HL Deb 28 April 1983 vol 441 cc1107-34

House again in Committee on Clause 30.

[Amendment No. 45 not moved.]

7.40 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 46: Page 32, line 2, leave out from ("notice") to second ("the") in line 3.

The noble Earl said: This amendment is quite complicated and I should like to discuss it with my noble friend in due course. Very quickly, in order to save the time of the Committee now, the amendment relates to certificates which have been accepted by the local authority and which imply that the local authority has some discretion, and therefore some duty, to act where they might not have.

[Amendment No. 46 not moved.]

Viscount Hanworth moved Amendment No. 47: Page 32, line 5, after ("27(1)") insert ("(a)").

The noble Viscount said: This amendment stands alone, but it is a very minor amendment. It is in fact dependent upon the substantive amendment, Amendment No. 58. It might be for the convenience of the Committee and possibly of the noble Lord the Minister if I do not press it. If the noble Lord agrees to Amendment No. 58, as I hope he will, then this very minor matter could be put right by him later, or by me on Report. Can the noble Lord say whether he thinks that would be helpful?

Lord Bellwin

The noble Viscount tempts me sorely: would that I could say, Yes. I fear that I shall have some difficulty, but, as he knows from our previous discussions on other legislation in the past, I hope to be not less than helpful.

Viscount Hanworth

Does the noble Lord accept the amendment?

Lord Bellwin

Very much not. I have to say in all fairness that I have a difficulty.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 48:

Page 32, line 7, at end insert— ("(4) A final certificate given under this section to a local authority shall be accompanied by detailed plans of the work which has been completed.").

The noble Lord said: I believe that I may speak to Amendment No. 54 together with Amendment No. 48 because the same basic supporting arguments apply to both.

We have now arrived at the completion stage. Earlier, we were at the initial stage. There were no detailed plans at the initial stage, but we now come to the completion stage and, as the Bill now stands, there is no provision for detailed plans to be deposited with the local authority or with anyone else. The purpose of both amendments is to ensure that, when the approved inspector's final certificate is given to the local authority, or when the public body's final certificate is given, detailed plans of the work will also be handed over to the local authority.

As the Bill now stands, there will, when it becomes the law of the land, be no requirement for the approved inspector to provide detailed plans to the local authority. We consider that to be a serious omission. One does not need a great deal of foresight to foresee circumstances in which one will require to see the plans. One might require access to the plans if it is necessary to alter the buildings, or maybe because a defect emerges some time in the future. Or again, it may become necessary to demolish the building. In that situation, the approved inspector or the developer may not be available and a search for the plans could prove fruitless.

Even if the approved inspector could be tracked down, there is no duty on the inspector to retain the plans once the final certificate has been issued. It therefore becomes necessary, we believe, to provide for such contingencies and to ensure that detailed plans are deposited with the local authority, as the depositary of such plans.

One other point that can be made in favour of this amendment is that a certified plan of the completed works lodged with the final certificate would have about it a quality of performance. The need for an inspector to certify the plan, or for the public body to certify the plan, will ensure that the inspector or the public body do their homework. I would have thought that no approved inspector would lightly certify a plan as being true which he knew to be untrue. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

If I may refer first to Amendment No. 54, perhaps I may remind the Committee that under Clause 33 the Secretary of State will be able to approve certain public bodies to supervise work which they carry out on their own buildings, if they so wish; Schedule 6 provides the necessary mechanism. Both amendments will have a similar effect in requiring final certificates, whether given by an inspector or a public body, to be accompanied by plans of the work as built.

I suggest that we consider what effect the amendments will have in three different situations. The first situation is where all the work which was the subject of the initial notice has been completed to the satisfaction of the approved inspector or public body, so that the final certificate relates to the whole work. In this case a requirement that detailed plans should be provided would merely be for the local authority's record purposes. We do not see the justification for making this a statutory requirement. Local authorities are not required to keep plans for record purposes under the present system. These amendments would lay a new statutory obligation upon authorities which we do not think is necessary.

The second situation to consider is where the final certificate relates to only part of the work described in an initial notice—for example, some of the houses in an estate or some identifiable part of a major development—where the certifier or public body is still responsible for the remainder of the work, or alternatively where a second certifier may be taking over from the first. Again, we see no justification for requiring detailed plans of satisfactory work to be given to the local authority.

The third situation is where a certifier withdraws and responsibility is to revert to the local authority. In this case, he may be able to give a final certificate in respect of some of the work. It will however be an offence under the new building regulations, as it is now under Regulation A 10, for the developer to continue work until full plans have been deposited with the local authority. These plans would have to relate to all work or proposed work which was not the subject of a final certificate. We have, however, provided powers in the Bill, in Clause 32(4), to make regulations to the effect that in such a situation the local authority are also to be provided with plans of the work which has been certified, which they might need for information purposes in considering the rest of the plans. In this case, therefore, we have already effectively provided in the Bill what Amendment No. 48 seeks to provide. I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord can accept this and will feel able to withdraw their amendment.

Baroness Birk

I do not think, listening to what the Minister has said in reply to my noble friend, that it is really correct: it is not provided in the Bill, and that is why we are moving this amendment. We have to recognise that both professionals and members of the public currently use this facility regularly and the Joint Committee on Building Regulations has emphasised the need for plans of existing buildings to be kept by local authorities and to be available for perusal by those who have a legitimate interest in this. We are in a new climate, because, with the introduction of the approved inspector, there will be no requirement, as it stands, to provide plans for the local authority. As a result there will be a serious diminution in the information available to the public and the professions, especially when they are wishing to make alterations to buildings in the future. My noble friend spelled out some of the consequences that could result.

What we are concerned about is that, as this is currently drafted, there is no obligation on the approved inspector to retain the plans once the final certificate has been issued, except for his own personal record purposes. We feel that this is an extremely important cautionary point. This is something I really should have thought the Government would have accepted, especially as it is a question of having detailed building plans and knowing that they are there to be consulted, and able to be referred to when anything goes wrong. Otherwise, the whole thing seems to be too wide open. We have seen on the other amendments the amount of unease that there has been, and I think there is even more on this amendment.

Lord Prys-Davies

Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord the Minister to deal with the three scenarios which I mentioned: first, that in 20 or 30 years' time it becomes necessary to demolish the building or in 20 to 30 years' time a defect emerges. Where will one find the plans of the building in 20 or 30 years' time? There is no provision anywhere in the Bill that the plan will be deposited at a permanent registry; so where does one go in 20 or 30 years' time in those circumstances?

Lord Bellwin

If I can just answer the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, you would go to exactly the same place as you go now, because there is no requirement at the present time for local authorities to get or to retain as-built plans. The obligation that the amendment proposes would impose new burdens on local authorities as well as on developers.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

With regard to what the noble Lord has just said, of course there are new circumstances. I readily accept that the local authorities do not have to have the plans at the present moment. But building becomes much more complicated, as noble Lords have said previously, it is not a case of bricks and mortar any more; building is very complicated in an industrial way of supplying the needs not only of householders but of commercial and industrial users. As building becomes much more complicated one would have thought it would be much more important for these plans to be deposited with the local authority.

