HL Deb 21 June 1991 vol 530 cc397-412

2.56 p.m.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee. —(Lord Wade of Chorlton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Cullen of Ashbourne) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [New dwellings to be fitted with smoke detectors]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 5, leave out from ("who") to end of line.

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I should pause for a moment in order to allow all those noble Lords who are more concerned with animal life than human life to leave the Chamber. I shall take what I have to say very slowly.

I wish to make it clear from the outset that the amendments which I shall move today are intended only to be helpful; they are not intended in any way to obstruct the progress of the Bill of which we thoroughly approve. It is certainly not my intention to press any of the amendments to a Division. As my amendments are dovetailed with those of the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, I hope that we shall be able to reach speedy agreement on as many of the issues as possible.

Amendment No. 1 is very straightforward. As drafted, the Bill provides that the fitting of smoke detectors shall be required in all new dwellings which are constructed in the "course of a business" carried on by the person who is constructing or arranging for the construction; in other words, self-build properties are excluded. I am glad to say that this is not simply a matter of bungalows in gardens in Derwentside, although I suppose that that is perhaps the most tragic example of self-build properties which we have seen affecting the planning laws during their whole history.

We are also concerned with the kind of self-build scheme which is carried on by housing associations. There can be a considerable number of self-build houses. It is quite economical for those who have the necessary skills to build them. It seems proper, therefore, that there should not be a loophole in the Bill in this respect. It is not just a matter of what happens when the houses are first built. Self-build houses will eventually come on to the market. It seems to us that the purchasers of those self-build houses have the right to the same protection as the purchasers of any other houses in respect of smoke detectors, just as they have in respect of any other aspect of building quality. I beg to move.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

I thank the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for his remarks. I looked around me to see whether there was anyone in the Chamber who was likely to speak on the matter. There is no one behind me. That may be an advantage. One may be crept up on from behind and that is often worse than being crept up on from the front.

It is the intention of the Bill to place the obligation for compliance clearly on the shoulders of the commercial builder rather than the prospective owner who may have commissioned the construction of the building. I acknowledge that that approach has the side-effect of excluding dwellings constructed by self-build groups, but that is a small sector of the housing market only. It could be argued that such people can protect their own interests without the need for legislation to compel them to do so. It is not the Bill's intention to open the door to monitoring what someone does subsequently. It is important that we do not introduce into the Bill an opportunity to check what owners or occupiers have done. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

I say on behalf of the Government that, for the reasons that my noble friend has given, I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Lord's arguments were not an accurate reflection of what I said in support of the amendment. I did not suggest that there should be a subsequent monitoring of the existence of smoke detectors. I said that those who, after the Act comes into force, buy houses built other than in the course of business are entitled to the same protection as those who buy houses built in the course of business. There is no derogation from the accepted scope of the Bill which extends to new building only. I am sorry that the noble Lord thought that I was proposing anything other than that. It is a defect in the Bill, but not a catastrophic one. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 7, after ("detectors") insert ("of the required standard").

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 10 and 11 in my name and manuscript Amendment No. 10A in the name of my noble friend Lord Rea. This is an important matter. We are seeking clarification. The Bill contains no definition of the standards with which smoke detectors should comply. It is desirable that, as with so many other aspects of the control of building quality, smoke detectors should be required to comply with a recognisable regulation. Fortunately, there is an acceptable regulation (British Standard 5446: Part 1: 1990), and the amendments provide for that British standard, or any subsequent standard which the Secretary of State specifies, to be made the proper standard for smoke detectors.

The need for smoke detectors to comply, and to continue to comply, to a standard in other words, not just for manufacture but for installation and subsequent upkeep—was recognised in a Home Office publication. Home Office publication FB2 Wake Up! Get a Smoke Alarm was published in 1990. Unfortunately, the publication is defective in that it applies to battery-operated detectors only. It should apply to the whole range of smoke-detector equipment now available.

It is consonant with the Bill's purposes that smoke detectors installed as a result of the Bill should conform to recognisable standards of manufacture, installation and maintenance.

The amendment tabled by my noble friend makes a different point, that relating to disposal. I shall leave it to him to make the point in detail, but I believe that it is properly to be considered in the same debate as the amendment that I move. I beg to move.

Lord Rea

As my amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 2, perhaps I should speak to it now. I have inserted this manuscript amendment because none of the others specifically refers to the important problem of disposal of smoke detectors after they have finished their useful working life. As I understand it, nearly all smoke detectors currently available on the market contain a small amount of a radioactive substance, Americium, which can cause lung and liver cancer in humans and, if it is put on a waste disposal site, can leach into soil and cause water contamination.

This radioactive substance has a long half life of 460 years, so it will outlast by many times the life of the smoke detector, which will usually have a useful life of an estimated 10 to 15 years. The amount of radioactive material in individual smoke detectors is tiny, minute. In itself, it would provide no cause for concern when properly installed in a building. However, according to Mr. Patrick Green, who is a radiation consultant with Friends of the Earth: When people begin dumping these detectors, we could have a major waste management problem on our hands … Many homes are installing three detectors. If these are put in the rubbish, you are well above the unauthorised dumping laws for commercial users". He fears that soil and water contamination may result.

