HL Deb 07 April 1970 vol 309 cc35-41

4.6 p.m.

Debate on Second Reading resumed.


My Lords, I do not rise for the purpose of continuing with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the 10-year-old debate on the British Museum Bill, in which I remember so well that he and his friends moved a number of rather precious Amendments demanding that esoteric experts in every conceivable scientific subject with which the authorities of the Museum or the Library might be concerned should be given some part in the management— although they would probably have made extremely bad managers.


My Lords, I hope the noble Earl will forgive my interruption. He said that he was not going to continue that debate. I am bound to say that I shall ask for a right of reply if he goes on. I only hope that we succeeded in educating the noble Earl in certain of these esoteric subjects.


My Lords, to be frank, I do not believe that the noble Lord and those who supported him on his side of the House knew what those subjects were about; but they nevertheless pressed that those experts should be included among those who governed the Museum. That, I dare say, was a very reasonable thing to do; but I do not think they would have made very good governors.

My Lords, I rise for the pu0rpose of trying to bring to a conclusion our debate on the Building (Scotland) Bill which was explained to us a short time ago by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. The subject covered by the Bill is an important one because it may concern the safety of house occupiers and their families. I think that it is a Bill with which your Lordships will probably want to agree. Certain doubts have been ex-pressed on various questions, such as how much uniformity we ought to aim at, by what method relaxations should be permitted and why certain recommendations of the Guest Committee, which was appointed to advise us on these matters, have not been entirely implemented. But all those questions and other kindred matters have been thoroughly and exhaustively discussed in another place, where a number of Amendments were put into the Bill. As I am at present advised, I do not think that there are any further Amendments which I should wish to propose to your Lordships, although I am sure that the noble Lord will give the careful consideration that he always does to the views of any of your Lordships who wish further to amend the Bill.

We know that this is a very difficult subject: avoiding too much rigidity on the one hand and insisting on safety on the other hand. I remember so well that, 35 years ago, the housing authority in Renfrewshire proposed to demolish a lovely old 17th century weaver's house in the village of Kilbarchan which was inhabited and was far more commodious and comfortable than most modern houses. But it happened to have windows, very beautiful windows, in the living room which when their areas were added up did not quite come to the regulation measurements in proportion to the floor space of the room. Fortunately, representations were effectively made in time and the house was saved from demolition. I think it is still there.

My Lords, there is only one small point on which I should like to ask a question of the noble Lord. I am sorry that I could not give him notice of it, but my aeroplane from Scotland arrived not long before the House met. My question concerns Clause 5 of the Bill and the amendment to Section 8 of the Building (Scotland) Act 1959 concerning roads. In the Report stage in another place the Government moved as an Amendment what now appears as paragraph (a) of Clause 5 which provides that: Before granting any permission under this section, the building authority shall consult the highway authority within the meaning of section 49(1) of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1970. In moving this Amendment the Minister said that it did not entirely carry out the undertakings which the Government had given in Committee, but that the Government were discussing the matter with the National Federation of Builders' and Plumbers' Merchants and that they would seek to make some further points in your Lordships' House. The Minister went on to say that certain matters which had been raised in Committee would, he hoped, be considered in your Lordships' House. I should like to ask the noble Lord, if he would be kind enough to tell me, whether the Government have finished discussing this point with the National Federation of Builders' and Plumbers' Merchants and whether they propose to move any further Amendments to this Bill or introduce any new clause in accordance with this statement of the Minister in another place.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I desire to extend a hearty welcome to this Bill, and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hughes—and through him Her Majesty's Government—on having introduced it. Such a Bill has long been required. To-day, when we have to keep all the accommodation we can get, and when we wish to maintain old buildings and keep them in occupation, it is absolutely essential that a great measure of flexibility should be allowed to building authorities. As I understand it, hitherto the only way in which such relaxation could be obtained was by application to St. Andrew's House. In view of the tremendous pressure on the Secretary of State's officials at St. Andrew's House it is not surprising that it often takes a considerable time for an application to be approved or rejected. In some cases, particularly in the country districts when dealing with farm labour, you may have a man coming from some distance. He may have a large family to accommodate, which would call for an alteration in an existing house, so it is absolutely essential that a speedy settlement of an application should be possible. Often that was not so. Now we have these applications going to the local building authority and I hope that the noble Lord may be able to put something in the regulations calling attention to the need for speedy decisions being given when applications are made for relaxation of standards.