Local authorities have—not a grapevine, that is not the word—a contact with one another, either through their associations or through the professional bodies. If we take the case of the cement that caused a great deal of controversy, or the asbestos which was causing a great deal of public anxiety, more often than not such interest starts from a local authority being concerned about these things, and, if their concern is well-founded, obviously the Secretary of State will normally act upon that. We have seen that in the case of the cement and the asbestos. Take the case of Ronan Point, where it was found that there was a need to give greater structural support on the lower levels of blocks of flats. This information will more often than not come from local authorities, because in the past they have been using the building trade regulations and they have to operate them.

What concerns us is whether the people who operate the building trade regulations in the future will be passing on this information. This information is important, because it all has to do with public safety. If it is not passed on to the local authorities, more disasters may take place than will otherwise be the case. I accept what the Minister has said, that at the present time the local authorities do not have to have plans, but if the building control is taken away from them in many cases they will not know the difficulties and problems, because the independent inspectors will have no kind of cross-fertilisation of information as the local authorities would have. The local authority is perhaps normally concentrating on public safety and therefore makes its views quite well-known to the Departments and to the Ministers.

While local authorities have not had these plans in the past, there may be a need to look at this again, and we are asking that the final plans should go to the local authority. If I may digress, when we were discussing the Water Bill we were talking about sewers; this is all part and parcel of the plans of the local authority, as sewers are, so that local authorities are aware of the problems in the areas in which they have to deal with them. One would have thought that if there were to be any problems in the future quite obviously it would be important for the local authority to have the plans.

The Earl of Caithness

I sympathise with the points being made on the other side of the Committee. This is a very similar discussion to that which we had earlier on our Amendment No. 43, which I withdrew. I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment, so that we can discuss our thoughts on this before coming back at a later stage.

Lord Prys-Davies

I had a feeling that the noble Lord the Minister had a great deal of sympathy for the case, but obviously sympathy is no substitute for acceptance. We have a duty to the future, and I have a feeling that if we go along without the detailed plans then we are stoking up a great deal of trouble for the future. Therefore, I think I must press the amendment to a Division.

7.58 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 48) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents 26; Not-Contents, 46.

Beaumont of Whitley, L. Kagan, L.
Birk, B. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Bishopston, L. Lockwood, B.
Collison, L. Mishcon, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Nicol, B.
Denington, B. Oram, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Phillips, B.
Glenamara, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Hanworth, V. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Hatch of Lusby, L.
Hirshfield, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Stone, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Underhill, L.
John-Mackie, L.
Ailesbury, M. Kinnaird, L.
Auckland, L. Kinnoull, E.
Avon, E. Long, V.
Bellwin, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Belstead, L. Lyell, L.
Boardman, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Marley, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Cathcart, E. Morris, L.
Chelwood, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Coleraine, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Orkney, E.
Craigavon, V. Pender, L.
Davidson, V. Portland, D.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Romney, E.
Eccles, V. St. Aldwyn, E.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Elton, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Faithfull, B. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Glanusk, L. Trefgarne, L.
Glenarthur, L. Trenchard, V.
Grantchester, L. Vivian, L.
Gridley, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Hornsby-Smith, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

8.6 p.m.

Clause 30 agreed to.

Clause 31 [Cancellation of initial notice]:

[Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 not moved.]

Clause 31 agreed to.

Clause 32 [Effect of initial notice ceasing to be in force]:

[Amendment No. 51 not moved.]

8.10 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal moved Amendment No. 52:

Page 34, line 27, at end insert—

("(8) In any case to which this section applies the local authority may serve on the person carrying out or intending to carry out the work a notice requiring him to cease all work for a period not exceeding 21 days.

(9) The local authority shall not be liable for any financial loss incurred by the person carrying out or intending to carry out the work or any other person as a result of the service or compliance with a notice under section 32(8) above.

(10) A notice served under 32(8) shall be deemed to be served on a person carrying out or intending to carry out the work if it is affixed to, on, or as near as practicable to the works.

(11) In any case to which this section applies the local authority may require work to be done which rectifies any contravention of the Building Regulations and shall not be liable for any financial loss arising therefrom.")

The noble Baroness said: With this amendment we are trying to make quite sure that when a building project reverts to the local authority from an approved inspector because, for some reason or another, the inspector ceases to function or is unable to satisfy himself that the work is being carried out in compliance with the building regulation—that is, when he stops doing that job for any reason at all and the local authority has to step in—that the local authorities are concerned with certification which may arise from a number of instances. When they move on to the site or come to deal with particular houses, they might find work carried out not in line with the building regulations. Although the work might have been certified, they might be concerned that some of the regulations have not been conformed with.

If anybody continued to build on top of the foundations or on to any part of the building, the building might even become unsound. There might be a serious danger either because the approved inspector was not satisfied originally with how the contractor was doing his work, and that was why he moved off the site or was asked to remove himself from the site, or because of a builder going bankrupt and the local authority moving in and somebody else taking over the job. There can be cases where the plans which have been forwarded to the local authority will clearly show defects of work, or defects might happen in spite of the plans that they have been shown.

The amendment would provide the opportunity for the local authority to require the work to be carried out in accordance with the building regulations or to be altered. Where the work reverts to the local authority due to a dispute, we are concerned that they should have the benefit of the prior submission of the plans and of seeing the progress of the work to date. If they find a serious defect in the property, they should be able to ask for the building to stop, the defects to be looked at seriously and an attempt made to correct them. In the interim period, when they are examining the defect and trying to correct it, we are asking for 21 days so that the defect can be looked at seriously. Therefore I beg to move the amendment standing in our name.

Lord Bellwin

The effect of Amendment No. 52 would be to add four more subsections to Clause 32, of which the first, subsection (8), is the main one. This would allow a local authority, whenever an initial notice ceased to be in force, to issue a "stop-notice" requiring a developer to stop doing any more work on the building, in this case for 21 days.

The first thing I should like to say about this is that, when an initial notice ceases to be in force, it does not necessarily follow that responsibility for supervising the work passes to the local authority. It will often be possible for the developer to engage a second certifier to take over from the first, and regulations will be made so that this can happen. Indeed, we expect that the occasions on which the responsibility will pass to the local authority will be very rare, given the delays and costs to the developer which could result. Obviously it would be wrong to allow the issue of a stop notice where a second certifier was taking over. Equally in those cases where the responsibility does pass to the local authority, it is important that they have the necessary powers to discharge that responsibility, and we intend to provide for this. In the first place regulations will require that full plans will have to be deposited with the local authority. Secondly—and this is a vital point—it will automatically be an offence under the regulations to continue building until these plans have been deposited.

Even more serious for the developer is the fact that the local authority will be empowered to require any work which is not the subject of a final certificate to be taken down or uncovered for the purposes of satisfying themselves that it complies with the regulations. A developer who allowed work to continue after the initial notice had been cancelled, and before the local authority had become substantially involved in inspecting the work, would be running the risk of having to take it down.

For these reasons, we do not see the need to allow local authorities to issue "stop-notices". The important thing is surely to have the power to examine and check work, and to have it put right if necessary. Authorities will have these powers under the Bill as drafted, and developers would know that they had those powers. Therefore, we see no justification for a blanket power to hold up all work on all sites. Under the regulations at present no such powers have been found necessary to deal with unauthorised work.

