is strongly felt by the Association that the present administrative arrangement in counties for dealing with applications under the building by-laws has worked efficiently and can be readily applied to any new system of building control which may be introduced without imposing the ponderous machinery indicated in the Building Committee's Report.
- (b) Subject always to the acceptance of the Association's views at (a) above, the Association feels that there would be advantages in the building provisions scattered through various Statutes and by-laws being replaced by a new Building Act and regulations made under enabling powers conferred by the Act.
- (c) The Association has confined its consideration of the Building Committee's Report to what appears at this stage to be the two main points involved, but it, of course, reserves its right to consider at a future stage other points involved in the Report."To examine the existing law for the general regulation of building in Scotland so far as it relates to the control of building standards by the Secretary of State and by local authorities; to consider the extent of the jurisdiction exercised by the dean of guild courts as regards building standards; and to recommend what changes may be necessary to secure a control of building standards which would operate as uniformly as possible in counties and burghs, and be flexible enough to take account of the development of new techniques and materials.There is no mention whatever of the ease and efficiency of administration, and there is no mention of whether it is really necessary to have this ponderous machinery applied to the landward areas. Not having had time to go into the thing properly, I must hazard a guess, and I would hazard the guess that well over 80 per cent. of all building in Scotland is not a matter of landward areas at all; it is a matter of dean of guild courts, and burghs, and various other things.
The next point is that, at the back of the Report, there is a summary of evidence. There are thirteen questions, but there is not a single one relating to a landward area problem; and that might be the clue to my anxiety. It is always very difficult for a layman to interpret a Bill and to know what it really means. Not being trained in the law, I find it extremely difficult, and probably frequently talk a great deal of rubbish for 706 that reason. But if, when he replies, the Minister could tell me that Part I, Clause 1 (4) (b) applies only to the dean of guild courts, and that the new machinery, when produced, will not apply to the landward areas, I shall be quite happy; because, so far as I can see, that particular phrase makes it illegal to replace a slate or mend a gutter. I am sure that that is not so, but it reads like that to me.
The only other point is that Clause 7, which is the interpretation clause, classifies a wire fence, a stile, a wall, and a gate, as a building on a farm. Surely to goodness a farmer, before he does anything at all to anything like that, will not have to go and get permission! They can be excluded by regulation, I know, but we do not know that they are going to be excluded by regulation, and that is my anxiety. The tone of this thing is: "Look! we do not like your face; we are going to cut your throat; you will be all right after the operation, but do not ask us anything now; just take our word for it now that the wound will heal up perfectly, and no one will worry". That is a most unsatisfactory way of doing business, I think, and I would ask the noble Lord the Minister whether he could at some time or other—probably not when he replies—give us a little more assurance that no greater degree of control will be imposed on farming, estate and forestry building work than exists at present; because where one is complying with by-laws it is perfectly adequate, in my opinion and in my experience—which is such as I have stated.
But I would point out that an increased cost is going to be imposed on everybody applying to do any kind of building work. A silo scheme, for instance, will have to be approved not only by the Department of Agriculture, but also (I may be wrong about this, and if so I shall be corrected) by this proposed building authority. That is going to impose burdens and delays. Again, the various housing improvement schemes will have to be approved by three or four bodies instead of one; and I am anxious about that. Then the Farm Improvements Scheme, which is again building work, would not be able to be touched without complying with this requirement, and also contacting the other Department. That does not seem to me to be right. I may have interpreted it wrongly, and, 707 if so, I hope the noble Lord will tell me properly where I get off.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, when I first picked up this Bill I was appalled at its length and it seemed to me to be a complicated measure, but when I had had time to study it I came to the conclusion that in the main it did two things, and I feel that my view in that respect has been confirmed by the Minister in making his opening speech to-day. It sets up building authorities, and I do not think it matters much by what name these authorities are called. I should regret greatly if our dean of guild courts, with their long traditions and the great service they have rendered over the years, should be done away with, but I think it is for the benefit of our large local authorities, who to my mind have far too many things to do at present, to be relieved of some functions which might in certain circumstances be passed over to them.
Then the Bill empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations governing building standards, and also other regulations for the protection of the public while buildings are in the course of construction or in the course of demolition. I understand from the Bill that these will be known as building operations regulations, and it will be the duty of the building authorities in the counties and burghs to see that these two sets of regulations are complied with. As for the remainder of the Bill, it appears to me to contain matters which are incidental to these two main provisions.
