HL Deb 08 March 1984 vol 449 cc433-74

8 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Lyell.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 87: After Clause 34, insert the following new clause:

("Independence of approved inspectors.

.—(1) A person acting as an approved inspector shall not have had, until final notice is given, any direct or indirect financial or professional interest in the work specified.

(2) A person acting as an approved inspector who contravenes the provisions of subsection (1) above shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction in accordance with the provisions of section 30(2) of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the amendment that stands in my name. However, before we proceed to the debate this evening I wish to express the dismay of Members on this side of the Committee that such an important Bill as that which we are about to consider once again is brought on at what is a late hour. The Minister will be aware that by agreement with his office earlier this week there was an amicable settlement as to the division of work on the Bill on the first and second days. The Minister is also well aware that on the first day noble Lords on this side of the Committee played their full part in trying to ensure that we reached the point that we had agreed. However, as the Minister knows, and as the record will show, there was a great deal of agitation on the side of the Government towards the end of the first day, with noble Lords being most anxious to conclude. Consequently noble Lords on this side were certainly put under some strain and pressure in regard to very important amendments, which in the view of those of us on this side, as well as professional bodies, councils and councillors outside, required considerable discussion.

As a consequence debate has been truncated, to say the least. The series of amendments that we are about to consider will be looked upon by people outside the Chamber as important, and the manner in which we are likely to treat them will not enhance the reputation of your Lordships' House as a serious debating Chamber. Looking at the realities of parliamentary life, I say to the Minister, in all honesty and candour, that to start at eight o'clock on what before this week was ostensibly a full day's business to do with a most important matter is a travesty of how we ought to conduct our affairs.

I am not blaming the Minister. I am simply explaining how events have conspired to produce this situation. If the noble Lord who sits alongside the Minister is indicating (by pointing) that the responsibility lies over here on this side of the Chamber, then I would say that that would need to be looked into later. I am simply saying that in the time that is available to us tonight it is not possible to do justice to those outside this Chamber who would expect us to treat seriously these very important matters.

Therefore, I shall certainly speak to every amendment that has been put down, but clearly I shall not be able to do so as fully as I should wish. So we give due notice to the Minister that where we are not satisfied that we have tonight done justice to ourselves and those outside, we shall take full advantage of the Report stage in order to bring forward the necessary amendments.

I thank the Committee for allowing me to get off my chest (as it were) something on which I have felt very strongly during the last two or three hours—

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I wonder whether the noble Lord will allow me to intervene before he gets on to the amendment. I have no idea where the responsibility for this situation lies, but I should like to reinforce the noble Lord's note of indignation. This is a Bill of appalling complexity and difficulty, and I adopt the noble Lord's language in saying that it is a travesty of parliamentary proceedings that so much of it should be brought on at this time on the third day.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I am most grateful indeed for the comments of the noble and learned Lord on the Cross-Benches, which were quite unprompted. I appreciate that he has followed the proceedings on the Bill at all stages, and quite clearly he has a point to make. I believe that noble Lords on the Back-Benches opposite would have wished to participate in the debate on insurance, for instance, which we did not have full opportunity to consider on Tuesday, and to which we shall need to turn on Report. The noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, who is always in his place for these matters, I am sure has a great many valuable comments to make on a range of matters relating to planning, building control, and so on. So I hope that outside of the Chamber we shall have his support in ensuring that we shall have proper opportunity to debate these matters on some other occasion.

In moving Amendment No. 87 I wish at the same time also to speak to Amendment No. 88. Amendment No. 88: Insert the following new clause—

("Appointment of approved inspectors.

.—(1) A person shall only be appointed as an approved inspector if he satisfies the Secretary of State or the body referred to in subsection (1)(b) of section 31 of this Act that he is a fit person to be so appointed.

(2) In determining whether a person is fit to be appointed an approved inspector the Secretary of State or the body referred to in subsection (1)(b) of section 31 of this Act shall have regard to section (Independence of approved inspectors) of this Act and to any circumstances appearing to him or that body to be relevant, and in particular any evidence tending to show that the applicant has—

  1. (a) committed any offence involving fraud or other dishonesty;
  2. (b) contravened any provision under this or under any Act with regard to compliance with building regulations.").

These amendments relate to concern that is felt as to whether when the approved inspector has been appointed we can be wholly satisfied that he is independent of other interests. I am very pleased to say—I am quite certain that the Minister would have said this if I had not—that following consultation and movement by the Government over a period of time there now appear in the building regulations a great many new provisions, new phrases. or new considerations of circumstances. Two years ago in this regard there appeared to be a yawning gap in terms of the protection of the public. I would not use any untoward words, such as corruption, but there was a possibility of certain events occurring. However, further building regulations have now been circulated and the Minister has been kind enough to send a copy to us. These are the building regulations of 3rd February.

Part of the regulations refer to the grounds for rejection of an initial notice. Regulation 8(1) states: The grounds for rejection of an initial notice are that …

There is then listed a series of grounds for rejection, after which it is stated in paragraph (1)(c), except in the case of work within the descriptions set out in paragraph (2) (minor works), the notice does not contain a declaration by the approved inspector that he does not, and will not while the initial notice is in force, have any direct or indirect professional or financial interest in the specified work".

If we turn, as we need to do, to the paragraph dealing with minor works we must take into consideration the exclusions from the need to establish the absence of a financial tie-up, which are referred to there. As I understand it—and I am sure that the Minister and is advisers will make it quite clear not only to myself, but to those outside—the inspector need not sign the declaration that is called for in Regulation 8(1) (c) in respect of the following works: Single storey extensions to the, ground floor of dwelling-houses; alterations which—

  1. (i) relate to dwelling-houses having not more than two storeys …
  2. (ii) have no effect on the external walls or roof of the dwelling-house; and
  3. (iii) do not include a material change of use;
(c) alterations to the roof of a dwelling-house having not more than two storeys …

Then other details are given.

We also have in the regulations—and in a moment I shall explain why I stress that it is the regulations as opposed to the Bill—the following explanation as to the declaration which needs to be signed by the approved inspector under paragraph (1)(c): For the purposes of a declaration … a person— (a) shall be treated as having a direct professional interest in the specified work if he is, or has been, responsible for the design or construction of any of the specified work in any capacity other than that of approved inspector". I would say to the Minister that judging from my experience that goes a considerable way towards allaying the fears that were at one time felt that it would be possible for a person such as an architect who may very well have designed the building in question, later to he involved in some other aspect of the matter wearing his hat as an approved inspector. I am certain that the regulation will be helpful.

We move from "a direct professional interest" contained in paragraph (4)(a) to the words in paragraph (4)(b): shall not be treated as having a financial interest in the specified work on account of the fee charged or to be charged for the carrying out of his functions as approved inspector". I fully understand that the mere gaining of a fee to carry out the work cannot be held to be a financial interest in any other sense. We have "a direct professional interest", and we have "a financial interest". Then, in paragraph (4)(c) we have the words, shall be treated as having an indirect professional or financial interest in the specified work". I have pointed this out to show the complexity of the situation and the care that needs to be taken by everyone to be clear that those who carry the title of approved inspector are seen to be free of any charge that they may be trying to serve two masters.

The main point that I make to the Minister, as he and his advisers are well aware, is that NALGO, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and others have raised these matters with us, and it is really at their request that they appear on the Order Paper. I wonder whether the Minister would not agree there is a case, having gone so far into the building regulations, for having what is eminently suitable written on the the face of the Bill. That is the main burden of what I want to say on this amendment.

I am absolutely certain that the Minister and his advisers will say that there is a limit to what can appear on the face of the Bill, and that there are regulations, schedules and other matters that need to take account of much small detail. I would suggest, however, that this particular matter of the independence, and what is seen to be the independence, of the approved inspector is crucially important.

I recognise that other noble Lords may perhaps wish to contribute. I shall content myself by saying that, in my view, the Government have gone a considerable way over a period of time in seeking to allay the fears of those like myself who could see the possibility of a loophole. The loophole has perhaps been substantially cleared up. My request is for the Government to consider, if not tonight then at another stage, writing on to the face of the Bill the regulations that cover the independence of the approved inspector.

Lord Broxbourne

I am glad that I arrived in the Chamber just in time to hear the kind reference to myself by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, my friend in everything other than the technical political sense; otherwise, he might not have been so kind. Had I not been here, I might have been in danger of the old maxim, "Les absents ont toujours tort". The noble Lord has addressed himself with his customary felicity to a matter of great importance—the independence of approved inspectors. The noble Lord described it as crucially important. No one, I think, whatever their political persuasion, would dissent from that description. The independence of the inspectors is obviously a crucially important matter, as the noble Lord says.

I would go a little further. It is not only of crucial importance that these inspectors should, in fact, he independent: it is of equal importance that they should clearly appear to be independent. If that was not so, the scheme behind the Bill, which I am convinced is a good one, would not get a favourable reception in public opinion. Of course, it is not enough for a proposal to have good intent and good purpose, as this undoubtedly has, which all of us, both in the Committee and outside, I am sure, share. It must be shown that the particular proposal and its wording is appropriate for giving effect to that good intention. Here, I think, with great respect to noble Lords opposite, the amendment is on less sure and safe grounds. I think that the drafting of the proposals contained in Amendments Nos. 87 and 88 is not as precise as one would wish for this particular purpose. Basically, I would think that it does not improve on the drafting of the proposed approved inspectors' regulations.

In the context of drafting subsection (1) of the new clause contained in Amendment No. 87 in regard to the requirement of no financial interest, I do not think that the words "shall not have had" are very happily phrased. I can see that these are words that could easily give rise to argument and difficulty in interpretation and application if this matter came to the courts. I think that the words contained in draft regulation 8(1)(c), which the noble Lord has fairly quoted, are preferable and easier for the courts to apply.

Your Lordships will appreciate that it is particularly important to achieve clear drafting in this context because contravention would involve a criminal offence under subsection (2). Parenthetically, on the subject of drafting I think that the noble Lord will appreciate that in his proposed new clause the words "final notice" in the second line should, in fact, read "final certificate". I mention that in passing because, obviously, it is not a fundamental point.

On a more substantial point, in subsection (1) of the new clause in Amendment No. 88 the onus is put on the prospective approved inspector to satisfy the Secretary of State or other body as to his fitness. I wonder whether perhaps my doubts as to this are shared, by some at any rate, on the question of a basic principle—the question of where the onus should be placed when matters of criminal liability arise. I respectfully suggest that it would read better as: A person shall not he appointed unless the Secretary of State or the body referred to is satisfied that he is a person fit to be appointed". Perhaps better still would be: A person in respect of whom the Secretary of State or the body referred to is not satisfied that he is a person fit to be appointed shall not he appointed". This is not a semantic point; it is a point of principle. If prima facie a person is suitable, there should be an initial presumption of fitness and the onus of rebuttal should lie on the Secretary of State or the body referred to. This is a question of some fundamental importance when we are at any rate on the threshold of the criminal law, as we are in this context. As this matter deals with criminal liability, it should be tightly drafted. That is not so in all respects. For example, in subsection (2) of Amendment No. 88 the words "evidence tending to show" leave me a little unhappy as to lacking the conclusiveness which in respect of criminal liability should exist.