I am speaking also, as I hope was the noble Baroness, to Amendments Nos. 55 and 57. The new subsections (9) and (10) contained in Amendment No. 52 are merely consequential on (8), and I shall not comment on them. As regards new subsection (11), where local authorities require work to be taken down under their existing powers in Section 65 of the Public Health Act 1936 (which are the powers they would be using in these circumstances), they are not liable for any financial loss on the part of the developer arising as a result.

In the light of these comments, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that the amendments ought to be withdrawn, and I invite her so to do.

Baroness Birk

I think that we are back again in the trap that we keep on coming to in this Bill—the flexibility and open-endedness of it. We are in an entirely different situation. We are not in the same situation with the local authority having complete control over all this. We are in a situation now where there is privatisation and where there are approved inspectors. The stop notice would give the local authority some breathing space and would also encourage the developer to reconcile things and work things out with the approved inspector. As we see it, the end result of the amendment ought to avoid the involvement of the local authority. In fact, it ought to help things along once a building owner has decided to take the private certifier route. The Minister said that the provision will be in regulations. As I have said before, there is a point beyond which it is difficult for us to accept so much government by regulation. Plans will have to be deposited. But if that is so, it seems to me that this amendment just underlines the position and emphasises what ought to be done. It puts it on the face of the Bill.

As we are also talking about Amendments Nos. 55 and 57, No. 55 goes into the penalty area, and in No. 57 we have what makes sense nowadays. It deals with the fine. It says that there should be: a maximum daily fine of £1,000 for each day the offence continues". I believe that it is important to have a figure put in. There was an error originally. The Minister will no doubt have noticed that the word "maximum" has now been put in. It was left out by mistake originally. There should be a realistic fine to deal with any offences in the light of the inflation today. This is one of the amendments which I should have thought the Minister would have accepted. If it is a question of the way that it is drafted, I do not think that that is all that important. If there are any holes that he finds in the drafting, it can be altered. It is the principle of the amendment that is extremely important. I hope that the Minister will consider this and perhaps make a different decision from the one that he has made at the moment or at least decide that he will take it back and look at it.

Baroness Nicol

I raised this particular point at Second Reading, and subsequently the Minister very kindly wrote a letter to me and drew my attention to what he thought were the safeguards in this situation. If I may, I should like to quote from the letter: When a local authority takes over responsibility they will have their full enforcement powers and will be able to have any uncertified work opened up for inspection. There will thus be a strong disincentive to any developer inclined to continue work before the local authority have taken over the supervision". I feel that opening up work which has been completed is not perhaps as simple as all that, if a number of days elapse between the local authority's arrival and the departure of the approved inspector who, let us face it, may leave in haste. There could be covered up a considerable amount of work which it would be impossible to open up for inspection, and that is one of the main reasons why I consider that the power to issue a stop notice is so important.

The maximum fine of £1,000 for each day need never have to be imposed, but it is a useful fall-back in the case of a developer who insists on carrying on regardless. I was very interested in the reply given by the noble Lord the Minister a little earlier. I am afraid that I missed part of it, and I want to read it carefully before I make any further comment. However unless he said a lot that I did not hear, I would still consider a stop notice to be essential in these circumstances.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

In view of what the noble Lord has said, and because we think that matters of public safety might be involved, we intend to divide the Committee.

8.22 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 52) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents 24; Not-Contents, 40.

Airedale, L. John-Mackie, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Kagan, L.
Birk, B. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Bishopston, L. [Teller.] Lockwood, B.
David, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Denington, B. Mishcon, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Nicol, B.
Hanworth, V. Phillips, B.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Hirshfield, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Hooson, L. Stone, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Underhill, L. [Teller.]
Avon, E. Gridley, L.
Bellwin, L. Kinnaird, L.
Belstead, L. Long, V.
Boardman, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Lyell, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Cathcart, E. Marley, L.
Chelwood, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Coleraine, L. Morris, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Craigavon, V. Portland, D.
Davidson, V. Romney, E.
Denham, L. [Teller.] St. Aldwyn, E.
Eccles, V. Skelmersdale, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Elton, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Gardner of Parkes, B. Trefgarne, L.
Glanusk, L. Trenchard, V.
Glenarthur, L. Vivian, L.
Grantchester, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 32 agreed to.

Clause 33 [Giving, acceptance and effect of public body's notice]:

8.30 p.m.

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 53:

Page 34, line 38, leave out paragraph (b) and insert— ("(b) ensures that the work is to be adequately supervised by an Approved Inspector,").

The noble Baroness said: Public bodies provide and use a wide range of buildings from operational buildings to shops and houses. We should expect the same high standards from them that we expect from private developers. The amendment seeks to ensure that either the bodies concerned have persons on their staffs who have been appointed as approved inspectors or they use the services of local authorities or other approved inspectors. This may not be the best wording but if the Minister accepts the principle, a better form could be produced. I have read the provisions headed "Consultation" in Schedule 6 on page 66 and noted them as well as one is able. But we are not aware of what form the many prescriptions may take. We cannot therefore assess the value of the provisions. They may well cover this point, and I am sure that this is what the Minister will say.

I would have thought that this amendment would appeal to the Government because it extends the field into which their private inspectors can go in the event of public bodies not having suitable persons who can be appointed as approved inspectors. It would seem to me to have the added advantage of an increased and improved standard on what existed before. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

In order to be eligible for approval as a self-certifier, a public body will have to act under enactment for public purposes and not for its own profit. The categories from which self-certifying bodies would be chosen could include, broadly speaking, most statutory undertakers, nationalised industries and municipal undertakings.

These bodies are at present required to deposit full plans and submit their works to local authority inspection, with the exception of statutory undertakers which are entirely exempt from the building regulations in respect of their operational buildings only under Section 71 of the Public Health Act 1936.

Amendment No. 53 would require any bodies which were approved as self-certifiers to employ approved inspectors to supervise their building work. By removing the bodies' option of employing their own servants or agents, the amendment effectively nullifies one of the purposes of Clause 33, which is to give extra flexibility and choice to those bodies which can be trusted to carry out building control work responsibly.

This is the key point. Only those bodies which can be trusted to act responsibly will be approved. Since Parliament has already demonstrated its trust in such bodies, as I have mentioned, by giving them specific statutory functions to perform for the benefit of the public, there is a case for trusting them to make their own arrangements for ensuring that the building regulations requirements are met. This of course depends on how answerable are the bodies. If there is strong representation on them at top level of democratically elected local authorities, or if they are within the responsibilities of Ministers answerable to Parliament, there must be a strong presumption that they can be trusted to behave responsibly, and this must include choosing suitably qualified agents or employees to undertake the job of building control.

Local building control authorities, of course, are not obliged—and will not be obliged—to employ as building inspectors people with the qualifications which will be necessary for approved inspectors. The essential point is that the body itself should be trustworthy.

We have not yet decided precisely which bodies might be approved. In case any of your Lordships have in front of you copies of Command Paper 8179, The Future of Building Control In England and Wales, I should say that the list of bodies in Annex A is highly conjectural. We shall consult fully before making a final choice and shall bear firmly in mind the need for the bodies concerned to be accountable and responsible.

