HL Deb 07 March 1966 vol 273 cc921-4

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to repeat a Statement which is being made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government in another place about the protection of house purchasers. The Statement is as follows:

"I will with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a Statement about the protection of house purchasers.

" In the White Paper The Housing Programme 1965 to 1970 the Government stated their determination to ensure that houses for owner-occupation are properly built and that purchasers are protected against shoddy work. These aims could be achieved by statutory means—by setting up an agency to inspect houses whilst they are being built and to provide a form of guarantee against defects not revealed by inspection. The Government do not wish to rule out a statutory scheme but they would much prefer a non-statutory scheme, provided that such a scheme can be made fully effective.

"As a result of discussions in which the Government have taken part the scheme run by the National House-Builders Registration Council has recently been improved. Purchasers of houses built in accordance with the scheme, which is based on a detailed specification and several inspections during construction, now receive a guarantee against minor defects for a period of two years, and a further guarantee (backed by insurance) against major structural defects for a period of ten years. The scheme also provides a free and simple conciliation service to deal with disputes, and a right to arbitration where conciliation fails.

"I regard development of this voluntary scheme into a mandatory scheme as the most satisfactory means of protecting purchasers against the evils of jerry-building. It already applies to 40 per cent. of the private enterprise houses being built and I should like to see registration made a condition for receiving an advance from a building society.

"I am glad to announce that the Building Societies Association are to-day recommending their members to make participation by the builder a condition for making an advance on a new house. For my part, I am inviting local authorities to restrict loans on new houses in the same way.

"I hope that these measures will result in the National House-Builders Registration Council scheme becoming well-nigh universal. I accept that this cannot take place over-night. But we cannot wait much longer to give proper protection to all house purchasers. I shall keep a close watch on the situation, and if progress is not quick enough I shall not hesitate to bring forward legislation."

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, I regret, at this moment of time, that I think that the Government are, for once, thinking along the right lines. I am sure they are right not to embark on legislation at this stage. Apart from anything else I think that legislation would be extremely difficult, though not of course impossible, to draft, and enforcement might also be difficult. if this voluntary scheme becomes virtually universal, particularly among the building societies who advance money, then this will have proved to be the right way of trying it.

I would criticise the Statement in only one respect. It contains the sentence I regard development of this voluntary scheme into a mandatory scheme as the most satisfactory means of protecting purchasers against the evils of jerry-building. I think that the word "mandatory" might possibly be misunderstood, because at first reading it rather gives the idea that it refers to legislation. Quite clearly it does not. No scheme would be mandatory in that sense unless one wanted to borrow money. I think it might be a little misleading. Otherwise, as I say, I regret to have to say that I think the idea is right.


My Lords, will the Minister be prepared to publish a White Paper on this matter, or some kind of document which can he widely circulated and made known to prospective purchasers of property? I think it would be most useful if that could be done.


My Lords, first, may I thank the Opposition for agreeing with the Government on this matter? May I also suggest that there is no need to feel reluctant about it? It is, I think a matter in which we have a common object and, at the moment at any rate, a common method. On the second point, I note what the noble Lord said about the word "mandatory". Perhaps the fact of his having made his remark will help.

On the point raised by my noble friend, I can only say that under all Governments this particular Ministry has always been very good indeed at sending out explanatory circulars, and though I obviously cannot commit them here and now, I have little doubt that they will take all the most useful and sensible steps to publicise this matter. There is going to be a Press Conference with the Building Societies Association and the Registration Council following on this Statement to-day. That might be a good beginning, at any rate, and of course my right honourable friend will note what my noble friend has said with all my noble friend's experience of these matters.


My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I should like to ask him a question. Bad building really falls into two categories. First of all, there is the obvious defect that becomes visible within a few months of entry into the house—bad plastering and suchlike. But the more insidious and pernicious forms of bad building do not really become apparent until after ten years or so, and that is usually the result of had design. The particular scheme that the Government have in mind, I presume, cannot last for that length of time; the purchaser can receive no protection for the long-term evils of bad design, and it has to be a case of caveat emptor. We have got to try to educate these poor people who are plunging into house purchase, and show them what a house really should look like in order to be a lasting proposition, because so many of these speculative builders titillate their houses with all sorts of ornamental things to attract purchasers and in ten years' time they are going to have a great deal of trouble from them.


My Lords, ten years is quite a good period to begin with, and by the time we are through those ten years, we may have some experience to guide us as regards the future. I would venture to say only two things. One is to quote M. Anatole France, who said that truth had one disadvantage in dealing with errors: there was only one truth, but there were so many varieties of error. The other is that what the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has said seems to me to concern matters which would often involve the architect as well as the builder. This is a scheme against bad building—" jerry building" is the phrase used—rather than against bad designing. We all hope to avoid the sad case (to which I refer with all respect to the fine profession of the architect) of the architect who left out the staircase.


My Lords, when the noble Lord speaks of the architect ". I hope he will remember that some of the worst houses have had no architect at all.


My Lords, I had not forgotten.