The other point that I wish to make is that I am obliged to the noble Lord for what he has said about the draft regulations. He has quoted regulation 8(1)(c). That is a definition of a declaration of financial interest which, coupled with regulation 8(4)—which he has already quoted—I would have thought is a sufficiently clear indication of what is here required, and coupled with Clause 42 of the Bill (which provides for offences in respect of false or misleading statements) I would respectfully say that that is enough. I do not say that the drafting is necessarily perfect—drafting rarely is—and no doubt Ministers will consider it further before Report stage, but I think that should be sufficient, and the noble Lord may think it appropriate to withdraw this amendment.

Lord Skelmersdale

I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Broxbourne who has enabled me to cut out quite a lot of what I might otherwise have said on this amendment. I understand why the noble Lord moved these two new clauses, and I hope that I can reassure him.

We are all agreed it is important that as a general rule approved inspectors should not be subject to a conflict of interest in respect of work which they are supervising. My honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has looked with great care into the question of whether independence should be written into the Bill, and as he told the other place at the Report stage of this Bill, we have concluded that for the following reasons it should not. First, if we consider the requirement for independence, it is not sufficient to say that an approved inspector must not have any direct or indirect financial or professional interest in the work specified. We need to define what we mean by that, and we need to be able to tighten up that definition at a later stage if we find this definition is too loose. The House will know the difficulty of amending primary legislation if it is found to be unsatisfactory. For this reason we think it is better to put this detailed requirement in the regulations.

Following consultations on the first draft of the regulations we have—and the noble Lord gave us credit for it—amended it by adding a reference to conflicts of interests arising by reason of marriage, for example. I believe that the Committee will find its wishes in the matter, and its desire to have those wishes enshrined in legislation, satisfied by what we include in the regulations. In this respect I should like to pay tribute to the work of the Committee last time round in April of last year, and particularly—although he is not here—to my noble friend Lord Caithness who took this whole subject very strongly to heart.

Secondly, we do not intend that the requirement for independence should apply in all cases. We think it reasonable to allow for exceptions when only minor works are concerned. These again are the ones which the noble Lord quoted. This is not a new suggestion. It was in the White Paper of February 1981 which set out the proposals on which the Bill is based. Again, the details of the exception need to be set out in regulations, we shall wish to consult further on what those details should be, and we wish to leave open the possibility of amending those details in the light of experience and, of course, the results of the current consultations. At the moment our thinking behind this is that minor matters which do not bring serious risks for public health and safety should not be included hut, as I said, we are very open to consultation on this.

In the second amendment, No. 88, the Government entirely agree with the intention of subsection (1), which says that a person shall be appointed as an approved inspector only if he is considered a fit person. Equally. I am sure that the Committee will accept that his fitness will lie in his professional qualification, his relevant experience and also in his professional probity, a subject on which we touched the other day.

These are all matters which will need to be considered in relation to candidates seeking approval. It is the intention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that the appointment of approved inspectors as an alternative to the present monopoly of local authorities shall he matched with an absolute determination to maintain the highest possible standards. In approving inspectors, or designating other bodies to do so, my right honourable friend will have that determintion uppermost in his mind at all times.

I hope I have said enough to convince the Committee that this amendment is not necessary. Should the noble Lord at any stage wish me to go into greater detail. I shall be only too happy to do so, but I must stress that that must be within the limits of my ability.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

May I rise to say that I do not wish in any way to test the ability of the Minister on this or any other matter, because I appreciate (a) that he has a brief and (b) that he understands his subject. If I say he does his best, that is not an unkind phrase. I am satisfied with this explanation.

So far as I am concerned, I want to repeat that the evidence we have had from outside is that there has been substantial understanding, I think, by the Government and its advisers on the need to spell out more than they did originally the actual parameters of the independent approved inspector nexus. I have a note, as the Minister clearly has, of the reasons why on 21st December the Minister said in the Report stage that the safeguards had to be included in regulations, because there was a need to define what was meant by, any direct or indirect financial interest and work specified and it is reasonable to allow for exception when only minor works are involved". I acknowledge—as I think all of us who have some experience do—the difficulty of making subsequent changes in the light of experience if what you want to change is primary legislation as opposed to regulations. Nevertheless—and I intend to withdraw the amendments—I wonder if in actual fact the Minister (and I am not asking for a commitment) could look at the possibility of meeting the points that have been made in this very short but useful debate to see whether or not it is possible to transpose the sense of what we are after. I understand the sheer volume of it. Leaving aside the regulations, there are 14 or 15 sheets. If between now and Report stage I am advised from another place, or the Minister gets some advice, perhaps we can make it quite clear on the face of the Bill just how much the Government, the profession and the industry recognise the crucial need for the public to be satisfied that there is no possibility of collusion, slipping from there into corruption, in these matters.

I sympathise. We are not using words lightly, nor are we making broad accusations, but I think the public needs to be satisfied on such a major change from an old to a new system that we have taken all the care in the world. I do not even wish the Minister to comment, but I hope that between now and Report stage some thought can be given to see whether a form of words can be used to strengthen this. I simply say that if I cannot find any other words myself from advice given, we will not come back to this on Report. I give notice, however, that we might come back if, in the light of debate, those who advise us on this side can make a suggestion.

Incidentally, it was not merely the long list: I forgot to mention the Institute of Building Control Officers, a very important body in this matter, whom my noble friend Lady Nicol and I saw to get advice. They are equally strong on this particular point of the independence of approved inspectors. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in this line.

Amendment, by leave. withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 88 not moved.]

Clauses 35 and 36 agreed to.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 88A: After Clause 36, insert the following new clause:

("Builder's manual.

.—From a date to be specified by the Secretary of State the builder of any new dwelling shall provide for the purchaser or tenant a manual which shall contain the plans of the dwelling, its basic construction method, the materials used in its load-bearing walls and provide for the insertion of details of all structural changes and improvements.").

The noble Lord said: We on this side of the Committee consider that this amendment could be—and I stress the tentative nature of "could be"—a very valuable addition to the range of tools which are in the hands of the building industry and which in our view would go a long way towards satisfying a number of problems that have emerged when we have considered this particular situation.

This part of the Bill is all about the care that should be taken by the industry, by those who buy houses, by those who sell houses and also by those who are concerned with legislation as regards inspecting houses and factories. It is also to do with, if not latent defects, certainly things that can go wrong and of which people are not aware. Indeed, if they were aware of certain matters either they would be able to discover why something had gone wrong 20 years later, or they would know exactly where to look for the fault, the stress or the strain. So in this particular amendment I am moving that there should be, as of right, the provision of a manual to the purchaser or tenant of a house so that they have access to maps, diagrams and the, basic construction method, the materials used in its load-bearing walls and provide for the insertion of details of all structural changes and improvements".

We are talking about the most important purchase in a young person's life—and indeed in the life of an older person as well. When one purchases a car for £3,000, one gets a user's manual. When one buys a refrigerator for £100 or £200, one gets a manual; one gets some guidance and one is told where the faults can occur, what to do when they do occur, what to be careful about, and so on. But when one buys a house, although there are titles and documents and a great deal of other detail, there is not something that one can put on the side and say. "If ever something goes wrong and I want to find out why it should go wrong or if there is an emergency and someone needs to come in to look at the electrical wiring, the gas, the services or anything else, I know where I can find the information". Discovering such information is a problem. Somebody may or may not know something about what has happened. It may be that the building society will have a document.

We are saying that not only should the owner of the house get what might be called—and I am using here a clumsy and inappropriate phrase—"plans as built": in other words, "This is what you have got; this is what is in it". However, in addition, we need to be careful (especially in the age of do-it-yourself) about all the people who think that they can improve their property and who, in the absence of precise detail, can do great damage. I have heard of instances of tenants in, for example, a council house, or other houses who, by tapping on the wall, discover—as they think—that it will be possible to take down the wall between two rooms. They do so, only to find out that the load-bearing capacity of the other walls was insufficient. They were misled by their amateur approach to the situation. It is a sad situation; but it can happen if people are not fully aware of the circumstances. We are asking for a manual as a right. It would be almost a court of last resort for the local authority. If there were a disaster, subsidence or if—God forbid!—there were an earthquake, they would know exactly what the problems would be.

I know that when this matter was raised in another place very late in the day, the Minister was sympathetic in his response. He understood the sense of the amendment but he fell back on the defence that these were matters that needed consultation, negotiation, care and voluntarism, and he did not want to legislate. I am certainly not saying tonight that we want to be too strong about it, but it is an interesting point that needs to be explored. The Minister could do a great service to millions of people and perhaps save them from a great deal of distress and financial loss if he would he prepared tonight not merely to say that this is something with which he sympathises. Although, for example, the National House Builders' Council may proceed more strongly with its present plans—and it has plans—to strengthen and sharpen its existing facilities, and even if the National House Building Council finds a useful formula for a manual, we must remember that its properties are not the only properties that need a manual. Millions of other houses will not have the seal of approval given by the National House Building Council. There are council properties, private rented properties and so on.

Therefore, I very much hope not only that the Minister sympathises, but that he is prepared to say that meaningful discussions will take place with the local authority associations who obviously have a part to play, and certainly with the British Property Association and other interests. This is not just a council-orientated matter; it is a property-orientated matter. It may very well be that it will be two or three years before we get what we want. But I should like the Minister to say that he understands the crucial nature of the peace of mind for someone to have a document which he may or may not peruse, but which, when a crisis occurs, will be there for the competent expert to refer to and to work from. I beg to move.

Lord Auckland

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has very wide experience in these matters, and I am quite sure that this amendment has been put down after a very great deal of thought. I would also urge that the Government give some deep thought to the amendment. However, I must say as one who is by no means as knowledgeable as the noble Lord on these matters, that I have some reservations about it.

When manuals or other documents are put through letter-boxes a very large number of people do not read them. That is not necessarily justification for this amendment to be in any way invalid, but it is a point. As I understand it, this is something very new in building and housing legislation, but it is possibly none the worse for that.

There is also the question of who is to bear the cost? In an area where there are a large number of tenanted houses it is obviously going to involve a lot of preparation, and a lot of manuals will have to be delivered to a large number of houses. But the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has a very valid point when he says that tenants should be made aware of dangers from falling plaster and other such defects which may occur, and that they should have access to advice on this.

I wonder whether the local library, where there is a reasonable sized village or small town, the local town hall or citizens advice bureau, or the local post office if it is a small village, should not contain manuals of this kind—and not merely one manual but perhaps a number? People go into the local post office in a village to shop and while shopping they can always consult, perhaps borrow or even he given a copy of this manual. Therefore, although I think that this amendment deserves consideration, I wonder whether it is practicable in application as it is literally worded.

Lord Skelmersdale

It is not just idle words—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, will believe this—hut I understand the point that he is making, and I have a great deal of sympathy for the idea. It is helpful for house purchasers—particularly those buying a new house for the first time—to be given information about the nature of their purchase. From looking again at the amendment, I am not so sure whether it applies to tenants, but this is perhaps something that could be brought out in discussions. It is helpful for information to be given about the house structure, about the points where they need to take particular care in its maintenance (for example. there might he a flat roof, a gutter, or a gully), and about the things that purchasers need to be careful about if they ever consider altering or extending the house.