I am sure that the noble Baroness, having heard what I have said, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

Listening to the noble Lord, one can appreciate that there are statutory bodies which have been in difficulties on occasion. One recalls the consternation—I would not use the word "scandal"—that has arisen over certain hospital buildings. The noble Lord will perhaps not need to have his attention drawn to what have been revealed as certain defects, even during the past 18 months, which have been the subject of press publicity. It makes one wonder whether what the noble Lord states really operates in practice. It is for that reason that we have moved the amendment.

One would like to feel that what the noble Lord says really happens. However, in the case of certain hospitals, one is led to believe that all the safeguards have perhaps not been taken. I ask the noble Lord to give this matter a great deal more consideration. It is not a case of the local authorities feeling themselves to be a superior body to anyone else. However, the fact that they act as a statutory body and ensure that the buildings they erect come under the building regulations and meet other necessary requirements makes them feel that all other statutory bodies should accept the same principle. I do not wish to repeat myself, but that does not always seem to be the case.

Baroness Nicol

The Minister kept referring to the trustworthiness of these bodies. I am sure that they are trustworthy. The purpose of the amendment was to ensure that they have the appropriate expertise. I shall read with care the noble Lord's answer. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 33 agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Provisions consequential upon public body's notice]:

[Amendment No. 54 not moved.]

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clauses 34 and 35 agreed to.

Clause 36 [Offences]:

[Amendments Nos. 55, 56, and 57 not moved.]

Clause 36 agreed to.

8.38 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth moved Amendment No. 58: After Clause 36, insert the following new clause:

("Powers of local authority under s. 36

—.A local authority having reasonable cause to suspect that an offence under section 36 of this Act has been committed—

  1. (a) may for the purpose of ascertaining whether it has been committed, require a person who has carried out work under an initial notice and a person who is an inspector to produce any documents relating to the work;
  2. (b) has the power to institute proceedings for any contravention".).

The noble Lord said: This is the substantive amendment about which I spoke when I withdrew Amendment No. 47. I think that my reasons for withdrawing Amendment No. 47 were not completely understood. It was classified as a stand-alone amendment when it was, in fact, concerned with this amendment. I could have spoken to this amendment then. I preferred not to do so, because I thought that it might disturb some people and also I wished to hear what was said about other amendments. I am afraid that, although I do not disagree with the Government's views on doing some more privatisation, this amendment and the others that I shall move subsequently are concerned with the fact that the Government seem to have forgotten the safeguards. I find this extraordinary. Clause 30 provides that local authority enforcement can be exercised for work that has been supervised by an approved private inspector. This seems a mistaken provision as it provides no possibility of having a double check. It might almost be said that it makes it easy for corruption to occur. All the amendment does is to seek to remedy this state of affairs and it means that if the council have real reasons for feeling that something has gone wrong, they can still do something about it.

Surely a double check or the ability to have a double check is something we require in almost every walk of life. Yet not only as regards this provision but, as I shall show, as regards subsequent provisions, the Government seem to have abandoned all ideas of having this double check. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

Clause 36 creates two offences relating to false or misleading statements in initial notices, plans certificates and final certificates. It will be an offence to give a notice or certificate which the person giving it knows to contain a false or misleading statement. It will also be an offence to give a notice or certificate recklessly where it contains a false or misleading statement.

The purpose of this amendment, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has said, is to enable a local authority which suspects that such an offence has been committed to require the developer or approved inspector to produce any documents—not just particular documents, any documents—relating to the work. Presumably they would want plans in order to check them, and if they considered the plans showed a contravention they would then have the power under paragraph (b) of the amendment to prosecute for a contravention of the building regulations. The amendment seeks to give the local authority power to interfere with work which has been certified, thereby exposing the local authority to the risk that they may in some measure be found responsible and liable for work carried out under the professional supervision of an approved inspector. I have already explained to your Lordships that responsibility for certified work must remain with the approved inspector, and I respectfully submit that local authorities do not want to be put in a position of responsiblity themselves in a situation of this kind.

I know that the noble Viscount is concerned about safeguards. He says that the Government have forgotten safeguards. I assure him that we have not forgotten safeguards, although he may well feel from the way in which the Bill reads that that is the case. However, we are very anxious about it. I am sure that the noble Viscount realises that he is bringing in not a new régime but an additional régime, an alternative régime, and it really would be pretty disastrous if such a régime were to turn out to have some of the worst consequences which have been expressed. I entirely accept that. In turn, I hope that the noble Viscount will accept from me that the Government have been concerned and have consulted carefully about this situation.

While I accept that we may not have the wording as adequate as the noble Lord would like, I ask him to take it from me that we certainly have not forgotten safeguards. Whether or not they are sufficient for him is something that he will have to decide; but certainly we have not forgotten them. I feel that the fears which he has expressed really should not be there. We have confidence that what we are proposing, for the reasons that I am giving now and for all the others about which we have been talking, should assuage his fears on this matter.

Viscount Hanworth

If I have understood the noble Lord aright, he is really saying that what I want here is already in the Bill in some other way and the safeguards provided in the Bill are quite as adequate as the ones I am moving. Am I correct?

Lord Bellwin

I would not deem it right to go so far as that because I am not sure of the exact extent of the safeguards that the noble Lord wishes. But, if he likes, what I will gladly undertake to do is to go into much more detail with chapter and verse between now and the next stage—and in fact I can do it now—in order to give him an opportunity to see if there is a degree of safeguard which would satisfy him.

Viscount Hanworth

I thank the Minister very much. I am only referring at this stage to Amendment No. 58 but I did make the broader point that safeguards in the Bill were in my view inadequate. We shall certainly come on to this point when I deal with my other amendments. I should be most grateful if the Minister could satisfy himself that, broadly speaking, what I am trying to achieve in this amendment is already in the Bill, or perhaps would be put in the Bill if the Minister was not satisfied that he had safeguards of this type. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 37 and 38 agreed to.

Clause 39 [Power of certain public bodies to relax requirements of building regulations for their own works]:

8.46 p.m.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 59: Page 39, line 1, after ("may") insert ("after consulting the Secretary of State").

The noble Lord said: As I understand it—and I think as my noble friend does as well—there is at present in the Bill no body of expertise outside the Department of the Environment and the local authorities for the relaxation of building regulations. It therefore would be wise to require a consultation to be carried out before any public body issued "a direction" as in lines 1 and 2 on page 39 of the Bill. New building materials and methods become available from time to time and the Secretary of State may, if he feels it right, consult the Building Regulations Advisory Committee or other expert opinion before he himself advises the public body. I therefore feel that this might be a wise precaution to take. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

Clause 39 will allow certain bodies to relax some of the requirements of building regulations—that is, those that are prescribed, following consultation—for their own works, where they consider that that particular requirement would be unreasonable in the circumstances. These bodies will be identical to the ones we have just discussed under Clause 38; namely, local authorities, county councils and prescribed public bodies, which act under an enactment for public purposes and not for their own profit.

The justification for exempting them from the procedures is that they can be trusted, as my noble friend has already said, to comply with the substantive building regulations, and do not need to be subject to building control authorities enforcement operations. Indeed, many of them are building control authorities. On the same basis therefore it seems reasonable to allow the same bodies, subject to the safeguards I shall list in a moment, to relax particular requirements of the building regulations where they are unduly onerous.