I would say at once that I warmly welcome the Bill. At the present time, as my noble friend has explained, each authority has its own building by-laws, many of them in the light of modern developments and building techniques being completely out of date. Nevertheless, they are strictly enforced by those who are responsible for doing it, and it does not appear any measure of flexibility is allowed. Indeed, on one occasion I was extremely pained and distressed when an official who was responsible placed his hand on his copy of the by-laws and informed me that it was his Bible, from which he would not and could not in any circumstances depart, even although he was prepared to admit that in places 708 these by-laws made no sense at all. When I asked that gentleman if he would be good enough to tell me the date of his authority's by-laws, he told me, after looking at his copy, that it was somewhere in the latter days of the last century. I am not blaming the officials—it is their duty to see that the by-laws laid down by their authority are complied with—but surely it is ridiculous that to-day we should be working to by-laws laid down so many years ago; and it is equally ridiculous that architects and all others concerned with the building industry should have to study the by-laws that are current in the county or burgh where their operations are to take place before they can even get ahead with their plans or their actual building operations.
The multiplicity of by-laws and the chaos which ensues as the result was forcibly brought to my notice a few years ago when I had some connection with the Department of Health for Scotland. Together with the officials of the Department I was being shown round the workshops of one of our largest, most efficient and up-to-date building organisations. That particular firm were specialising in prefabrication of much of the interior of the houses they were building; and they were building them in many different parts of Scotland. In the interests of efficiency and economy they were naturally standardising the various parts; they were building them within their factory and then sending them in completed sections by special transport to the various sites. That had all been carefully explained to me when I came across a number of boxes of different shapes and sizes. I asked what they were, and I was told that they were cisterns. I was naturally induced to ask why, if they believed in standardisation, these cisterns were not all of the same size and shape. I was then told that it was necessary for them to work to the specifications laid down in the by-laws of the various authorities in whose areas they were working; and at that date they were working to no fewer than some seventeen or eighteen different sets of by-laws.
That situation seems to me to be intolerable, and I was very glad, therefore, when the Secretary of State subsequently set up the Committee or Working Party to which reference has already been made 709 by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, and my noble friend Lord Stonehaven, a committee of experts and local authority and Departmental officials, to produce a modern model set of building by-laws. When that Committee's work was completed, these model by-laws were issued to all the local authorities with a request that they might see fit to adopt them. That was, under the existing law, as I understand it, a matter which was solely within their own discretion. I imagine that some of the authorities adopted them, while others did not, and we were accordingly left with different building codes in different parts of Scotland. That, to my mind, is nonsensical and illogical, and I can only conclude that at least one of the reasons for the setting up of the Guest Committee and one of the purposes of this Bill is to remedy it and provide a uniform code of building standards to cover the whole country.
As I have said, I welcome the Bill. I believe it will remove doubt and, in spite of what some noble Lords have said, will speed up procedure, lead to greater efficiency and economy and improve building standards in many parts of our country. For I have no doubt that these regulations will be prepared in consultation with experts conversant with the most up-to-date ideas and the most modern practice and that the Building Standards Advisory Committee to be set up under Clause 11 will so advise the Secretary of State as to ensure that these by-laws are kept up to date and will demand the modern developments in materials and techniques. It is for these reasons that I warmly support this Bill, and I would commend it to your Lordships, who I trust will see fit to give it a speedy passage to the Statute Book.
§ 6.19 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to say a few words on this Bill and generally to give it a welcome. I am sure, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has said, that in many ways it will help. I speak on it only from the point of view of a farmer. I think it is particularly desirable in regard to dwelling houses, both rural and urban. But when you consider agricultural and farm building, the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, knows well that, in regard to the general control of building work on farms, it is not considered satisfactory by many in 710 Scotland to leave the matters to be dealt with by regulation.
I agree with all the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, said about regulations. We should like to get agricultural buildings excluded now. That is the view held by those who advise us in Scotland as being more desirable, but I understand it has been refused by the Secretary of State. At the present time much work on farms and on estates is done without a warrant, and presumably it will now require one. I wish to emphasise the question of efficiency, cost and the important matter of delays. In my experience in farming, delays are all-important. As your Lordships know, the seasons do not wait for you, and the harvest does not wait for you. If you get tied up with regulations, warrants and plans, a few days is going to make a great difference to success. Under existing regulations, except in a few special circumstances neither planning permission nor by-law approval is required for alterations to existing buildings or the construction of new farm buildings, excluding houses and cottages.
The controls incorporated in the Bill will inevitably cause delays in the completion of proposed farm alterations. These delays are, as I have said, undesirable, and I think the control envisaged by the Bill is not essential in the case of farm buildings to the same extent as in the case of building where the health and environment of the general population would be affected. Often farm buildings are erected by farm labour and construction is done piecemeal. If a warrant is required for submission to the building authority, it is obvious that plans will have to be submitted. You require warrant and plans, and it would cause unnecessary complications. For instance, a farmer may want to put up some quite simple construction. There are thousands of small farmers who have not the means of producing plans, and it will be an immense inconvenience to them if they have to get a warrant for every small alteration.