I am satisfied that it would be a good idea for house builders to give the new owners all the necessary details about the construction and running of their home. I understand that the National House Building Council, whose scheme already covers virtually all houses built for private sale in the country, is preparing a revised version of its existing Owners Manual to be provided by the builder for each new purchaser. This manual will allow for information covering the type of construction and other relevant features.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, raised the matter that those exercising the right to buy should have access to similar information. Such tenants are of course in a slightly different position from tenants purchasing in the private sector, especially for the first time, inasmuch as they will have, for the most part, lived in the house for some time before the purchase. I would expect those tenants to know considerably more about the house than someone who has perhaps viewed the house only a few times before moving in as its new owner. Nevertheless. I certainly hope that local authorities would be prepared to make available to tenants buying their homes such information as they may request about the type of construction and any other details which they might find useful.

On the other hand, we have serious doubts about whether this is an appropriate matter for legislation and about whether such a requirement could reasonably be enforced in practice. As I have just explained, the house builders are already, and voluntarily, taking major steps in the direction of giving the buyers of new houses information of this kind. Thus, even if such legislation could be enforced, its practical effect would only be marginal. I very much take the point made by my noble friend Lord Auckland. In a previous role I have had quite a lot to do with direct mail—whether solicited or unsolicited—and I certainly understand the point that my noble friend has made.

Having said that, I hope that the noble Lord will agree with me that it will be much better to proceed by co-operation than by the necessary compulsion which primary legislation would give, and I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I am disappointed with that reply because the genesis of the amendment was the Campaign for Traditional Housing, and that Campaign for Traditional Housing comprises a number of bodies which are involved in housing. The Consumers Association also supports this view. Last year the RIBA issued a joint report, Homes for the Future, and it recommended that user manuals should be provided for public sector rented accommodation. Then in June last year the RIBA, in a report entitled, Homes Old and New—a Strategy for the 80s, stated: A house logbook should he issued with each new house built. This would record important information". Last year the AMA produced a report, Timber-Frame Housing—a Cautionary Note, and it said: With all dwellings a "user manual" available for the consumer is always advantageous. However, in timber frame housing it is vital, and all owners and tenants should be given adequate advice and information about the particular problems of timber-frame dwellings in use. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, for the sympathy which he expressed for the principle; he certainly wants some movement in this matter. He does not merely want to leave it to what one might call market forces or natural evolution. There is some urgency about the matter. The noble Lord referred to information that is pushed through the letterbox. I do not remotely regard the standing of this document as something which is pushed through the letterbox. It is a precious document and I would give it the standing very akin to that of the deeds of a house (because we know just how important they are). When deeds are conveyed from one owner to another, the manual is among the important documents that should accompany them. The manual must not be locked away but must be kept handy, and I am thinking in terms of a cupboard or a place under the stairs so that the householder knows where it is. I can see a great deal of practical use and value in this.

The Minister rests his case on allowing those who feel so moved to take the steps to bring this about, I welcome the intention of the National House Building Council to strengthen its existing service. This indicates that it is aware that there is a need to provide a better document. The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, raised the question of cost. We are talking about plans; we are talking about keeping a document up to date. This is not a document such as deeds, which do not change; whenever there is a major change or even a defect which needs to be put right, the document needs to record it. So it is a living document. It will cost money. But when we are talking of someone buying property worth £30,000. £40.000 or £50,000—and that is modest—we are perhaps only talking about E30, £40 or £50 for a document.

I understand the sense of what the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, said. There may very well be types of property which are exactly the same, so why go to the trouble of charging 1.000 people £50? It could be that documents could be situated in a building that is used by the community. That would be better than nothing. The Minister blanched at the words "coercion" "insistence" or "mandatory". We will see exactly how he feels about the use of those terms and actions when we come to later legislation as to whether we shall allow local people to decide what they want or whether we are to coerce. I will give way to the Minister in a moment. We are talking about something which is absolutely central to the future of ordinary people: their home, whether it is a council home or a rented home. They want to know how to look after it to the best of their ability. We believe that a house owner's manual, such as the one you get with a car or with a fridge, would be money well spent.

I know that the Minister is about to say "Before the noble Lord sits down", so I will sit down so that he can say it.

Lord Skelmersdale

I was going to suggest to the noble Lord that he did not tempt me into validating future legislation which he, at least, and I have only partly seen.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister will make his points as to why in certain circumstances the Government intend to rule with a rod of iron and leave no opportunity, where we are saying that in the interests of the consumer we are anxious that the consumer is best served. Caveat emptor is a well-known Latin tag to those of us who may know little about Latin tags but know something about the consumers' interests. Letting the buyer beware may be a well-used phrase. We are anxious that the buyer is not only on his own metal to find out everything he can, but that he has some reserve, some document on which he can rely.

I can understand points being made about the validity or legality of a document and the ability to quote a document in a court of law. There is a long way to go before this idea comes to fruition. I am disappointed. We intend to return to this at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 [Cancellation of initial notice]:

8.52 p.m.

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 89: Page 39, line 23, leave out ("subsection (3)") and insert ("subsections (1) and (3)").

The noble Baroness said: Clause 37(3) provides that if a person carrying out work, or intending to do so, under an initial notice becomes aware that the approved inspector is no longer willing or able to carry out his functions, then notice must be given to the local authority and to the approved inspector. Clause 37(4) makes it an offence to fail to give such notice without reasonable excuse.

We take the view that an approved inspector should also he liable to criminal prosecution if he failed to give a notice as required under Clause 37(1). This amendment brings that into effect. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

The noble Baroness has finished with Clause 37(1), so perhaps it might be convenient if I started with it. It requires an approved inspector to cancel an initial notice in certain circumstances. These are, first, when he can no longer carry out his functions, for example, through incapacity or ill health; secondly, where he considers that the work is being carried out in a way that prevents him from carrying out his functions, for example, if he is not given information or calculations which he needs to perform his job; and, thirdly, where he considers that there is a contravention and the developer has not taken steps to remedy the matter.

Clause 37(3), which we should now properly go on to, provides for the situation where the approved inspector has not cancelled the initial notice, but nevertheless it is apparent that he is not able or willing to continue to carry out his functions. In these circumstances the developer must cancel the initial notice. Failure to do so without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence under Clause 37(4).

The effect of the amendment would be to make it a criminal offence for the approved inspector to fail to cancel the initial notice, just as it will be for the developer. However, there are significant differences between the two situations. It is very important that a certifier who expects to become, or becomes, unable to continue to carry out his functions of supervising work should notify not only the local authority but also the developer.

We see no reason why an approved inspector should fail to comply with this statutory requirement any more than with the many other statutory duties under which he operates. We can see no reason for creating a criminal offence. Indeed if an inspector is no longer able to supervise work he will want to put beyond doubt the limit of his own responsibility for the work for which he is cancelling the initial notice. Legally he will be under a continuing obligation to discharge his statutory functions until the cancellation notice is given both to the developer or building owner and to the local authority. This is a point which I made on Tuesday.

I should like to remind the Committee that a designated body has power to withdraw approval from an inspector at any time. I should also like to take this opportunity of clarifying a comment which I made on Tuesday evening, apropos an inspector who acquired a reputation for being too lax. A local authority would not be able to reject an initial notice from an inspector, so long as he was approved. However if the authority, or anyone else for that matter, had reason to believe that an inspector was too lax, it would be up them to make this known to the designated body which had approved him. It is up to the designated body to consider whether to withdraw his approval. Any designated body will be concerned to protect its own reputation, without which its designation would be unlikely to last very long, and for our part we would want to be satisfied that such bodies will take speedy action if they consider that an inspector has acted irresponsibly.

Once the approval is withdrawn the local authority will be obliged to reject any subsequent initial notice which he gives. Furthermore the inspector would have to withdraw from any project he was already engaged on because any final certificate which he gave would also be rejected.

I accept that this point is only of marginal relevance to Amendment No. 89, but I thought that the Committee might find it helpful to have a fuller explanation now. In the light of my preceding remarks about the amendment, I would invite the noble Baroness to withdraw it.

Baroness Nicol

I am grateful to the Minister for that very full ėxplanation, and I am quite happy with it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 agreed to.

Clause 38 [Effect of initial notice ceasing in force]:

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 90: Page 40, line 8, leave out ("not be exercisable") and insert ("only be exercisable where the local authority is of the opinion that any work previously carried out is in breach of building regulations").

The noble Baroness said: Where an initial notice ceases to be in force, provided that another initial notice is not served under Section 32, the building control functions will revert to the local authority. This clause provides that where a local authority takes over work, part of which was previously subject to an initial notice and in respect of which a plans certificate was issued, then the local authority cannot interfere in respect of that work. Under the clause as presently drafted, the local authority could be placed in a position where they had to carry out building control functions in respect of further works where previous work was clearly in breach of building regulations, yet they would be unable to interfere.

Furthermore, if a plans certificate had been issued in respect of work as yet to be carried out, and the local authority had to exercise its building control functions in respect of that further work, the situation could arise where they had to pass work which was clearly in breach of the building regulations, because it was the subject of a plans certificate.

It cannot be the intention of this legislation to perpetuate breaches of any regulations. That would be contrary to public policy. Where the building control function reverts to the local authority, the local authority must be in a position to rectify any breaches of which it is aware, and this amendment seeks to ensure that they do have full powers of enforcement in such a situation. We have touched on this in earlier discussions, but I think some clarification and reassurance are still necessary. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

Clause 38 deals with the effects of an initial notice ceasing to be in force. This could happen because a notice has been cancelled by an inspector, builder, or local authority, or because the building has been occupied without a final certificate having been given within the prescribed period. In these circumstances the local authority's responsibilities and powers in relation to building control revive—I think this is the important point that the noble Baroness may have missed—within limits imposed by the clause.

These limits are necessary in the interests of both the builders and the local authorities. Builders do not want to lose the benefits of any certificates of plans or of work which their inspectors may have issued and local authorities, for their part, do not want or need to assume responsibilities and liabilities for matters which have been certified by an approved inspector. Where such certificates have been given, local authorities will not be able to require work to which the certificates relate to be taken down nor could they prosecute for contravention. If, for example, half the houses on a building estate have been certified by an approved inspector before the initial notice was cancelled, the local authority would have no power to inspect them or to require any alterations. Subsection (7) makes it clear that the second initial notice may be served so that a second certifier can take over where the previous one has withdrawn.

There is no point in forcing a developer to present his local authority with the problem of half-completed work. Regulations will be made providing arrangements for a smooth handover, but where a local authority has become substantially involved in supervising the work it will not be possible for a second certifier to take over. I hope that that is a reasonable answer to the points that the noble Baroness has made.

Baroness Nicol

Yes, that is a reasonable answer up to a point, but I still have a great deal of unease about the more complicated developments. We keep talking about housing estates, but these are not what we are worried about. It is the much more complicated development, the large mixed development of commercial and perhaps residential where large parts of the work can be covered up and certified before the local authority might have to step in. I am not quite sure from anything that has been said whose liability it will be, or how difficult it will be to prove liability, in the event of a failure in these very complicated developments.