What I am about to say I hope will be a partial answer at least to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. The safeguards are as follows. First, bodies will be able to relax the requirements only of those regulations which are prescribed. There will be consultation before that can be done. I do not want to prejudice those consultations but if, for example, it were generally felt that the power to relax some of the regulations should be reserved, then this could be done.

Secondly, they will be obliged to advertise any proposal they have to relax the requirements, exactly as building control authorities have to now when they are considering relaxing regulations at the request of an applicant. These requirements and procedures are set out in Section 8 of the Public Health Act 1961, and subsection (2) of Clause 38 of this Bill applies them to the cases of the public bodies we are considering. They will give full opportunities for representations to be made.

Thirdly, public bodies who are contemplating relaxing regulations which might affect fire safety would have to consult the fire authority exactly as local authorities do now under Section 15(1) of the Fire Precautions Act 1971.

The effect of Amendment No. 59 would be to require them in all cases to consult the Secretary of State. We see no justification for that, and it would be counter to the intention of Clause 39 which is to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy by enabling responsible bodies to take their own decisions as regards relaxation of those regulations—and only those—which are prescribed for the purposes of Clause 39.

As regards regulations which are not prescribed for the purposes of Clause 39, and where the power to relax is reserved to the local authority or Secretary of State, an exempt body will have to go through the normal procedures of applying for a relaxation.

I hope that, in view of those comments, my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Swinfen

That is rather a mouthful, and rather a complicated mouthful. I think I would prefer to read it in the Official Report tomorrow before making any comment. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No 60: Page 39, leave out lines 6 to 8.

The noble Baroness said: This amendment also relates to relaxation requirements. Under Section 6 of the Public Health Act 1961, the Secretary of State is enabled to relax a requirement imposed by building regulations in a particular case where that requirement would, in the circumstances of that case, be unreasonable and where specific application is made for that relaxation.

Clause 39 of the Bill will carry Section 6 of the 1961 Act even further, because it will enable certain bodies to dispense with any requirement of the building regulations at all in any case where they regard the requirement as unreasonable in relation to a particular building work which they are carrying out. The bodies upon whom this power of dispensation is to be conferred are local authorities with, of course, the exception of parish councils, statutory undertakers and any other body which is prescribed as an exempt body for the purposes of Clause 38 of the Bill.

Together with local government associations and NALGO, we are very concerned that the conferring of such a power of dispensation upon a wide range of bodies could, in effect, amount to a jerry-builders' charter. We feel that this must be avoided at all costs. Therefore we believe that the power of dispensation should be conferred only upon local authorities and statutory undertakers, and the object of the amendment is to restrict the effect of the clause by deleting any reference to the wider range of exempt bodies.

This is an amendment to which we attach great importance because of the potential it carries for the encouragement of jerry-building and the absence of control. We believe that certainly today, when standards are unfortunately not always as high as they should be in many instances this would be an invitation to cut corners very severely and to a much lower standard of building and maintenance than we ought to accept. I beg to move the amendment.

Viscount Hanworth

This amendment covers precisely the point that I was making in very general terms. One is really very worried that adequate safeguards are not being preserved in this Bill. As I shall argue a little later, one is not asking for more bureaucratic procedures; one is simply asking that, when something is delegated, somebody is there to overlook it if it proves to be necessary.

Lord Skelmersdale

Everything that I said on the earlier amendments, including the safeguards, applies to this amendment. Our intention is that the bodies empowered to relax under Clause 39 should be the same as those which would be exempt from the procedures under the previous clause. Where bodies are exempt from the procedures, they are trusted to comply with the building regulations; building control authorities' enforcement operations will not extend to them.

This is all designed to save bureaucracy and to remove the statutory obligation on local authorities and similar responsible bodies to push pieces of paper around between each other or even, in the case of district councils, within themselves. On the same basis, therefore, it seems reasonable to allow the same bodies, subject to the safeguards which I spelt out when we were discussing Amendment No. 59, to relax particular requirements of the building regulations where they are unduly onerous.

However, there is a separate safeguard in which I think the Committee will be interested and which is my personal defence against the accusation of speaking for a "jerry-builders' charter", which I think were the words used by the noble Baroness. It is that the exempt bodies would be notified to Parliament by order by negative resolution. So if at any time the Government of the day felt it necessary to change them, Parliament would be able to express its view on the changes that the then Government were proposing. I think that this is a very important extra safeguard and I hope that the Committee will agree it.

Viscount Hanworth

I just want to make one point here. It is very drastic to make an order to remove a body which has probably been doing some quite good work just because something has gone wrong or is going wrong. One wants to improve matters rather than take such a drastic step. Do let us be sensible. Who on earth will take away the charter from as responsible a body as the British Standards Institution? Much the same applies to other public bodies. Unless something has gone very seriously wrong, one could not do it.

Lord Skelmersdale

Surely that is the point, If they were responsible, there would be no need to lay an order before Parliament in order to take these particular self-certification powers away from them.

Baroness Denington

The Minister pleads that part of the reason for this action is to do away with too much bureaucracy. None of us supports a lot of bureaucratic nonsense, but nevertheless we are so worried that the safeguards in this Bill are being whittled away and that what is left is minimal, that we would sooner preserve a little reasonable bureaucracy in the interests of safety. That is really where we stand. I do not know whether the Government realise—surely they do now, having gone this far with the Bill—that we and a great many professional people outside are exceedingly worried about this Bill, and the further we go through the Bill the more worried about it we become.

The Government do not seem to be able to respond one single jot to our quite proper public concern about the dispensations being given in this Bill. I ask the Minister to convey to his friends that not only we on these Benches but a whole body of professional opinion outside is profoundly concerned. We are proud of our record in this nation that we do not open our newspapers and find buildings falling down. Our worry is that in time to come we may not be so happy about the situation.

Baroness Birk

I am grateful for the support of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and also of my noble friend. I thought that they both put the case extremely well and stressed the importance and gravity of what is being done and how the Bill would look without this amendment. It is true that local authorities have been permitting or refusing relaxation for some time and they will continue to do so in their own right and for approved inspectors after the Bill becomes law, if in fact it does.

However, it is considered essential that in any locality there should be consistency in the application of relaxation or dispensation procedures. But, as at present drafted, we have this range of public bodies which would have identical powers covering their own operational properties and other property in their ownership. There is no justification for this extension of power. The building regulations are about health and safety, and in this area the status quo should be maintained. We do not even know the extent of the list, although one hopes the Government will have in mind some limitation on the original proposals.

Apparently the Government seem to believe that the type of body in question is publicly accountable and, by employing professional advisers or employees, it will not seek to cut corners. There is nothing to stop such bodies using the established local authority route, if they so desire. But, if these arguments are sound, there is no need for the provision that they have made. This is so important that, in order to safeguard, as it were, and in order to control relaxation of the control powers, I shall have to press it to a Division if the Minister cannot give us any other hope.

9 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 60) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 19; Not-Contents, 40.