I understand that some reputable firms making smoke detectors on both sides of the Atlantic advise in the instructions that come with the units that old units be returned to the manufacturer for safe disposal. However, I wonder how often the advice is followed. There are other less reputable firms exporting the devices to the UK from various countries around the world. I feel that all householders with smoke detectors should be made fully aware of the need for safe disposal and that effective waste disposal facilities for radioactive materials should be made available in all areas.

Without going into greater detail this late on a Friday afternoon, I wonder whether the noble Lord can satisfy me that this potentially serious health hazard has been carefully considered.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

The whole purpose of Clause 3 is to enable material relating to the standards which smoke detectors must meet and where they should be put and similar suggestions to go into a guidance document and not clutter up the Bill. It enables the requirements to be brought up to date without amending legislation if the standards change. I recognise that the real purpose of most of the amendments is to find out what the approved practical guidance is likely to say. I hope that it will include a reference to the appropriate British standards for smoke detectors. I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of providing written instructions on maintenance. I understand that British standards provide for this to be done.

I should like to see other matters included. I believe that the alarm should be mains operated. There is evidence from America that it is not sufficient to rely on a purely battery operated device because householders all too often neglect to replace the batteries. There needs to be at least one alarm per storey and the alarms need to be connected to each other so that they all go off together. Otherwise, a person sleeping in a first or second-floor bedroom may not hear the alarm going off on the ground floor.

I refer to Amendment No. 10. Clause 3 provides for practical guidance to be issued on ways of meeting the requirements set out in Clause 1(2) of the Bill. That subsection does not attempt to control the subsequent use of the detector and it would be quite wrong and wholly impractical for it to do so. While I can see great value in the provision of advice on subsequent use, I do not believe that the approved guidance document is the right place to provide it. It seems to me that the most that can be done in the document is to pick up the recommendation on the provision of maintenance instructions.

I hope my noble friend the Minister is in a position to confirm that the Government intend to include guidance of this kind in the approved document. I also hope that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will agree that the flexibility of the approved document is preferable to writing detailed technical requirements into the Bill. I hope therefore that he will not press Amendment No. 10.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, kindly wrote to me and gave me notice of the point he has just made. I have therefore made inquiries and, like the little girl who was asked to read a book about penguins, I now know rather more about penguins than I need to know. I know a lot more about radioactivity in smoke detectors than I ever thought I would need to know. I obtained some helpful briefing from the National Radiological Protection Board. I shall try to summarise the information I was given.

There are two basic types of smoke detector for domestic use. One type contains an ionisation chamber with a radioactive source and contains Americium 241. There is also an optical type of detector. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages and the relevant British standard does not indicate any preference between the two types. Under the Euratom directive the UK is required to apply a system of prior authorisation to products destined for household use which incorporate radioactive substances. I understand it is likely that regulations will be made shortly to require goods suitable for domestic use that contain radioactive substances to be approved by the board prior to their supply. These regulations will formalise an existing voluntary scheme operated by the National Radiological Protection Board.

It is clear from the paper I have been sent that the board has already given a great deal of thought to the accept ability of ionising smoke detectors. The amount of radioactivity they give off is well within safety limits. It represents about 1 per cent. of the annual average dose of radiation which we are all likely to receive from all sources, and about 3 per cent. of the maximum exposure which is regarded as acceptable as a result of the activities of man.

The NRPB has developed a comprehensive series of tests to ensure that the radiation source will not become detached or suffer loss of integrity even in abnormal conditions. The noble Lord referred to the problem of disposal. The NRPB has considered the likely effect of the disposal of as many as 4 million units each year, with 80 per cent. going to landfill sites and 20 per cent. to incineration. The board concluded that the appropriate radioactive dose criteria will not be exceeded.

It has been brought to my attention that in the United States a lady dismantled two of the ionising units and ate the two pieces of foil they contained. Apparently she suffered no harm. I suppose it could be argued that she received as high a dose as anyone is ever likely to receive. However, I do not know whether she has since become a walking smoke detector.

There is the matter of what happens in the case of a fire And possible risks to firemen. I can only say that the NRPB has addressed those matters. It has concluded that provided a device meets the NRPB requirements, doses arising from normal use, accidents, misuse or disposal will not exceed the appropriate dose criteria. I hope my comments reassure the noble Lord.

Baroness Blatch

The Government share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that detailed provisions about what must be done to comply with the requirements of the Bill are better dealt with in the approved document provided for under Clause 3 and not in the Bill itself. The same division between broad functional requirements having the force of law and statutory guidance documents was introduced into the building controls system in 1985 and has proved successful in balancing the conflicting requirements of flexibility and certainty.

The Government are thinking on similar lines to my noble friend Lord Wade about the contents of the guidance document. Our present view is that one or more detectors meeting the standard referred to in the amendment would be a reasonable standard of provision in most cases, although there may be some situations, for example blocks of flats, where an installation monitored by a control panel might be considered.