I should like to see the local authorities left with some power where they suspect—even where a final certificate has been issued; they do not suspect without good reason—that something has not been properly certified in the first place. I am very concerned that they may be left picking up the pieces. Can the Minister offer more reassurance on that?

Lord Skelmersdale

If my memory serves me right, one of the objectives of the final certificate is that if the building or part of the project—say, it is a mixed development or a range of shops or a garage, and so on, which I think is the point which concerns the noble Baroness—is not fit for use, it will not be able to be occupied. I shall have to check into that point and confirm in writing.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister must take fully on board one of the great aggravations which have emerged particularly regarding the present building inspectors and on councils in the precise situation which my noble friend Lady Nicol has outlined. That is, where, in some circumstance, whatever the reason, the local authority has to continue and take over the inspection function. We are not reading more into this than is possible; we are simply saying that it is possible. Invariably when that happens there has been an unfortunate circumstance. Otherwise the local authority would not have reverted to the responsibility. Let us suppose that the approved inspector who is responsible for the whole of the job, or a specialist, has died or has left, or there has been an argument, or he has emigrated. or he has retired, and the developer then says, "I am now going to go through the procedures and the work is going to revert to the council". That is not the developer's fault, perhaps. It is certainly not the council's fault. But in the circumstances we are talking about how the local council building inspector, who then has the responsibility of carrying out inspection, satisfies himself that the earlier work for which he has not been responsible nevertheless has been carried out properly.

The Minister might fairly say, as he has said, that it has nothing to do with the council. One must assume that if final certificates have been issued for various stages of the work, you must accept it. But we are talking about professional people who may look at some work for which a final certificate has been given, and they are far from satisfied. The Minister must really say a bit more about satisfying the public—not the council inspectors, but the public—that there is no possibility that the council will continue to approve work on top of work which may be suspect. The point my noble friend made is very real. Who will carry the responsibility for the dereliction revealed later?

Lord Skelmersdale

I appreciate it, and I am sorry that I was talking in shorthand; but I had anticipated that both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord had read my response to a question asked me by the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, on Tuesday last, in column 235 of the Official Report. In the situation which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has outlined the local authority will have very wide powers, comparable to those we have under the existing system. Clause 38(4) provides that building regulations may require them to be provided with plans not only of uncertified work but of certified work, too, because they may need such plans in order to see whether the building as a whole will comply with the regulations. Draft Regulation 18 specifically provides for this. It also enables the local authority to require work which has not been given a final certificate to be opened up for inspection. If the reason for cancellation of the initial notice was an alleged contravention, the local authority, on becoming responsible, must be informed of it. They will therefore be well armed to deal with this situation. I hope that this is the reassurance that the noble Lord requested.

Baroness Nicol

I accept the explanation and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 91, 92 and 93 not moved.]

Clause 38 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 94 and 95 not moved.]

Clause 39 [Giving, acceptance and effect of public body's notice]:

9.7 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 96: Page 41, line 17, leave out ("public") and insert ("designated").

The noble Lord said: These amendments have been given to us by the District Planning Officers' Society as a series of amendments. I think that one can appreciate that a body as eminent as they are in this particular field will have given the matter a great deal of thought. In essence, what they are saying is that there is the possibility of confusion between using the term "public body" in one circumstance and "designated body" in another. The Minister may be able to tell us that he and, ipso facto, everybody else ought to he clear as to what is meant and the only people who are confused are the district planning officers; in which case, I will send them a copy of the Hansard immediately and tell the House at Report what they think of his answer. In the meantime, I wonder whether the Minister can tell us whether it is possible either to leave the Bill as it stands with "public" in one place and "designated" in another, or whether in fact the amendment seems sensible.

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, I do think that the words in the Bill are sensible, not surprisingly. Bodies approved under Clause 39, which will be able to certify their own work, and those defined in Clause 45, which will be able to relax certain building regulations, being exempt from the procedures of the building regulations under Clause 44, will all be public bodies acting under enactments for public purposes and not for their own profit. I am advised that it would be misleading to refer to either category as "designated" rather than "public" bodies because they are referred to in the way that they are in this Bill as they are referred to in other statutes, whether they are statutes setting them up or whether they are statutes that pertain to them. Also, it could give rise to confusion with bodies designated under Clause 34 to approve inspectors or those designated under Clause 46 to approve documents.

I shall have more to say about the operation of Clause 39, and the bodies which might be suitable for approval, in regard to the next amendment. In the meantime, I really do think that the Bill is a sensible piece of drafting, and I hope that I have gone some way towards convincing the noble Lord.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 97: Page 41, line 22, after ("agents") insert ("who meet the qualifications required for an approved inspector and is satisfied that it has sufficient insurance cover for any claim made against it as a result of the occurrence of any defect in that work")

The noble Lord said: This amendment refers to the status and standing of public bodies and to the ability or the right of public bodies in this matter. It relates to the supervision of their own work by public bodies. I must tell your Lordships that in no way do I wish to see a public body have any special rights or any exclusion or exemption from any element of the law. I think there is a cynicism about in many quarters that there is a law for one and a law for the other. If we are laying down controls of disciplines which have to be followed by the private sector, then we ought to make sure that they are also laid down for the public sector. What we are saying in this amendment is that we want to make sure that the same standards are applied.

The Minister might tell us that there is no need for this, but we are anxious to ensure that the public bodies (although we have argued long, particularly in respect of the insurance cover) do not have one law and the private sector another. A good deal of debate took place in another place on this matter, and I have a copy of the relevant Hansard. Some powerful arguments were deployed there which I myself may have to deploy later. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

I know that there has been some confusion between this clause and Clause 44, which we shall move on to in a moment. Perhaps I might now explain the purposes of this clause in response to the noble Lord. Lord Graham.

Clause 39 provides that public bodies which act under an enactment for public purposes and not for their own profit, and which are approved by the Secretary of State, may supervise work which they carry out on their own buildings. An approved public body may give to a local authority a "public body's notice" similar to an initial notice, accompanied by the plans and information needed by the local authority for their public health functions, referred to as the "linked powers". This category of public bodies may include bodies such as statutory undertakers and municipal undertakings, and possibly some nationalsied industries. When the Bill was in Committee in the other place my honourable friend the Minister gave assurances that such bodies would be approved in a limited and careful manner. and only when the Secretary of State was satisfied that it would be in the public interest.

At present these bodies are required to deposit full plans and submit their works to local authority inspection, except for 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. Since Parliament has already demonstrated its trust in these bodies in giving them specific statutory functions to perform for the benefit of the public, there must be a strong presumption that they can be trusted to behave responsibly. Freeing them from the need always to deposit full plans, and to go through the full procedures with their local building control authorities, could represent a useful reduction in bureaucracy.

Clause 38 would, therefore, enable the Secretary of State to give an approved public body or class of bodies the option of certifying work they carry out on their own buildings where they consider that this can adequately be done by their own servants or agents. They will still be able to go through the full local authority procedures if they wish, or to use the private certification system.

Amendment No. 97 evidently has two purposes. First, it would require a public body intending to certify its own work to use as its servant or agent supervising the work a person who meets the qualifications required for an approved inspector. This would obviously include a person who was an approved inspector, but it would also seem to include a person who was suitably qualified, but who had not actually been approved.

The Government believe that there is no need for such a provision. We think that a public body of the type that I have described, which has already been approved by the Secretary of State, and which considers that it can properly carry out the task of self-certification, can be trusted to conduct its affairs responsibly. In any case, it can use this provision only if it considers that the work can be adequately supervised by its own agents or servants. Depending on the nature of the work in question, it would be obliged to entrust its supervision to a person who was, in its view, suitably qualified.

It might choose to employ an approved inspector, but it could equally use a member of its own staff whom it considered competent for the job. This is similar to the position of local authorities. They have the responsibility of enforcing the building regulations, but there is no requirement that they employ people with specified qualifications as their building inspectors. They are trusted to exercise their judgment reasonably. There is thus no need for the first part of Amendment No. 97.

The second part of the amendment would require the self-certifying body to be satisfied that it has sufficient insurance cover for any claim made against it as a result of the occurrence of any defect in that work. I would remind the Committee that self-certification can be used only for work on the public body's own buildings. It is up to such bodies to decide how far they want to insure their own buildings against defects, if at all. They are hardly likely to sue themselves for negligence. As public bodies they should be able to meet claims from third parties. A statutory requirement that they should satisfy themselves that they have sufficient insurance is not required. If a building were sold, a subsequent owner would be able to sue the approved body for negligence.

Amendment No. 107, which is partly consequential, would additionally require the public body to provide insurance cover for any period during which a claim may be made. As I explained when we were considering Clause 32, such claims could arise in the indefinite future, but there is no way in which we could ensure that premiums would continue to be paid, and so the insurance industry could not provide such cover. As I have just explained, the kind of body which would be approved under this clause would be able to meet any claims which might arise in any case. So I do not believe that the worries of the noble Lord are viable. If they are, I shall be interested to hear his views.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I am grateful for the care which the Minister has taken with his response. But what he is saying is that there is no need for a public body to alter in the future any of its procedures which it has operated in the past. The current situation is that a public body exercises its discretion, its supervision, its appointment; it carries its risks and makes sure that only competent people are used. The great puzzle for Members outside this place about this whole part of the Bill is why the Government are determined to change what the Minister has, very fairly and effectively, described as a good working system. It is worked, at the moment, not only by public bodies in regard to their own buildings, but also by the public inspection system in regard to other buildings. Yet the Government have decided that this needs to be changed.

I appreciate that there are two or three threads woven into these amendments. There are not merely the public bodies and the qualifications of the approved inspectors; there is also the enormous subject of insurance, at which we had one nibble the other night and to which we shall need to come back again. But in view of the lateness of the hour, I simply serve notice that we shall be coming back to these subjects on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 98 to 107 not moved.]

Clause 39 agreed to.

Schedule 7 agreed to.

Clauses 40 and 41 agreed to.

Clause 42 [Offences]:

[Amendments Nos. 108 and 109 not moved.]

Clause 42 agreed to.

Clause 43 [Interpretation of Part II]:

[Amendment No. 110 not moved.]

Clause 43 agreed to.

Clause 44 [Exemption of local authorities etc. from procedural requirements of building regulations]:

On Question, Whether Clause 44 shall stand part of the Bill?

9.20 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk

I do not intend to speak at great length because my noble friend has done much by way of explanation. The word "public" is a very uncertain word. I would have preferred the franker expression "designated", because that is what is really meant. One talks about public schools when one really means private schools; one talks about public limited companies when one really means private organisations. The words in this clause really mean very little. I do not want unduly to press my noble friend at this time, but I should like to have a better idea of what it is he has in mind. After all, every joint stock company is entering under statute. As I read it, this clause to a great extent leaves the department completely free to do what it wants to do.

The record in public building is not by any means without fault. My noble friend Lord Carrington tells me that the Victoria and Albert Museum is in a shocking state. My noble friend the Duke of Norfolk tells me that the College of Arms is in a deplorable condition. They are both public buildings in any normal sense of the term but I do not suppose for a minute that they will be given the authority in Clause 44.

