HL Deb 12 February 1980 vol 405 cc1-5

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what consultations they are having on the proposed amendments to the Building Regulations.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is at present carrying out statutory consultations on a number of detailed amendments to the Building Regulations. Also, proposals for a scheme of fees for building control services have completed formal consultation and a scheme is to be introduced this year.

These measures are part of the normal process of maintaining and updating the existing Building Regulations and are without prejudice to the review of the whole present system of control over the construction of buildings. My right honourable friend outlined the possibilities for change in a speech on 10th December and asked for comments on his suggestions by the end of last month.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. On a different point, may I ask him whether he agrees that the proposed regulations dealing with the higher conservation of energy are really sufficient?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me the opportunity to clarify this rather important point. It should be stressed that the Building Regulations set only minimum standards. It is entirely open to people to adopt a higher standard if they wish. Of course, my right honourable friend recognises that energy conservation is essential and he would like to see this, wherever appropriate. At the same time, while we are vigorously researching the implications and costs of higher standards we are sure that it would be wrong to impose them now as mandatory measures within the penal code.


My Lords, does the noble Lord think that contractors and others will build to higher insulation standards? Surely the only people who are likely to do this are those who are getting their own private houses built, which is a negligible number?


My Lords, only time will tell. The fact that there are to be higher minimum standards will have a general upgrading effect. It has always been so (has it not?) that if you start with required lower standards the degree above that tends to be lower than where the obligatory standards are higher, and I think it is reasonable to expect that.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that it is also true to say that local authorities, who despite the recent cuts in Government expenditure and assistance to local authorities, still build a larger number of houses per annum than any private developer, will always build down to the minimum standards laid down by the Government, and that this means that the cost in use of heating these houses is being laid upon the tenants who increasingly are unable to afford it? Therefore, will not the Government consider whether, in the long-term interests of energy conservation and in the short-term interests of the tenants who have to live in houses with inadequate insulation, higher standards should be laid down as a condition for local authorities to receive approval of dwelling construction?


My Lords, that is why I said that the whole area is being looked at at the present time. We shall have to wait and see what is the outcome of the review. One can either accept that what the noble Lord said is correct or not. It is a matter of opinion. It does not always necessarily follow that local authorities build down to what the noble Lord referred to as the lowest standard. Certainly that is not my experience.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the time for objection to two annexes to these regulations has already expired although they have only been available since the end of January and are not readily available to all? Could the noble Lord say whether the object of these regulations is a reduction in cost or an increase in safety, or whether it is an attempt to deal with some of the very special problems that have arisen in building inquiries in recent times? They appear to place rather an emphasis on reduction in cost.


My Lords, it was clearly stated that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State wanted to have replies to his consultation request by now, but there is no doubt that if anybody wishes to make any further observations at this time he will certainly be considered just the same. So I think that there is still opportunity if anybody would like to say anything further about it.


My Lords, does the noble Lord's Answer, or set of answers, mean that the Government's interest in conservation is minimal?


My Lords, I should have thought that the very fact that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has initiated the particular investigation into this whole matter would have indicated quite the contrary to what the noble Lord suggests; and indeed I can assure him, if assurance he requires, that it is the intention to have this information so that one can look at ways of doing things better. I should have thought that that was what the Government ought to be concentrating on now as much as upon many other things they are doing.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, the noble Lord has spoken of minimum standards and higher standards, but would the Government not consider it advisable to lay down standard standards?


My Lords, it is rather like something that is temporary—how temporary is "temporary" and how standard is "standard"? I suppose it is all a question of whether one is buying or selling, but I think the noble Viscount may be assured that the Government are interested that there should be higher standards so far as energy conservation is concerned. It is a matter that is critical for the country for all sorts of reasons which I am sure I need not explain today. So there is no intention of seeing that those standards are lowered; quite the contrary.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord when he thinks that the review will be completed and published?


My Lords, as I have said, we asked for all the observations to be in by now, and in the main, if it is of any interest to your Lordships, some 350 observations have been made. They are now being sifted carefully and, although I cannot say just which day or what time, it is a matter of some urgency. We want to see things done better and we shall certainly push on with it.

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