I am told that it will not delay things when it goes to the county council under Clause 7 of the Bill. But I do not accept the fact that if you must have warrants and plans it is not going to cause more delays. I think it is bound to. I therefore express a hope that before the Committee stage the Minister will exempt estate and 711 farm buildings, other than dwelling houses, from the provisions of this Bill.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, before the noble Lord rises to reply, I wonder whether I might ask the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, and other members of the Front Bench opposite, not to carry on continuously their private conversations while other noble Lords are addressing the House? It is most disturbing to those of us who wish to pay attention to what noble Lords are saying.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, we have had a very useful debate on this Bill, and a number of interesting points have been made. Before turning to these points, I should like briefly to mention two matters. The first is that I think your Lordships will appreciate that this is largely a machinery Bill, in the sense that it does not so much carry out immediate reforms as enable reforms to be carried out. A great deal of work will have to be done after the Bill has been passed before any of the regulations which it envisages can be published in draft, and further time would elapse to allow for discussion—and perhaps amendment—of the draft regulations before they come into force.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, would the noble Lord permit me to interrupt to ask this question? Whom does he envisage as the authorities who are to be consulted? That consultation is necessary, one agrees. Are they to be, for example, local authority representatives or associations, or are they to be a number of different individuals who may be interested?
§ LORD FORBES
Including local authorities. It is impossible to prophesy with any degree of accuracy how long this will take, but it would be unrealistic to expect it to take less than two years. I mention this to set at rest any concern that may be felt in your Lordships' House, or outside, that there will be too little 712 opportunity for consideration or consultation, especially where local needs are to be met.
The other point to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention is that there is no ground whatever in this Bill for apprehension that the making of building standards regulations will lead to regimentation or drab uniformity. It is perhaps easy to imagine that the creation of a nation-wide code for building might tend to produce this uniformity where it is not wanted as well as where it is wanted. I believe that there is no cause for apprehension whatsoever in this respect. The regulations which it is proposed to make are likely to avoid, so far as possible, the imposition of uniform specific requirements. The requirements will be expressed largely in terms of function or standards of performance. Thus, for example, they might prescribe that the foundations must be strong enough to carry the load put upon them, but subject to that can be constructed in whatever way the designer thinks fit.
I emphasise that because it is a point that the Guest Committee themselves had very much in mind. Indeed, they went so far as to criticise existing building requirements as old-fashioned, on the ground that they tended to introduce a frame of mind detrimental both to progress and amenity, since there is the tendency for stereotyped solutions to be offered or insisted upon. It is, of course, necessary that the law should be clear and precise in order that it can be justly enforced. There is every intention of drafting the building standards regulations in such a way that the greatest possible freedom—that is, greater than in the past—is left for individual and original conceptions of design and planning of buildings.
I come to some of the points raised by noble Lords who have spoken. It has been suggested by several noble Lords that the Bill will mean delay in obtaining warrants for buildings on farms and estates, but I do not expect that this will be so. As I explained in my opening speech, the Bill gives the building owner who is the applicant for a building warrant a right to be heard by the buildings authority, if he so wishes, and the right to the adjacent proprietors to make representations. It also provides rights of appeal against decisions of the buildings authority.
Would the noble Lord allow me to ask him a question, to make the matter a little clearer than he has done? The situation is that at present a man requires no building warrant. The situation will be that he will have to apply for a building warrant; he will have to wait until the county council, or whatever the authority is, meets. But they are busy people; and he may have to wait a month before the next meeting. Surely that means at least six weeks' delay, compared to the position to-day; and my remarks are solely about farm buildings and estate buildings.
§ LORD FORBES
That applies entirely to the existing by-laws. Some of these by-laws are observed rigidly, and plans and applications are put in; others are not observed so rigidly. Where they are properly observed, there will be no difference with the proposed procedure for obtaining authority. This is all part of the principle that proceedings bearing on the rights of the individual should be conducted with fairness, openness and impartiality.
The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, read a part of a letter from one of the county clerks, but I am sure he will appreciate that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been in close consultation throughout the whole of the framing of this Bill with the representatives of local authority associations such as this. The noble Viscount, I think, reproached me on the ground that the administrative arrangements for the application of the building code for landward areas of counties are not appropriate, and that indeed the whole proposal to bring the counties into the same system as the burghs is contrary to the Government's principles. I cannot agree with this. It seems to me a sound principle that, where a nation-wide standard is appropriate, it should be the rule; and where it is not appropriate, it should be avoided. With regard to the delay that has been alleged, if there is any further delay I would say to your Lordships that the time will be well spent, as it will occur only when an owner is exercising his right to appeal, or in the case of an adjacent proprietor also exercising his rights.