Any people who are working on a building are probably not ill-advised to obtain an outside opinion from time to time. I hope that my noble friend will not be too free in saying that any body which is a public body shall be entitled to make their own inspection. The record of local authorities is not by any means outstanding. There are many examples which I could mention, but with which I will not bother your Lordships, of works which have had to be rebuilt at the cost of very large sums for one reason or another. I do not want to press my noble friend further, but I should like some idea of the principles he will work to. We are setting up a new system of regulations; let us see that they work well. It will be many years before new regulations are made, so let us try to ensure that the standard of building in this country is greatly improved.

Baroness Nicol

I wish to support the noble Earl. He has given some examples of older buildings where the standards leave a lot to be desired. It is equally true that many modern buildings—those built not only by local authorities but also, for example, by health authorities and many other statutory bodies—fall short of the required standards. I suspect that they do so not only in respect of building controls but in terms of planning as well. I hope the day is not far distant when all public bodies will be subject to the same expectations as far as the public are concerned as are private builders. In other words, I hope they will be subject to building controls and also to planning controls. I hope that the noble Earl will pursue this point.

Lord Broxbourne

Listening to my noble friend Lord Selkirk, I wondered whether he had altogether appreciated the limitations of the exemption given by Clause 44. As I read the clause, the exemptions concentrated under subsection (1) are exemptions from compliance with any requirements of those regulations which are not substantive requirements". For what is meant by "substantive requirements" we have to look at Section 76(3) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, where we find that they mean, the requirements of building regulations with respect to the design and construction of buildings and the provision of services, fittings and equipment in or in connection with buildings"— then there follow the words— as distinct from procedural requirements". Therefore, there is in the operation of public health law, in the context of building regulations, that continuing dichotomy between substantive requirements and procedural requirements. Unless I have misread the clause, the contemplated exemption leads only to procedural requirements. The matters to which my noble friend very properly drew attention are, of course, all substantive requirements—which will not come within the ambit of the exempting provisions of Clause 44.

The Minister will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, and will enlighten the Committee more correctly, but as I read the Bill and as I read the 1974 statute that appears to be the effect. Although I wholly appreciate and sympathise with the apprehensions and public-spirited anxieties of my noble friend, I think and hope that in this context they are not well founded.

Lord Skelmersdale

I listened with great interest to this short debate, but I am still not persuaded that Clause 44 should be omitted from the Bill. When my noble friend Lord Selkirk raised his original objections I understood that he was quite happy that a local authority or county council should be included, but that his real worry was the phrase, "any other body". If I am wrong, he can correct me. But before sweeping those two aside, may I point out that this clause in part repeals what I can only describe as a legal dottiness. At the moment a district council, for example, has to apply to itself, pay itself fees, submit plans to itself, and so on. Of course, it does no such thing because the officers move these things around among themselves. None the less, it is a legal requirement as current law goes, and, as I said, it seems to me to be more than a little unnecessary.

In addition to these two classes of bodies—that is, the local authority and the county council—other bodies which act under an enactment for public purposes and not for their own profit may be prescribed for exemption under this clause. We intend that these prescribed bodies shall be ones which exercise some local authority functions and are directly responsible to Ministers. Examples are the new towns development corporations and the Development Board for Rural Wales. If new development boards for inner cities were to be set up, they would seem to merit consideration for exemption. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, set up under the National Heritage Act 1983, is a case in point.

When Cmnd. Paper 8179, to which I have already referred, was issued it contained a list of possible bodies which might be considered for exemption under the present clause. That list was highly conjectural, and the Government's intention now is that exemptions should be limited to bodies of the kind I have just mentioned. There is no question of absolving those bodies from the duty to ensure compliance with technical building regulations. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Broxbourne, not for the first time this evening, for making that point. The case for exempting them from the procedures is the case for avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy.

The Earl of Selkirk

I thank my noble friend for what he has said. I do not wish to pursue this matter further.

Clause 44 agreed to.

Clause 45 [Power of certain public bodies to relax requirements of building regulations for their men works]:

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 111: Page 46, line 6, leave out paragraph (c).

The noble Lord said: This relates to the extent to which certain public bodies are able to relax their own requirements on building regulations in respect of their own work. As I said in earlier debates, we are again just a little uneasy at the extent to which it appears—the Minister may be able to reassure me and others outside the Committee—that the Bill, if not too relaxed, certainly includes some such bodies under the paragraph which we are proposing should be deleted. This is new subsection (2B)(c), which states: any other body which is prescribed for the purposes of section 44 of the Housing and Building Control Act 1984".

The Minister needs to spell out to us which bodies will be covered by the words, "any other body". He may well say that they are the same bodies as those covered in Clause 44, which states: Building regulations may exempt—

  1. (a) a local authority,
  2. (b) a county council, and
  3. (c) any other body which acts under any enactment for public purposes and not for its own profit".

Quite frankly, we want only the local authority to have the power to relax that requirement and no one else, particularly when we are moving to a situation where the local authority will not be retaining the tight hold that it has over its work. We are a little unhappy. The next series of amendments raises the same questions about giving others the ability to make changes in documents that are required. The Minister and his advisers should address themselves to the unease that will be felt in a wide number of forums about this matter. At this stage I content myself by moving the amendment in my name.

Lord Skelmersdale

I really am surprised by the speech that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. has just made. I have been at great pains to explain matters in response to Lord Selkirk's opposing the Question, That Clause 44 stand part of the Bill. That explanation contains the entire answer to the question which the noble Lord has just asked.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister has given an assurance on Clause 44, but we are moving to another clause. Clause 45, and a new amendment. The Minister forces me to weary the Committee by again reading out the provision in new subsection (2B): 'public body' means … (c) any other body". In our view that provision should be deleted. The term "any other body" is far too wide.

Lord Skelmersdale

No. I am sorry, but I really must take issue with the noble Lord. He must read the entire paragraph: any other body which is prescribed for the purposes of section 44 of the Housing and Building Control Act 1984".

Lord Graham of Edmonton

That is right.

Lord Skelmersdale

When talking about Clause 44(1)(c) I described exactly what those other bodies are. I really cannot add to that. I can repeat it, of course.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Would the noble Lord mind doing that, please?

Lord Skelmersdale

What I actually said was: We intend that these prescribed bodies will be ones which exercise some local authority functions and are directly responsible to Ministers. Examples are the new towns development corporations and the Development Board for Rural Wales. If new development boards for inner cities were to be set up, they would seem to merit consideration for exemption. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, set up under the National Heritage Act 1983, is a case in point".

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 45 agreed to.

Clause 46 [Approval of documents for purposes of building regulations]:

9.33 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 112: Page 46, line 26, leave out ("or a body designated by him")

The noble Lord said: This is the leading amendment to a series of others which relate to: Approved documents giving practical guidance". I think that it would be helpful to the Committee if I read out the first subsection in Clause 46: For the purpose of providing practical guidance with respect to the requirements of any provision of building regulations, the Secretary of State or a body designated by him for the purposes of this section may". The words that I am asking the Committee to bear in mind are: or a body designated by him". Then by the next amendment the provision would read: or a body designated by him for the purposes of the section may—(a) approve and issue any document (whether or not prepared by him or by the body cncerned)". It will short-circuit the debate if I simply say that we are worried about the power which, as we see it, is pretty substantial—that is, the power to conceive and create and then to put into operation the approved documents which are very important, and the purpose of this is to control building regulations. We are intrigued to know from the Minister who the bodies are and why any other body other than the Secretary of State ought to have the power written on the face of a Bill to carry out the functions which Clause 46 lays out.

We do not see any necessity for other bodies and there could be confusion if there is a range of bodies. If they have any gumption at all they will have some form of independence. They are not simply going to be told, "You can issue guidance on approved documents but they all must he the same". Therefore there could be variation; and if there is variation, then there could be confusion. So that is the reason why we want the Minister to be a little more forthcoming, first as to why; and secondly as to whom. I beg to move.

Lord Skelsmersdale

My Lords, this clause is a key provision in our plan to produce a more efficient system of building control. It will enable the Secretary of State to give effect to his undertaking to produce a new set of building regulations which are radically simpler and clearer than the existing ones. At the moment the building regulations fill a moderate sized book of over 350 pages, and their language and arrangement is often complex in the extreme. They have been much criticised as obscure and overelaborate. Essentially, the simplification of the regulations hangs on the idea of separating mandatory requirements—what builders must do—from descriptive material—how they might do it. The question which the noble Lord asked was about who is going to, in a sense, approve the second half—the non-statutory half, if you like—of the building regulations.

Clause 46, as drafted, allows the Secretary of State both to approve documents himself or to designate other bodies to approve them. The only bodies contemplated for this important role are the British Standards Institution and the Agrément Board. The combined effects of Amendments Nos. 112 to 120 will be to remove his powers to designate these bodies, as the noble Lord has already said. The Secretary of State's responsibilities for public health and safety will not be diminished by designating these bodies, but the process of arriving at new, approved documents may be speeded up. Approval would not be a separate, subsequent process following on from drafting and consultation stages, and this could clearly save time. Flexibility would also be enhanced because of all the possibilities for consultation and for direct involvement by industry and the professions right up to the final stage. The noble Lord asked me who and why. I hope that I have given him the answers. If not, of course I should be delighted to respond to any further points the noble Lord has made.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The answer is perfectly acceptable. What we feared—but it was obviously born out of if not ignorance, not being fully apprised—was that we did not wish to see other bodies that are involved in the whole process of designation and approval—for instance, of approved inspectors or the professional bodies, et cetera—causing the possibility of different interpretations, different standards and different advice and guidance coming from a range of bodies. But the two bodies which the Minister says are the only two bodies they have in mind at the moment that would be covered by this phrase, certainly appear to me to be eminently suitable and completely non-partisan and acknowledged as being independent. Their advice and references are very well received, not only in the industry but also by the consumer in general. In that case, I beg leave to withdraw the first amendment and I do not propose to move the other amendments in the series.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 113 to 120 not moved.]

Clause 46 agreed to.

Clause 47 agreed to.

9.42 p.m.

Clause 48 [Certificates of compliance with building regulations]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 121:

Page 49, line 29, at end insert— (" () There shall be paid on an application for any such approval as is referred to in subsection (3) above—

  1. (a) where the application is made to the Secretary of State, such fee as may be prescribed by building regulations;
  2. (b) where the application is made to a body designated by him as mentioned in that subsection, such fee as that body may determine.")