Airedale, L. John-Mackie, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Kagan, L.
Birk, B. Lockwood, B.
Bishopston, L. [Teller.] McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Denington, B. Nicol, B.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Hanworth, V. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Stone, L.
Hooson, L. Underhill, L. [Teller.]
Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Avon, E. Cork and Orrery, E.
Bellwin, L. Craigavon, V.
Belstead, L. Davidson, V.
Boardman, L. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Brougham and Vaux, L. Donegall, M.
Caithness, E. Eccles, V.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Cathcart, E. Elton, L.
Chelwood, L. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Coleraine, L. Glanusk, L.
Glenarthur, L. Romney, E.
Kinnaird, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Long, V. Sandford, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Lyell, L. Swinfen, L.
Marley, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Massereene and Ferrard, V. Trefgarne, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Trenchard, V.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Vivian, L.
Portland, D. Wakefield of Kendal, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 39 agreed to.

Clause 40 [Approval of documents for purposes of building regulations]:

9.8 p.m.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 61: Page 39, line 26, after ("State") insert ("after consulting the Building Regulations Advisory Committee").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 61 I propose to speak also to Amendments Nos. 62, 63, 66 with the approval of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, 67, 68, 71, 72 and 75. This group of amendments are together and all concern basically one thing. In my view, it is vital for the success of new functional regulations that the approved documents should carry the greatest possible authority and have the widest possible acceptance within the building industry and the professions connected therewith. There is a serious concern, I believe, within the professions generally about the possible contents and method of approval of future approval documents.

To give them added strength, all approved documents should be approved by the Secretary of State even when they are prepared by outside bodies. The outside bodies that advise the Secretary of State in this respect should be the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, (a) because they know about this business and (b) because this ties this Bill in with Section 9 of the Public Health Act 1961. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

Despite the admirable way in which my noble friend has moved this enormous series of amendments, I am afraid that it is going to take a little time to explain the answer. At present the building regulations not only say what must be done. In many cases they also say how it should be done. The regulations contain a table six pages long listing the relevant British Standards. This is very useful for the builder but the inclusion of technical matter in such detail within the statutory instrument itself produces a very unwieldy document and it means that revisions or updatings of the standards concerned cannot be brought into the regulations without a further amending statutory instrument. Yet these standards have been developed in the British Standards Institution by committees of experts drawn from all relevant interests, the professions, manufacturers and contractors, building owners and users, local authorities and Government departments.

The draft will have been subjected to a process of open public consultation, and the final standard in virtually every case represents the agreed consensus of all concerned. It seems wasteful and unnecessarily time-consuming for my right honourable friend to have to start again to examine and evaluate that standard and then to subject it to a further round of public consultation before making a statutory instrument to be laid before Parliament. In nearly 20 years' experience of this process it is hard to recall a single instance where reference in the regulations to such standards has been challenged. The Bill, therefore, seeks to cut through this expensive duplication of procedures, and to allow the Secretary of State to approve such documents as giving practical guidance to compliance with the building regulations.

Noble Lords would surely accept that it is sensible to take these technical details out of the regulations; and nothing that my noble friend has said so far has led me to suppose otherwise. The fear seems to be that bodies which were designated by the Secretary of State might allow commercial or private interests to distort their judgment. The Government are the first to agree that this must not happen. If we thought that there was a serious likelihood that it would happen we would not be bringing forward this clause.

How do we see this provision operating? First, the only candidates we have in mind at present for designation under this clause are the British Standards Institution and the British Board of Agrément. Both are established authoritative bodies whose independence is beyond question. The BSI operate under Charter and the Council of the Board of Agrément is appointed by the Secretary of State. In the BSI the standards committees in this field have representation not only from private industry but also from Government departments. As for the Board of Agrément, officials representing my right honourable friend's department attend the council's meetings as assessors. There is no danger that I can see of either of these organisations being captured by sectional private interests.

Designation is made by statutory instrument laid before Parliament, so your Lordships would have an opportunity of considering in detail any proposition that might be made. Designation would not be the end of the matter. The Secretary of State would retain the right to withdraw designation from any body which does not discharge its functions properly. This is a very powerful sanction which we should ensure continuing here for the public interest. The Government's intentions here are to ensure that technical information relevant to the building regulations is assessed and disseminated as quickly and efficiently as possible. We want to reduce unnecessary, repetitive, bureaucratic procedures to a minimum.

We have well-established centres of independent expertise in the BSI and the BBA. The public interest is well protected there by the active participation of my right honourable friend's department. It seems sensible to us to let those two bodies get on with the job. I believe that the system we are proposing is necessary if we are to have a flexible, responsive system of guidance to support the building regulations.

Some approved documents will have to be produced from within my department. I am sure that my right honourable friend will want to consult the Building Regulations Advisory Committee on these and it will be part of his normal relationship with that committee to discuss with them draft codes of practice in the course of their production. A formal obligation to consult the committee in every case—which is the purpose of some of the amendments—would be unduly rigid and restrictive and would mean that, no matter how thorough the early stages of consultation had been, further consultation would have to be gone through. That seems superfluous.

I can assure my noble friend that, although we do not want re-consultation to be automatic, my right honourable friend will always consult the Building Regulations Advisory Committee when necessary. He sets a very high value on the advice and assistance that he receives from that excellent committee. With this long and, I hope, sufficiently detailed explanation, perhaps my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Hanworth

I am not quite certain what to do because a great deal of what the Minister has said covers points that I was going to make in my own speech. I think, therefore, that the sensible thing would be for me to deal with one or two points which the noble Lord particularly mentioned. This will shorten my later speech.

I have a great admiration for the British Standards Institution and their work. Nevertheless, having sat on a very large number of their committees over a long, long period, I would certainly think it invidious to give them the powers proposed without the Minister having, at least, a last say if he should wish to have it. Nor do I believe that the BSI would wish to accept this authority completely.

A committee decision in BSI is usually based on obtaining 90 per cent. agreement—sometimes to the detriment of the result. To decide how to balance comments received on a draft can be very difficult for committees with a requirement to obtain such a degree of unanimity. Even more difficult, I think, and even more invidious for the senior staff of BSI, would it be to upset a committee's or senior committee's decision. Sometimes—or, as the cynics would say, more often than not—the net result could be classified as the lowest common denominator.

I cannot believe that there is any objection to the Government putting their dhobi mark on what they believe, having been represented on the BSI committee, to be a reasonable standard; going out for further limited consultation only if it seems desirable; or putting the document back to the committee for reasons stated. If this approach conflicts with precedent, then make provision for doing it in the Bill. Certainly, I would have thought that the Bill's proposals were a complete breach with all tradition and the principles of Government and parliamentary control. The Minister has also said that, if necessary, and if the results were not satisfactory, BSI could be removed from being a certifying body. I ask your Lordships! For a Government solemnly to make that provision against one of the most reputable institutions in the land there would have to be some matter gone so wrong as hardly to be believable. That is just idle talk.