My Lords, there is one other thing that worries me about applications with regard to buildings, and particularly farm buildings. Recently I have come across cases where a byre was being converted and, instead of its being of the normal type, slats were inserted. Sometimes that was done simply for convenience, but some-times it was due to the necessity to avoid pollution to neighbouring streams and rivers. As I understand it, though there was no alteration to the building from the outside, first, planning permission had to be obtained, and then building permission. Having achieved that, it was necessary to get the sanitary authority to approve. It seems to me a rather long-drawn-out and somewhat unnecessary procedure that all these different authorities should have to be consulted, and I wonder whether it would be possible for the application to cover all of them; and as I said previously that they might be told to get on with the job and let a decision come as early as possible. May I reiterate my welcome to this Bill. I think it is first-class that we can now have an opportunity to get these decisions made more rapidly than hitherto.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, as chair-man of a building authority I welcome this Bill but should like to mention two points. There may be some danger in having too much uniformity. I am thinking particularly of a relaxation given a year or two ago by the Secretary of State in respect of a standard type of school hostel. That might have been quite all right in Edinburgh, where there are adequate fire appliances, but it was not at all suitable for the Islands; and our authority was completely overruled by the Secretary of State, contrary to the advice of the local firemaster. I think that was a case where uniformity was dangerous.

I am also concerned that there appears to be an omission from the Bill. Applicants for building warrants may have to come long distances to meetings of authorities just in case an objector appears. As things stand at present, someone may put in an objection. It may be a quite frivolous objection but the applicant is then inconvenienced, possibly to the extent of having to travel a long distance and to stay away from home overnight. Then no objector appears before the authority. On a number of occasions I have had to apologise to applicants in these circumstances, and it seems to me that the system should not prove too difficult to rectify. I believe that our county council has made representations in this matter to St. Andrew's House. I am not sure what may be the answer; possibly an objector who causes unnecessary inconvenience should be made liable for the expenses of the applicant. I am certain that, in his usual punctilious manner, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will look at the problem, and I hope that at the next stage in the progress of the Bill the Government will bring forward some Amendment to put this right.


My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend on the last point he raised. Where I come from, which is even further North, where the area includes the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, a person coming to the mainland not only may have to stay overnight but is obliged to do so. That is very hard on a man if, as sometimes happens, an objection is extremely frivolous. I also serve on a building authority, so I know something about this matter. It is not only very inconvenient, but also very expensive.

4.19 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the generous welcome which has been given to this Bill. I should like first to refer to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, about what was said in another place on Clause 5. It is my intention at the next stage to put forward two Amendments to the Bill. One is a purely technical Amendment, the other is in fulfilment of the point to which the noble Earl referred. The National Federation of Builders' and Plumbers' Merchants have represented that builders' merchants who deposit materials on a street in ignorance of a permission granted to a developer should have a statutory defence. We accept that in principle the clause needs amendment in this sense, and I hope to table an Amendment in suitable terms.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, raised a point about the multiplicity of applications which have to be submitted. He talked about the case in connection with barns and referred to the planning authority, the buildings authority and the sanitary inspector. The common-sense way would be to make provision for an application to be made to a local authority who would then pass it on to their appropriate departments for attention. Unfortunately, for some reason that I have never yet been able to discover, what is common sense is not always legally possible. I suspect it is because of this legal difficulty that this has happened, and not because local authorities do this out of sheer spite. If it is possible in any way to simplify the procedure, I should like to do so. It is not a matter for inserting words in the Bill, but I will look at the matter to see whether there is any simple way of meeting the point.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Burton, that of course there is danger in too much standardisation. In a country with such extremes as are found in Scotland, between, say, the central belt and remote areas in the Highlands, we may fall into the error of assuming that what is right in one place is necessarily right in another. In so far as these things may eventually appear on my desk, I will bear in mind the point that the noble Lord has made. He will not, of course, expect this to mean that I shall automatically agree with the Inverness County Council: that would be a very dangerous commitment for me to enter into.

I think that the question of the frivolous objection, or of the applicant who comes a long way and finds that there is no objection at all and that he has made an expensive journey for no purpose, can be dealt with in the procedure regulations. I am not absolutely certain, however, and I should like to look at it in the context of the review of procedure. If it is possible to simplify it, so that people are not put to need-less trouble and expense, then I will do so. Frankly, I do not know whether it will be possible to do anything of this kind, but obviously it is something worth looking at. I hope that when we finish the next stage of the Bill such Amendments as I have tabled will be as much to the satisfaction of your Lordships as the Bill has been initially.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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