The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend, I beg to move Amendment No. 121 and at the same time speak to Amendments Nos. 124, 125 and 126. Amendment No. 124: Page 49, line 44, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert— ("(a) contain provision prescribing the period for which, subject to any provision made by virtue of paragraph (c) or (cc) below, any such approval as is referred to in subsection (3) above shall continue in force;") Amendment No. 125: Page 50, line 5, leave out ("so referred to") and insert ("referred to in that subsection") Amendment No. 126: Page 50, line 7, at end insert— (" (cc) contain provision authorising the withdrawal of any such approval or designation as is so referred to:")

These amendments are virtually identical to the Government's amendments to Clause 34, which enabled designated bodies to set their own fees for approving inspectors, and to limit such approval to five-year periods. They apply in this case to the corresponding arrangements for the approval of persons to give certificates that plans show compliance with certain prescribed provisions of building regulations. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Again, we may have got it wrong—we got it wrong the last time, when we were talking about prescribed fees—but are we looking at a situation where different bodies will prescribe different levels of fees for the same kind of service? Part of Amendment No. 121 states: where the application is made to a body designated by him as mentioned in that subsection, such fee as that body may determine". I admit to uncertainty, and I shall try to assist the Minister for the next minute or two because I believe that he may be able to assist me. There is a reference to. "such body". Can we have some illustrations of the kind of bodies that would be involved? Where there is a reference to fees. does that mean that different bodies could prescribe different levels of fees for the same kind of service? If that is to be the situation, people will shop around for what appears to be the same service but which is cheaper or dearer depending on who is providing it. We should regard that as an unhappy feature of the Bill.

Lord Skelmersdale

I am advised that "fees" will be fees paid by the person seeking approval, not fees to be paid by builders for the building control service. So I think that I am giving, though in different words, exactly the same answer to the noble Lord as I gave when he asked the same question on Tuesday. I do not have with me the 1936 Act, nor its various appurtenances. Perhaps it is a subject that is some way back in history and I should be better advised to write to the noble Lord on the question of the persons who are covered by the 1936 Act.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

When your Lordships went into Committee on this Bill earlier this evening the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, expostulated that so important a Bill, on which there is so much to be discussed, should be brought on at such an hour. We are now 14 clauses further on, over 30 amendments later, and over an hour and a half later. I draw those matters to the attention of your Lordships' Committee in weighing up whether what has happened this evening may not be a breach of any decent parliamentary practice.

Lord Skelmersdale

I had not intended to answer the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, at the beginning of this third day of the Committee stage at around eight o'clock, but I should point out that it was agreed perfectly amicably through the usual channels that this third day should in fact be a half day—

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

A half night!

Lord Skelmersdale

It was agreed that it should be not a full period of discussion. The fact that the business came on a little later than any of us might have desired was totally beyond anybody's control. I think that that is as far as I can go in answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

We are dealing, of course, with building control. If we cannot exercise some control of our own affairs, what chance has the building industry? However, in respect of the point made, will the Minister take what I have to say in the right spirit? What the noble Lord says will be understood by those who are fully aware of all the facets and who are able to quote every section of the 1936 Act, but I wish to be satisfied of the postulation I made—that the possibility of some shopping around element does not exist. The Minister said that the person seeking approval would be the person paying the fee. Of course, the person seeking approval would pay the fee. I wanted to know to whom he would pay the fee, for what he would be paying, and whether there would be a range of options. Otherwise why leave the words. such fee as that body may determine"? That must mean something. It must mean variation. I should like to know how the variation could arise and its importance. This can clearly best be done by studying the words of the Minister and by taking advice from those outside.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Auckland moved Amendment No. 122: Page 49, line 32, leave out ("adequate").

The noble Lord said: At this late hour I think that the Committee could reasonably take Amendments Nos. 122 and 123 together. Amendment No. 123: Page 49. line 33, after ("cover") insert ("as agreed between the two parties concerned").

Both amendments relate to the same aspect of the Bill. As I mentioned on Second Reading, particularly when one is discussing the subject of insurance—I declare an interest as an insurance consultant although not concerned with this Bill—the word "adequate" can never really be satisfactory. In this matter, where one is dealing with the certifier and the authorities concerned, this is very much to the fore. Amendment No. 123 is really the gravamen here. If a defect becomes apparent later and the certifier is found by the courts to have been negligent in some respect and the sum exceeds the cover that the certifier is required to provide, there is the question as to whether the claimant will he allowed to pursue in the courts over the extra amount insured, assuming that the client involved is a Minister of the same government at the time, a Minister of a different government and party, or a commercially minded private client. All of us know that governments change, that officials change and that housing legislation changes.

At this late hour when our brains are getting tired, I do not wish to pursue this in detail, but I should like to thank both my noble friend Lord Bellwin and my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale for the help that they have given on these matters. I would hope that between now and the next stage of the Bill this particular aspect of the Bill can be clarified to ensure that the insurance is on a reasonable and logical scale. I beg to move.

Lord Broxbourne

May I very briefly indeed ask my noble friend the Minister—in addition to looking between now and the Report stage at the important points made by my noble friend Lord Auckland—to consider or to initiate a consideration within the corridors of power in the Government as to the position of the law of limitation in regard to actions brought in respect of buildings? It is this, as especially exemplified by the leading case Anns v. Merton in the 1970s, to some extent followed and clarified in the Pirelli case more recently, which makes the question of liability so very difficult. It makes the question for people seeking to establish a claim very difficult, and therefore inevitably makes the postion of insurers very difficult. This is a fundamental point in this context and it would certainly be rewarding for Ministers to consider it, though I am not so foolishly optimistic as to expect them to come up with a definitive and perfect solution between now and Report stage.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

May I rise briefly to say that we on these Benches support what is being requested. This is a probing amendment. There are a range of bodies outside this House who are anxious to test what they understand from their own experience will be the effect of insurance matters and they are asking legitimate questions. The Minister can fairly tell us consultations are going on, papers are being issued, comments are being received and they are being refined. This is against the background of the uncertainty as to whether this particular route will ever be followed because of the inability of the insurance companies to be satisfied that a market can be created in this specific field of insurance. We shall certainly be interested in the response of the Minister and be guided by the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, as to his intentions in respect of the amendment at the appropriate time.

Lord Skelmersdale

We have already had quite an innings on this subject of insurance when discussing Opposition amendments on Clause 32 on Tuesday (Amendments 74 to 77 inclusive, which are reported in columns 239 to 248 of the Official Report). May I suggest that noble Lords who have shown great interest in this very important subject read what I am about to say now with that, because I hope that between the two some light will be thrown on the situation.

The purpose of giving the Secretary of State the power to approve insurance schemes under Clause 48 of the Bill as under Part 2 of the Bill is to enable him to ensure that such schemes provide adequate protection for any people who suffer damage as a result of negligence of an approved person. The reason for requiring evidence that an approved insurance scheme applies to the work is to make sure that the building owner or any injured third party can be sure of redress at least up to a known limit in the event of the approved person being found negligent.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, has been poking fun at me constantly this evening about this consultation process, which I really do not think is legitimate criticism. He has already admitted that in this process we have moved a long way towards satisfying various concerns that have been put to us during the course of consultation. We will continue to do so. As I have said at earlier stages of the Bill, we regard this Committee stage—and indeed any subsequent discussions we have on the regulations as they pertain to various clauses in the Bill—to be part of the consultation process. I hope the noble Lord will consider taking note of what I have just said.

As to what that limit should be, the draft guidelines on which we are currently consulting set out suggested limits in some detail, thereby putting flesh on the single word "adequate" which appears on the face of the Bill. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has not yet decided exactly what those minimum requirements should be, but he is in no doubt that there should he a minimum and I am sure the Committee will share his view.

The effect of Amendments Nos. 122 and 123 would enable the Secretary of State to approve an insurance scheme in which the amount of cover would simply be a matter of agreement between the developer and his insurer. I do not think that that could give sufficient protection (it might in certain circumstances, but equally it might not) to the final owner or tenant of the building.

The intention of the draft guidelines is to set general standards which the Secretary of State will expect to find in insurance schemes submitted to him for approval. We are awaiting the response of the insurance industry and of the building owners to these draft guidelines. I can assure my noble friend that we shall consider very carefully the points that he has made tonight in the light of the comments we receive from the industry itself. I should like to add that the insurance requirements under the Bill in no way limit the court's power to award damages for negligence. The purpose of insurance schemes which will be approved is to ensure that the resources to meet claims up to specified limits will be available. I hope that that clears up by noble friend's point.

Lord Auckland

I quite agree with my noble friend that at this late hour we should study what has been said. He is quite right that much of this has been answered during our discussions on Clause 32. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and my noble friend Lord Broxbourne, with his legal expertise, for their assistance in this short discussion. Naturally. I and the Committee will study between now and Report stage what has been said, what the insurance industry feels and, above all, what the building industry feels, which is very important, However, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 123 not moved.]

9.50 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendments Nos. 124, 125 and 126:

[Printed earlier: col. 458.]

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendments Nos. 124, 125 and 126 en bloc. I spoke to them with Amendment No. 121.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 48, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 49 agreed to.

Schedule 8 agreed to.

Clause 50 [Amendments of enactments relating to building regulations]:

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 127:

Page 51, line 2. at end insert— (" () Where the Secretary of State proposes in building regulations to prescribe criteria and requirements for the purposes of Parts II and III of this Bill it shall be his duty before he makes them to consult such organisations as appear to him to be representatives of interests substantially affected by the proposal and such other persons as he considers appropriate.").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 127, and I shall do so as briefly as possible. Clause 50(1) limits the circumstances in which it will be necessary for the Secretary of State to consult interested bodies before amending regulations. In Section 9(3) of the 1961 Act, which requires consultations with such bodies as appear to the Minister to be representative of the interests concerned, the word "concerned" is of significance. Where interests do not appear to the Minister to be concerned with the subject-matter of the proposed regulations, whether trivial or substantive, there is no obligation to consult their representatives. If, on the other hand, they do appear to be concerned, there seems no justification for removing the existing right to be consulted before the regulations are made.

I fancy that the answer to this amendment will tie up with an answer which was given to an earlier amendment. I therefore propose not to follow this particular amendment too far this evening, but to study the Ministers' reply. However, I should like his confirmation that in fact the answer is the same.

Lord Broxbourne

At this late hour I propose to be very brief—and may I say parenthetically how very agreeable it is to somebody who, like me, has come here so recently from another place, where the words "late hour" bear a very different connotation, to be able to use those words at this time and in this context?

I think that this amendment is based on a misconception. It is based on a failure to take account of what in the discussion on the Question, Whether Clause 44 shall stand part of Bill? I described as the dichotomy in relation to the requirements of consultation under the building regulations. With respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, the proposed amendment overlooks the distinction in law between substantive requirements and procedural requirements, which, as I mentioned then, are defined in Clause 76(3) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Quite properly in my view, the substantive requirements want far more extensive consultation than the procedural ones from which they are distinguished and with which they are contrasted. I understand—and the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that in addition to the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, the substantive requirements have an obligation to consult with between 100 and 200 bodies, one of which I am informed (and I hope credibly informed) is the British Bingo Association, though I am not quite clear what its particular interest or expertise in this matter would be.

On the other hand, for procedural requirements Ministers have to circulate proposals only to a much smaller body of specifically interested organisations. In default of the provisions of Clause 50 of this Bill, regulations such as the approved inspectors regulations, would be subject to the necessity of this much wider range of consultation, including the British Bingo Association. The intention and effect of the amendment would seem to be to impose this additional obligation. That would necessarily add to expense and administrative work; and would, in my submission, be unnecessary. Therefore, I hope that this matter may not be proceeded with.