Lord Skelmersdale

I am not quite sure whether I have misled the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, in what I said or whether, perhaps, he has slightly misunderstood the basic foundation of Clause 40. The whole point about Clause 40 is that it will enable the Secretary of State to approve documents which, in his opinion—and there is the safeguard; because the Secretary of State is answerable to Parliament all the time—provide practical guidance on compliance with the building regulations. This will make it possible for the complicated technical supporting material in the present statutory instrument, which has to be drafted in legal terms, to be set out in technically-written practical documents outside the regulations. I did not at any point say that the BSI could be removed as a body. When I was talking about the removal of "bodies", I was talking about bodies, for example, such as the statutory undertakers which were referring to in, I think, Clause 37, if I remember correctly.

Viscount Hanworth

Perhaps the Bill is not clear, but I and a number of other people who have read it understand that the Government can delegate powers of approval of these "deemed to satisfy" documents probably to the BSI and the Agrément Board. If that is so, and the Government retain absolutely no right of approving those documents, then, when they are passed by the British Standards Institution or whatever body has been nominated they will have legal status. If the Minister says that is not so, that is a very different matter; but I can hardly believe it, because the Bill has been read as meaning that by many people who are more competent to judge than I am.

The Earl of Caithness

Similar representations have been made to me as they have to the noble Viscount. Certain professions are very concerned that the Secretary of State is delegating his powers, and the advice of the professional bodies which is sought at the moment by the Secretary of State will not be sought by the body which takes over the Secretary of State's duties. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend can reassure me that the Secretary of State at the end of the day has overall control. If he does not, I think it is important that we should discuss this very thoroughly before a later stage of these proceedings.

Lord Skelmersdale

If I am wrong of course I shall write and inform Members of the Committee who have spoken on this particular point; but so far as I can see at the moment I am probably correct. However, if I am not, as I say, I will inform those of your Lordships who are concerned.

Baroness Birk

Even if the Minister is correct, having listened carefully to what has been said and having read the clause, it seems there is enough doubt in it either for the Minister to be able to go back or explain exactly what it does mean, which does not seem to be entirely clear. If there is no reason for the anxieties which have been expressed—and which I really think are well placed at the moment so far as the present wording is concerned—then it would seem that that part of the clause certainly needs redrafting. One of the interesting things which has arisen from this discussion—if we ignore for a moment its substantive point—is that it is quite unclear. If something can give rise to so much misunderstanding, certainly among the people who have spoken who are, though few, all extremely knowledgeable in this field, then there is something wrong with the way it is set down.

Viscount Hanworth

I am rather disappointed, because I took the precaution of writing out my speech and sending a copy to the Minister beforehand. I would have hoped at least, since the whole of my speech was concerned with this particular point, that we could have had it clarified tonight; but perhaps it may come up with my amendment.

Lord Skelmersdale

I apologise to the noble Viscount. I have not seen the letter to which he referred. I do not know when he wrote it or when he sent it but if there has been a slip up in my department I can only apologise most sincerely. I assure him that that is the position.

Viscount Hanworth

It was just a matter of information. It was sent personally to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and it contained everything that I propose to say tonight on the amendments which I shall move in a minute.

Lord Swinfen

I must admit that, having listened to the debate on this amendment, I am not very happy with the outcome. I should therefore like to reserve my position and possibly come back at a later stage. So, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 62 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Earl Cathcart)

Amendments Nos. 63 and 64 have been marshalled in the wrong order. Therefore, I will now call Amendment No. 64.

9.26 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth moved Amendment No. 64: Page 39, line 26, leave out from ("State") to second ("the ") in line 33, and insert ("may approve and issue any document (whether or not prepared by him), if in his opinion").

The noble Viscount said: I think that it will be convenient to the Committee if in moving this amendment I also speak to Amendments Nos. 65, 66, 70, 73 and 77. I have already raised some of the points which I was going to make on these amendments, so I shall be fairly brief. The intention of the amendments is to negative the provision in the Bill which, apparently, allows a Secretary of State to delegate his power of approving documents giving practical guidance on the requirements of the building regulations to private bodies. In another place, the Minister argued that the delegation of his powers would speed up approval and avoid two separate processes of consultation. Worthy as this aim may be, it is just not acceptable as it stands.

An approved document will have only slightly less status than a full mandatory regulation. It will, in effect, establish the degree of safety and the quality of building work. For example, the building regulations may state only that a building must have adequate foundations to guard against damage from specified causes, but what this means in practice will be spelled out in the approved document. Not only this, but Clause 41 of the Bill provides for the use of such documents in legal proceedings.

A private body giving approval will not be answerable in any way to Parliament, and this offends the democratic principle that special interests should not define criteria of public concern. Another objection is that a private approval body can even approve a document produced and issued by another body, when, quite possibly, consultation with interested parties is lacking. Quite amazingly, I believe that there is no procedure for obliging an approval body to withdraw an unsatisfactory document—and that, of course, is the nub of the question.

If the Minister does not agree these amendments, which seems likely—I hope that he will give really serious thought to the points which I have made and that he will also agree that there is no need for double consultation. All that is wanted is for the Minister to have a reserve power, so that he is able not to approve a document if he is not satisfied with it. For example, if he feels that further consultation is necessary, he can indicate what the further consultation should be; or, if in any other way he is not satisfied with the document, he can put it back for further consideration by the committee. I simply cannot believe that, if the Government do not have those powers, they can reasonably argue that they should not have them. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

I am afraid that the noble Viscount, although trying to be helpful, and with the best will in the world, has confused me totally and completely. I have checked with my officials and they have no knowledge even of receiving such a letter. I hope that my reply will be a partial answer, but obviously it will not be anything like as considered as it would have been had we been in different circumstances.

Amendments 65, 70 and 76 comprise a proposal which purports to give my right honourable friend an alternative to preparing approved documents himself. It would appear to enable him to designate bodies to prepare documents, under his direction, which he might subsequently approve. My right honourable friend already has powers to commission outside bodies as consultants to prepare papers for him. He has indeed already followed this course in respect of early drafts of some of the documents which may ultimately be approved in connection with the new regulations. He may well repeat this action in future. Detailed requirements for consultation and other aspects of the preparation of the drafts can be imposed in the usual way through a contract and my right honourable friend will be ultimately responsible for the text which he approves. He needs no new powers to do this.

But designation would mean that, having decided to place such a commission, my right honourable friend would have to lay an order in Parliament, subject to negative resolution procedures, naming the drafting body. I cannot believe that noble Lords wish the power to endorse a body selected by normal contractual procedures to prepare a draft which my right honourable friend will then take over as his own.

The effect of Amendment No. 77 would be largely to cancel out the effect of Clause 44(1). At present, the Secretary of State is required under Section 9(3) of the Public Health Act 1961, before making building regulations, to consult the Building Regulations Advisory Committee and other interested parties. These currently number over 300, and consultation is obligatory whether the building regulations concerned deal with substantive matters or whether they are merely procedural.

At present, the requirement imposed under subsection (3) of Section 9 of the 1961 Act is as follows: Before making any building regulations, the Minister shall consult the Building Regulations Advisory Committee and such other bodies as appear to him to be representative of the interests concerned". Thus, Clause 44(1) would restrict the statutory obligation for full consultation to the substantive matters of the regulations—that is, those which affect the way buildings are actually constructed. It would not mean that we would stop consulting on all the other, procedural matters—we would not; we would continue to consult generally on new matters but not on minor changes where we might however consult a more restricted group of bodies.