The noble Viscount also suggested that the Bill might lead to increased building costs so far as farms are concerned.
May I make myself clear? I did not mean building costs. I meant the costs of the application to erect the building, not the cost of the building itself. That should be of very good standard anyway. It is the application, the preparing of drawings and all that side of it, that will meet with the extra cost. Moreover, I believe that a fee is to be charged.
§ LORD FORBES
There again, I can give the noble Viscount this assurance: that there should be no more costs in the preparing of these plans than there is at present, because plans should be submitted in satisfaction of the by-laws as they are now.
I am not quite sure. My impression was that they do not apply to non-residential farm buildings. I think I am right in saying that.
§ LORD FORBES
I will look into that question, if I may, and let the noble Viscount know. The noble Viscount also asked me whether I could give an assurance that subsection (4) of Clause 1 is solely concerned with dean of guild courts. That assurance I can give. I can go further and say that the building standards regulations have nothing whatsoever to do with maintenance; and, furthermore, there will be no question of obtaining a warrant to carry out any maintenance.
I can well appreciate the noble Viscount's desire to see more exemptions in this Bill. Against that, we have to weigh up the need for a very flexible and up-to-date code, and I should like to remind the noble Viscount that once the provisions are in the Bill they cannot be altered without an Act of Parliament, and that the buildings standards regulations will therefore be far more flexible in this respect. The noble Viscount has had so many misgivings that perhaps the best hope I can offer him is that perhaps one day he might find himself as a member of the Building Standards Advisory Committee, and that would certainly give him a very good chance to express all his doubts.
715 The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, was very complimentary to me in saying that he welcomed the Bill, by and large. He had some misgivings about the dean of guild court, whether it was a democratic body and suitable for dealing with the regulations as a buildings authority. The Glasgow Dean of Guild Court is, of course, a complete exception—there are no elected members there, as the noble Lord quite rightly pointed out. In addition to that, there are other dean of guild courts such as those in Edinburgh, Paisley, Perth and Rutherglen which contain a certain number of non-elected members. I think the noble Lord will agree with me that if there is to be any alteration to the dean of guild courts—I am not saying that there will be any alteration—this Bill is not the vehicle for carrying out such alteration.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord again? I am aware that the constitution or composition of the dean of guild court conies under the Local Government Act, 1947. At the same time, I think the Secretary of State in another place said that he had tried to get this matter adjusted in some way by consulting with the parties interested—presumably, the dean of guilds. the deacon convener and perhaps a local authority representative, but that he had not succeeded in getting agreement, the implication being that he himself thought that there was room here for some kind of modification of the existing position.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, it is true that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State did go into this matter with the interested parties, and he came to the conclusion that at present there was not sufficient agreement between the parties; and he decided to leave this matter meantime.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, also made some observations on Local Act provisions. The Bill as it stands provides in Clause 28 for the repeal of Local Act provisions that are overtaken by the Bill and the new building code. But it also allows the Secretary of State to make orders keeping in being particular Local Act provisions—that is, saving the chief provisions from repeal. The intention is, after the passage of the Bill, to engage in detailed discussion with local authorities concerned so as to establish which local 716 provisions can properly be saved in this way. I can give the noble Lord this assurance; that the necessary orders saving local Acts will be made by the Secretary of State before the day appointed for the main provisions of the Bill to come into operation. We feel that it is much more straightforward to effect a general repeal and then make particular savings than to do the reverse. It is much more sensible, surely, that the local authorities, with detailed knowledge of their own local Acts, should argue the case with the Secretary of State for the retention of their particular Acts. In practice, it should work out that all local Act provisions will be examined in detail by the Department as well as by the local authority concerned. Thereafter, joint discussions will take place to determine which provisions should be saved and which should not be saved. I can assure the noble Lord that there will be ample time for this to take place before the appointed day. However, I have no doubt that the noble Lord may wish to return to this on the Committee stage.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, I was asked for an assurance that no greater degree of control will be imposed on farm buildings and on estate building work in general than already exists. This, quite definitely, is something that will have to be threshed out when the regulations are made. I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that we ought not to start writing things of this nature into a Bill at this time. With this Bill we in Scotland are, I am quite certain, taking a great step forward. I feel that it is perhaps because of some of our archaic building laws, like the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892, which says that it is illegal to build a house with a ceiling lower than 9 feet 6 inches, that some people prefer the warmth and comfort of modern piggeries, with their low ceilings, to the existing cold rooms in stately homes with their high and lofty ceilings. Finally, I would say that I am certain that, with the passing of this Bill, Scotland, instead of being one of the most backward nations in which to build, will take her place in the forefront of the Western world where new techniques can be tried out.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.