Lord Skelmersdale

Let me make it clear at the beginning that I am not speaking for the Home Office. The building regulations have until now been almost entirely substantive. They impose technical requirements and they define what work is exempt or partly exempt. In other words, they bear directly on what is built, extended or altered.

As I told the Committee just now, many of the new regulations made under the Bill will however be procedural. They will include the regulations under which approved inspectors will operate. We have already completed one round of informal consultation on a first draft of these regulations, on a limited scale, but covering many of the bodies which seemed likely to have comments, and we are grateful for their comments. We are currently consulting on a second draft, again informally. but on a wide scale covering all the bodies, which number over 300, on the list of those we consult on the building regulations.

This list is an open list, and any representative body which can claim a legitimate interest can ask to be put on it, even though its interest may in practice be very narrow and limited. My noble friend Lord Broxbourne referred to the British Bingo Association. He is quite right, but also on the list are the Cake and Biscuit Alliance, the Vitreous Enamel Development Association and the White Fish Authority. We do not feel that a statutory requirement to consult and to go on consulting on this scale about every detail of procedures is justified. It would be a pointless waste of time, paper and effort on the part of the department and many of the persons consulted. For this reason we have included in the Bill the provision in Clause 50(1) which confines the statutory requirement to consult to those regulations which are substantive. I hope that this gives the explanation that was desired by the noble Baroness.

Baroness Nicol

I am grateful for the explanation, and fascinated by the idea of having to consult the British Bingo Association. I shall carefully study what the Minister has said. At this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 50 agreed to.

10.5 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 128: After clause 50, insert the following new clause:—

("Amendments of enactments relating to sanitation and buildings.

.—(1) Part XII of the 1936 Act (enforcement and other general provisions) shall have effect as if so much of Part II of the 1961 Act (sanitation and buildings) as does not relate to building regulations were contained in Part II of the 1936 Act. (2) In the following provisions, namely—

  1. (a) so much of Part II of the 1936 Act (sanitation and building) as does not relate to building regulations;
  2. 465
  3. (b) sections 137 and 138 of that Act (certain buildings to be supplied with water); and
  4. (c) so much of Part II of the 1961 Act as does not relate to building regulations,
expressions which are defined by subsection (1) of section 82 of the 1974 Act shall have the meanings given by that subsection.").

The noble Lord said: I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 145. Amendment No. 145: In the Title, line 6, after ("regulations") insert (", sanitation and buildings").

Amendment No. 128 is a draft new clause necessary for a proposed consolidation Bill. The law relating to buildings and building regulations is at present spread inconveniently over a number of statutes, some of them referred to as the enactments "relating to building regulations", a title conferred on them by Section 76 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The Law Commission is consolidating the enactments relating to building regulations and other provisions about building in a Bill to be introduced later this Session and entitled the Building Bill.

Because of the somewhat disorderly way in which the various provisions have been enacted over the years, marginally different procedural provisions and definitions apply to the enactments relating to building regulations and to the rest. The main differences are in the definition of the words "contravention" and "modification", and in the procedures which apply to such mundane activities as the serving of notices and the requiring of information. We will go on to this in more detail when considering the amendment that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, will move. I hope I have said enough at the moment to explain the need for these two amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 9 agreed to.

Clause 51 to 55 agreed to.

Clause 56 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

[Amendment No. 129 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Simon of Glaisdale moved Amendment No. 129A. Page 52, line 30, leave out from ("force") to end of line 31, and insert ("on such day after its consolidation with the 1980 Act as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.").

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment is designed to ensure that this Bill does not go out without Part I being consolidated with the 1980 Act to which it refers and by which it proceeds as legislation by reference. At this hour I would not be justified in detaining the Committee long over this. It is sufficient if I remind your Lordships that at the very outset of your Lordships' consideration in Committee, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and the noble Lord, Lord Molson, protested at the baffling nature of this Bill, referring particularly to Part I.

That has been echoed by a number of your Lordships in discussing this Bill. Those two noble Lords are lawyers—indeed, the noble Earl is a Queen's Counsel. Both those noble Lords have had high ministerial responsibility; the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in the very field of this law. All your Lordships present have had great experience of legislation—in its initiation, preparation and administration; but if noble Lords find this Bill so baffling I ask the Committee to consider the persons who are affected by Part I.

Let us take someone who is affected by Clause 4; someone who has exercised his right to buy. He now wants to sell, probably to move to somewhere else, and naturally he wants to know what discount, if any, he has to repay. On that will depend what type of house he can purchase. He may be someone who left school at 14 and has spent all his life in manual labour. What is he told? He is told that it all depends on whether his sale of the house is "a relevant disposal". Having determined that, he is told it is a question of whether it is a relevant disposal under a new clause imported by this Bill into an earlier Act by a subsection (3) or a similar subsection (3)(A), also imported by this Bill, which will then be an Act, into another Act. If he is living in an old people's sheltered accommodation he has a further exercise to perform: he has to have to look at Clause 7 of this Bill because that refers back to Clause 4.

Nothing as the Bill is drafted and at the stage at which it has reached can make it entirely simple, or even intelligible, to the sort of person whom I have described and who is, after all, the consumer for the purposes of this legislation. But what your Lordships can do is to insist that this Bill does not go out so that the consumer has to read two documents. one from another, but that it is consolidated into one document.

It can be done in this Session. There is no need to wait, just in case the Minister is anxious to have the Bill. The Consolidation Committee can consolidate a Bill when it is actually passing through Parliament. It did that in 1975 with the massive social security legislation consolidation, in which was consolidated the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill while it was passing through Parliament. It is perfectly within the compass of a competent draftsman, as the draftsman of this Bill seems to be. After all, the Bill will have to be explained by the Citizens' Advice Bureaux, if by nobody with professional qualifications, and they will have to do a job with scissors and paste with this Bill, which will then he an Act, and the Act which is amended by it, the 1980 Act. If all over the country the Citizens' Advice Bureaux would have to perform the scissors and paste operation, surely it is more reasonable that the draftsman who has used this Bill to amend the earlier legislation should do the job himself and for them.

It is not as if the job is altogether a novel one. We heard from the noble Lord the Minister that the task of consolidation on a far wider field has already been started. We heard that also on Second Reading from the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. And this is a comparatively simple piece of legislation to consolidate. because the draftsman has, I think, largely, if not entirely, followed the instructions of the Renton Committee and amended the earlier Act textually, so that it is really only a matter of scissors and paste.

Last Session the same Ministry prepared the National Heritage Bill, which was the subject of execration throughout your Lordships' House. The drafting was so extraordinary that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, actually moved an amendment to omit a vital schedule. on the ground that it was virtually incomprehensible. We were asked to a meeting with the Ministers, and I was certainly left with the impression that the National Heritage Bill probably would not be amended during the last Session, because that would hurry the draftsmen too much, but that it would certainly be consolidated this Session. However, it is not in the programme of the Consolidation Committee at all. They have already consolidated legislation about dentists and about registered homes in Scotland, neither of them subjects to be dismissed summarily, but surdy less important than legislation the consolidation of which had been promised by the Ministry responsible for this Bill, or this Bill itself, where the probability of the requirement of consolidation must have been perfectly obvious to anybody considering Part I.

In my experience, this is the most disgraceful Bill by way of legislation by reference that I have ever seen, and to let it go out unconsolidated in this form would be, in my respectful submission to your Lordships, a legislative enormity. I beg to move.

Lord Molson

There is no need for me to speak at any length after the speech that we have heard from the noble and learned Lord. Not only was he for a long time a Lord of Appeal but during that period he presided over the Consolidation Committee. He therefore has expert knowledge not only from the point of view of draftsmanship but also in regard to the problem of getting these matters through the elaborate machinery of consolidation. I think he has made out an unanswerable case for something to be done in order to consolidate this legislation before it goes out to be interpreted and put into operation.

I am only sorry that my noble friend Lord Renton is not able to be here at this late hour of the night. It will be in the memory of your Lordships that some four or five years ago he presided over a committee which went into the whole question of draftsmanship and emphasised how urgently important it was, in order that law should be "understanded of the people", for draftsmanship to be greatly simplified and rationalised. I am very sorry to have to say that since then extremely little has been done to carry out the recommendations of the Renton Committee, despite the fact that I think in almost every respect the Government of the day accepted those recommendations in principle.

I wish to put the proposal forward to the Government in the simplest way possible. There is an urgent need for there to be consolidation of all the housing legislation on the statute book, but I recognise that that is a very large task and would take a very long time. Therefore, in line with the argument of the noble and learned Lord, I think it is desirable to take two bites at this cherry.

Part I of this Bill is primarily legislation in order to amend the Act of 1980 and I suggest that, as the noble and learned Lord has said, there should be no difficulty in consolidating the Act of 1980 and that of 1984. In fact, the noble and learned Lord speaks about scissors and paper and that is very largely what it would be. The same draftsmen and civil servants who have been concerned with drafting this legislation to amend the Act of 1980 will have all the facts and relevant references in their minds, if not still on their desks, when they could begin the task of consolidation. That this is not far from the Government's thought is obvious from the assurance which I received from my noble friend the Minister on the first day of these proceedings when he said that the task of consolidation had already begun.

As I have said, Part I deals almost primarily—I will not say exclusively—with the amendment of the Act of 1980. When we come to Parts II and III we encounter matters which are entirely different. Quite clearly, this ought not to have been a single Bill. There ought to have been one Bill containing Part I, another Bill containing Part II, and another Bill containing Part III. I do not in any way blame the Government for having proceeded in this way, because I fully recognise that they felt there was great urgency about this matter and there is a shortage of parliamentary time. But having economised time by incorporating these three different parts in one single Bill, I suggest that it should now be relatively simple for them to begin to take these three pieces apart and to make them into separate Acts to go onto the statute book.

At this late hour, I do not wish to go into details. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord has already, with great erudition, emphasised the point. I would only say that Clause 52 refers to two Public Health Acts of 1936 and 1961 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974; Clause 54 provides for amendments to Schedule 10; and Clause 55 repeals enactments in the third column of Schedule 11. All this demonstrates how extremely difficult it would be for even highly ingenious lawyers to understand exactly what the change in the whole corpus of the law is, which is affected by this, Bill. I hope, having been assured that the task of consolidation is already in hand, that the Government will give a sympathetic reply to the amendment moved by my noble and learned friend.

So far as I am concerned. I will summarise by suggesting that, first, there should be without any delay consolidation of the Act of 1980 with this amended Act of 1984—almost the whole of which is contained in Part I of this Bill. Then, there should be separate consolidation as soon as possible of Parts II and III. Next, the major task should be undertaken—and I want to be perfectly reasonable because I realise that a lot of other legislation is being dealt with by the Law Commission and by the Joint Consolidation Committee—of complete consolidation of all the housing Acts. Finally, it is extremely desirable, although perhaps less urgent in view of much of what the noble Lord has said this afternoon, that there should be consolidation of all the Acts dealing with building control. In that way, we will have on the statute book relevant statutes dealing with these different and complicated matters, all of which are most confusingly dealt with in the present Bill.