Let me explain just what this consultation involves at the moment. We have a standard list of bodies to consult on changes to the building regulations. It is an open list; any representative body which can claim a legitimate interest can ask to be put on it, even though their interest may in practice be very narrow and limited. As I have said, it is an enormous list of 300 bodies; but I was amazed to discover that it included two very unlikely bedfellows—namely, the Cake and Biscuit Alliance and the Vitreous Enamel Development Association. I hope that proves my point. All have recognisable interests in the building regulations, but not a central interest in every case. We are not asking, in Clause 44(1), for leave to stop consulting altogether; we want merely to be allowed to be selective in out consultations on procedural details.

Turning now to the particular point raised by Amendment No. 77, I think we would accept that, the first time we make regulations to bring Parts II and III of this Bill into effect, we should consult exhaustively; but if details like this need changing later, would it be sensible to canvass the changes with 300-plus organisations? Amendment No. 77 would require us to do that.

I can assure the Committee further that, wherever significant matters are under consideration—and of course some procedural matters can be vitally important—we shall consult fully. I think our record on consultation on these matters is very good. We have consulted repeatedly on matters we were not statutorily obliged to—our Command Paper, our consultation on certification of last July, our massive consultation on the form and content of our regulations last May and again this March; I think that speaks for itself. I hope I have said enough to make the noble Viscount aware of the Government's thinking on this matter, even if I have not directly answered some of the points which he made in his interesting speech, which I will study and consider very carefully over the weekend.

Viscount Hanworth

I thank the Minister for taking so much trouble. As he realised, he has not really answered satisfactorily the fundamental point. There are at the moment many standards used in legislation, but of course they are always, and always have been, approved by the Ministry as suitable for that legislation. It refers to the standard at a certain time, and certainly in a "deemed to satisfy" document amendment of the standard is relatively easy.

All we are asking is that the Minister does not delegate wholly his authority for deciding that a standard is suitable. He will have had a representative on the committee and it may well be that that representative was not wholly satisfied; he will probably be fairly junior, and he may not have been able fully to influence the committee. I repeat the point that the Minister should reserve to himself the right not to agree a standard that has been produced for the regulations. That means that he has finally to put his dhobi mark on it before it becomes an official document.

I hope the Minister will consider these points. Unfortunately I am going on holiday on 6th May. I was going to ask the Minister to write to me. But if there is any chance of meeting the Minister before then and having a brief talk to sort this out, I would be more than grateful. I would be prepared to meet at any time suitable to him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 63 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 65 to 68 not moved.]

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 69:

Page 40, line 5, leave out from ("be") to ("by") in line 8 and insert ("the body which gave the approval may— (a) from time to time approve and issue a revision of the whole or any part of an approved document issued").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, I would speak also to Amendment No. 74. Both these amendments seek to clarify the Bill. They both concern the mechanism for approving documents to give practical guidance on technical matters covered by the building regulations. Such documents might, for example, be British Standards dealing with the design of gutters and drainpipes, or with the materials to be used in chimneys connected to central heating boilers.

Subsection (1) of Clause 40 would allow the Secretary of State either to approve these technical documents himself or to designate other bodies to approve them. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State explained in another place that the bodies the Government had in mind for this task were, as I have said, the British Standards Institution and the British Board of Agrément. The right to approve documents should logically bring with it the right to cancel or modify the approvals in the light of subsequent developments in technical knowledge. Subsection (5) grants the power to withdraw approval, and subsection (4), the subject of the first of these two amendments, seeks to give designated bodies the power to revise their approved documents.

The subsection as drafted, however, does not explicitly restrict the power to revise documents to those issued by the approving body in question. It would clearly be wrong for the BSI to attempt to revise an Agrément Certificate as an approved document, or the other way round, or for the Board of Agrément to try to alter a document issued and approved by the Secretary of State himself. We know, of course, that the BSI and the BBA would not want to do any such thing, but this amendment makes it quite clear that they must mind their own businesses, and that their power to revise documents is limited to those they have issued themselves in the first place. I trust that your Lordships will accept that as reasonable.

The second of the two amendments seeks to clarify the position which could arise if—as is most unlikely—the Secretary of State had had to exercise his powers to withdraw a designation from one of these document-approving bodies. It is obviously necessary that the Secretary of State should retain some control over bodies he designates for this purpose. He does not want a detailed, day-to-day control of the sort which means that his department needlessly duplicates the work of the BSI or the Board of Agrément, but the Bill would give him the powerful sanction of withdrawing their designation. If he were to use that sanction, the question would then arise of how to revise or cancel any of the documents which might previously have been approved by the body in question.

I feel that I have just contradicted something I said to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, earlier and I shall obviously have to consider the two halves of my statement. I shall do that.

The withdrawal of designation from a body would not affect the status of documents that it had previously approved. The new subsection we are proposing would make it clear that the function of revising or cancelling such documents would be taken over by the Secretary of State. I hope the Committee will agree that this is a practical step to be taking. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment Nos. 70 to 73 not moved.]

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 74:

Page 40, line 28, at end insert— ("(6A) Where a body ceases to be a body designated by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this section, subsections (4) and (5) above shall have effect as if any approval given by that body had been given by the Secretary of State.")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 75 and 76 not moved.]

Clause 40, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 41 to 43 agreed to.

Schedule 7 agreed to.

Clause 44 [Amendments of enactments relating to building regulations]:

[Amendment No. 77 not moved.]

Clause 44 agreed to.

Schedule 8 [Section 64(4) of the 1936 Act and section 6 of the 1961 Act, as amended]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 77A: Page 68, line 40, leave out from beginning to ("if") in line 42.

The noble Lord said: With permission, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 77B and 77C, which are all technical amendments. Schedule 8 to the Bill contains an up-to-date version of Section 6 of the Public Health Act 1961 in the form it will be when the present Bill is enacted. This is included as a matter of convenience for those using Section 6.

In its new form, it will contain new subsections (2A) and (2B). These subsections are to be found in Clause 39. When that clause was amended in another place, the need to make consequential amendments to Schedule 8 was overlooked. These amendments merely make good that omission. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendments Nos. 77B and 77C:

Page 69, line 1, leave out ("the public body concerned") and insert ("a public body")

Page 69, line 10, leave out ("(c) statutory undertakers;")

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 78 not moved.]

Schedule 8, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 45 to 49 agreed to.

Schedule 9 [Repeals]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 79: Page 71, column 3, leave out line 24.

The noble Lord said: This amendment removes what I am sure the Committee will consider to be an undesirable side-effect of the decision to remove Clause 2 of the Bill. Schedule 9 repeals certain provisions of previous legislation. Line 24 on page 71 repeals Section 2(2)(a) of the 1980 Act. That section provides that the right to buy does not arise if the landlord is a housing association which is a charity within the meaning of the Charities Act 1960. This is clearly not the will of the Committee. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendments Nos. 80 to 82:

Page 71, column 3, leave out lines 25 and 26.

Page 71, column 3, leave out lines 28 to 30.

Page 71, line 36, column 3, at end insert—

("In Schedule 2, in the provision renumbered as paragraph 15(1), paragraph (b) and the words "and paragraph 16 below".").

The noble Lord said: These are all consequential amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 9, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the amendments.