10.27 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

I recognise the noble and learned Lord's concern about the need for consolidation of housing legislation. My noble friend Lord Molson called this an "unanswerable case" for consolidation: we shall see. It is an issue to which the noble and learned Lord referred when we considered the first part of this Bill in Committee last week. He was particularly concerned in the context of Clause 4, which he used as an example this evening. I might reconfirm that the points he raised on Clause 4 are points on which my noble friend Lord Bellwin has offered to write to him. I assure the noble and learned Lord that my noble friend will do just that.

The Government need no persuasion as to the merits of consolidation of housing legislation. As I said in my last speech to the Committee, the Government are seeking to achieve early consolidation of the statutes, but nobody is better placed than the noble and learned Lord to realise that this is a task that cannot be rushed. Hasty and ill-conceived consolidation will only add to the difficulties he outlined. The noble and learned Lord and my noble friend Lord Molson made a case for consolidating the 1980 Act with this Bill and for doing so now as the Bill proceeds. Many of the Bill's provisions do amend textually the 1980 Act, since much of what the Bill does is in effect to improve and add to the existing right to buy in the tenants' charter. There are, on the other hand, completely fresh provisions in the Bill which could not possibly be incorporated in an amended version of the 1980 Act.

For instance, there is the shared ownership scheme introduced by Clauses 12 to 17—also in Part I of the Bill. The present Bill is consistent with normal parliamentary practice and procedure. I am advised also that it is consistent with paragraph 13, subparagraph 16, of the report of my noble friend Lord Renton on the preparation of legislation—and he, of course, put his name to this amendment.

I would not presume to argue with the noble and learned Lord on a subject on which he is such an expert. I accept the point he makes that it becomes increasingly more difficult for practitioners and others affected by legislation if successive legislative measures proceed by textual amendment of a previous measure. To deal with this problem, the 1980 Act as amended by Part I of this Bill will be reproduced by the publication Statutes in Force in a way that can be readily understood by practitioners. Statutes in Force may be cited in court as further proof of their authenticity.

We have asked whether publication of a complete text can be expedited, and have been told by the Statutory Publications Office that it hopes to publish a new cumulative supplement incorporating the amendments to be effected by this Bill within four months of receiving a Queen's Printer's copy of the Act. We also intend to publish a series of explanatory booklets on the subject of the right to buy, which will be widely distributed.

To come back to the question of consolidation of the 1980 Act and this Bill, I can assure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that time taken on any ad hoc consolidation will be time lost on the main consolidation since, taking the whole of housing legislation, the text of the main consolidation will not have the same character as the text of any earlier part of the legislation, largely because the consolidator is seeking to achieve maximum consistency in the final consolidation measure or measures.

I hope I have said enough to explain to the noble and learned Lord that we are very much on his side but we cannot quite go all the way that he so obviously desires in this amendment.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I am very grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Molson. May I deal with a point he made on Parts I, II and III? In the normal process of consolidation the draftsman will only consolidate with the 1980 Act so much of this Bill, when it is an Act, as is relevant to the 1980 Act. We had that experience, I believe, two Sessions ago—it may have been last Session—in relation to matrimonial homes. An Act had to be consolidated which dealt partly with matrimonial homes and partly with matrimonial property. The draftsman quite properly consolidated only that part which was relevant; namely, that relating to matrimonial homes. So there is no difficulty in hiving off Part I.

The noble Lord the Minister said that it will be time lost. It may be time postponed, but the measure of consolidation which I am now seeking is urgent consolidation. The rest is important, but it is not urgent in the sense that quite humble people and the people who man the Citizens Advice Bureaux have got to understand what this legislation does. The noble Lord said that there will be publication in four months' time by the Statutory Publications Office. If so, the draftsman can do it in four months. It is exactly the same problem that faces him as faces the publisher of the Statutes in Force.

The noble Lord the Minister said that practitioners will be able to manage. I do not doubt that with great difficulty they will be able to manage, moving from one Act to the other, backwards and forwards. It is not the practitioners with whom I am concerned; it is the humble users of this legislation. The Minister said he hoped I would he satisfied with his explanation, but in fact he came nowhere near meeting any point I made. It is obviously unreal to talk of pressing this to a Division at this hour, but in view of the extremely unsatisfactory explanation I shall return to the matter at a later stage. In the meantime, if the noble Lord, Lord Molson, will agree—the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has already agreed—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 56 agreed to.

Schedule 10 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 130:

[Printed earlier: col. 1240.]

The noble Lord said: My noble friend spoke to this with Amendment No. 18. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 131:

[Printed earlier: col. 1267.]

The noble Lord said: Again my noble friend spoke to this with Amendment No. 42. 1 beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendments Nos. 132 and 133:

[Printed earlier: col. 1237.]

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendments Nos. 132 and 133 en bloc. My noble friend spoke to them with Amendment No. 17.

On Question. amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 134 not moved.]

Lord Skelmersdle moved Amendment No. 135:

[Printed earlier: col. 1237.]

The noble Lord said: My noble friend spoke to this with Amendment No. 18. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

10.41 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 136: Page 86, line 48, leave out from ("such") to ("7(5)") in line 1 of page 87 and insert ("rights as are mentioned in paragraphs 3(1) and (5) and").

The noble Lord said: I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 140. Amendment No. 140: Page 88, line 34, at end insert ("and to such rights as are mentioned in paragraphs 3(5) and 7(5) of Schedule 3 to this Act"). These are technical amendments to ensure consistency of treatment between the shared ownership scheme and the exercise of the right to buy in cases of outright purchase. The effect of the amendments would be to ensure that Part IV of Schedule 2 of the 1980 Act, which deals inter alia with charges on the freehold, applies where the freehold is called for under a shared ownership lease. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment Nos. 137, 138 and 139:

[Printed earlier: col 1268.]

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendments Nos. 137, 138 and 139 en bloc. My noble friend spoke to them with Amendment No. 42.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 140:

[Printed above.]

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this with Amendment No. 136. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 141:

[Printed earlier: col. 1183.]

The noble Lord said: My noble friend spoke to this with Amendment No. 5. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 10, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 11 [Repeals]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 142:

Page 90, line 35, column 3, leave out ("Section 2(5)") and insert—

Page 90,("In section 2, in subsection (4) the words "Subject to subsection (5) below" and subsection (5).").

The noble Lord said: Section 2(5) of the 1980 Act provides that the Secretary of State may by order enable the right to buy to be exercised in relation to dwellings held other than under Part V of the 1957 Act —the powers to provide housing to meet general housing needs. The Secretary of State made an order in May 1983 extending the right to buy to most non-Part V dwellings held by the right-to-buy landlords. Schedule 11 of the Bill provides for the repeal of Section 2(5). There is a cross-reference to Section 2(5) and Section 2(4) of the 1980 Act which needs to be repealed, together with Section 2(5). This minor consequential repeal was overlooked in the original drafting of Schedule 11. We are correcting that now. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 143 not moved.]

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 144:

[Printed earlier: col. 1200.]

The noble Lord said: My noble friend spoke to this with amendment No. 11. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 11, as amended, agreed to.

In the Title:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amentment No. 145:

[Printed earlier: col. 465.]

The noble Lord said: I spoke to Amendment No. 145 with Amendment No. 128, but before we leave this Committee stage may I take the opportunity to thank all those noble Lords who have spoken during this stage of the Bill. We have had a number of very constructive debates, and the Government will look very carefully at all the suggestions that have been made before we come to the next stage of the Bill. I am sure that at that stage your Lordships will show an equal diligence in examining the provisions of what the Government consider to be a very worthwhile Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

May I take this opportunity to express the appreciation of my colleagues on this side of the Chamber for the many instances where it was quite clear that the Minister and his advisers anticipated the range of matters over which we were going to work in order to try to elicit information. Certainly we can see some great merit in reading the reports of the Committee stage in preparation for the Report stage. It is one of those exercises where one learns something new all the time.

The Committee is of course aware that this is not merely the second time round for this matter, but that it has been about for a very long time. References were made to over five years of consultation, and clearly, as the Minister has said, the Government are prepared to take even longer than that in order to get it right. As far as we are concerned, we have not yet finished our attempt to improve the Bill.

Certainly the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, raised a very serious point at the end of these particular proceedings. to which we on this side of the Committee will certainly give a great deal of attention and as to which we shall consult with him to see whether it is possible to be helpful, not merely to the Bill and to the Minister but—more importantly—to millions of people outside. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, and the Minister pointed out that there are professionals who are involved in these matters. They are able to deal with these issues not only from their own experience but also from their access to information and research. They can look after themselves. What the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, pointed out, quite properly of course, is that there are very many ordinary people who will be vitally affected by the provisions of this Bill. What in actual fact he drew to our attention, is the need for this Chamber to be ever vigilant, not merely in order to produce a satisfactory piece of legislation, but to try to look behind the legislation at the people who are going to be affected by it.

As a Member of Parliament in another manifestation, I always had great difficulty in explaining the legislation in which I had taken part; so goodness knows what ordinary people, who may be referred to documents and leaflets which were designed to be helpful, made out of going to a library and asking to look at what they were told to look at, which was the Act, and trying to make reference to it. I can recall more than once, in preparing for this Bill, I was referred to a section not merely of the 1980 Act, which was the point that was made, but also to the 1961 and 1936 Acts, and so on.

So as far as we are concerned, on this side of the Committee, this has been a very useful stage of the Bill. We are far from satisfied that when we leave this particular stage the Bill is in as good a shape as it ought to be. I cannot honestly say that the Minister has willingly conceded anything remotely in the form of a concession. What has been wrung from the Government has actually had to be forced from them by virtue of a vote. The Minister has very often satisfied us by way of explanation, where very often we on this side have failed to fully appreciate the significance of the words on the face of the Bill. Quite frankly, very often people outside this Chamber who have advised us have not fully understood what was in the mind of the Minister and his advisers. As far as we are concerned, this has been a very useful stage and one from which we will profit. I think the Minister has had full warning from Members on this side that we intend to come back at Report— and not merely with amendments that we feel necessary. The value of a Report stage of course is to provide the last legitimate opportunity for people outside to recognise that they have another opportunity to improve the Bill.

The Bill has had a good run in another place, and, to be fair to the Minister, we have had a very good run so far as we are concerned. We have taken advantage of the opportunities, and this might be a suitable moment, before I sit down, for me to say that we are very grateful to the Minister for the care and attention which he has given. We intend to come back and try to improve the Bill in any way that we can.

I do not think that the Minister can take lightly the fact that tonight there has been very little evidence of Back-Bench interest, simply because of the unfortunate circumstances. I certainly do not blame the Government Chief Whip; I certainly do not blame anyone. The Minister was fair in his statement that a timescale had been allowed for this part of the proceedings on the Bill, but, unfortunately, due to preceding business, we were prevented from starting at a more reasonable hour. However, I think that we have managed to satisfy ourselves tonight; we are going to conclude at a reasonable time.

Lord Denham

Just before we move on—we have now reached the magic hour of 10.45—in view of the generous words of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, I should like to thank your Lordships for your kindness in dealing with this matter so expeditiously after it came on at such a late hour.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended. agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

House adjourned at thirteen minutes before eleven o'clock.