I fully accept what has been said about the importance of maintenance instructions and I hope that we can cover that point in the approved document. However, I should add that the Home Office already provides guidance to householders on the selection, maintenance and use of smoke detectors and we shall be exploring whether it might be possible to link the two sets of guidance in some way.

I should like to reinforce a point made by my noble friend in relation to the anxieties of the noble Lord, Lord Rea. The National Radiological Protection Board has examined the disposal problem. It has concluded that disposal in the normal way—by tipping or incineration—will not create a health problem.

I hope that the noble Lords will feel reassured by what I and my noble friend have said today and will not press the amendment.

3.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am broadly satisfied by what the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and the Minister have said. However, I should like to press the Minister a little further on one point, because she did not refer to British Standard 5446: Part 1 in her reply. I know that she cannot give a firm commitment, but is it likely that the approved document will specify that British standard?

Baroness Blatch

I cannot give an immediate reply to that question. However, I can say that that particular point will certainly be taken on board in our considerations not only within the department but also with the Home Office.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I should be grateful if the Minister would find it possible to write to me before Report stage. I am not asking her to agree to that now. However, it is helpful to have these matters on the record. The recognition that there must be standards and that there must be guidance as well as standards is welcome. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdraw.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 4: Page 1, line 14, leave out ("3") and insert ("5").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 4 stands on its own and relates to the level of fines which would be appropriate for not installing a smoke detector. I remind the Committee that Level 3 provides for a maximum fine of £400, whereas in Level 5, which is the one we propose, the maximum fine is £2,000.

It is always difficult to define what level of fine should apply. However, the important point is that the fine should be significantly more than the cost of complying with the legislation, in other words there should be a significant penalty. Simple smoke detectors can be obtained for two-figure sums, but it could be that the total cost of a smoke detector system for a large dwelling or a block of flats could be very much more than the £400 level of fine which is proposed. In those circumstances I suggest that the fines would not be an adequate deterrent and certainly would not be demonstrated to be an adequate deterrent. I hope that the noble Lord will consider favourably what I believe to be a rather more appropriate level of fine.

Perhaps I may ask him and the Minister whether I am right in thinking that a separate offence would be committed in the case of each detector not installed. In other words, in a building of more than one storey which has to have one detector per storey would it be an offence in the case of each storey? I beg to move.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has said and I must tell him that I have not been convinced of the need to do as he suggests. A Level 3 fine is appropriate to the nature of the offence created by the Bill and is fully consistent with other legislation relating to safety protection measures such as seat belt and motor cycle crash helmet legislation.

It should be remembered that the level of scale fines is being increased in the Criminal Justice Bill and when that is implemented the maximum fine for a Level 3 offence will be £1,000 and not £400 as it is now. In our view that represents a substantial sum, particularly as it relates to each unit—that is, at least each floor—so that in the case of a double-floor house there would be a maximum fine of £2,000, and in the case of a housing estate the maximum fine might be £20,000 or £30,000 which we believe would be a sufficient deterrent. I trust that with that information the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I support my noble friend Lord Wade. In the recent transport Bill I tried to have the level of fines with regard to seat belts increased and was told that I could not do so. My noble friend seeks to do the same thing that I tried to do with regard to the motoring world.

Baroness Blatch

On the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, I am advised that it would be an offence for each dwelling, not for each detector. I believe that the noble Lord gave the example of a block of flats.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

That was not quite what I asked. I asked whether it would be an offence with regard to each detector. I should be sad to hear that it would be an offence only in regard to each dwelling.

Baroness Blatch

Again, I am advised that the provision refers to each dwelling and not to each detector. I support my noble friend and the view that he has expressed that a Level 3 fine is appropriate, especially in its increased form.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am only moderately reassured by those answers. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, that, however he may have been advised on another Bill, I would feel perfectly within my rights if I were to press the amendment. After all, it does not increase Government expenditure. It does not come under the Privilege Amendment. Indeed, it would increase the revenue to the public purse. I should have thought that, on the whole, noble Lords would have welcomed it. However, I am deterred from pressing the amendment to a vote, not only because we support the Bill, but because of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, has made about the increase in the standard level fines. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Wade of Chorlton moved Amendment No. 5: Page 1, line 17, leave out subsection (5).

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 6 and 14.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 14 are drafting amendments. Subsection (5) of Clause 1 provides definitions of certain terms. Additional definitions of terms that it is proposed to use in Amendment No. 13 are now included in Clause 6, and the amendments will enable all the definitions to be brought together.

Perhaps I may also mention Amendment No. 6, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, which we do not wish to accept. It would extend the Bill to address issues that fall well outside its intended scope. It would require the installation of smoke detectors in any new building which incorporates a dwelling; for example, an office block with a penthouse flat. Other legislation—notably the Fire Precautions Act and the Health and Safety at Work Act—requires fire alarm systems to be provided in those non-domestic premises that are most at risk. The noble Lord's amendment would simply cut across those existing requirements. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Cullen of Ashbourne)

I should have mentioned that, if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 6.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

We have no objection to Amendments Nos. 5 and 15, but I am disappointed in the noble Lord's response to Amendment No. 6.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

If the noble Lord will permit me, we were talking about Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 14.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I beg the noble Lord's pardon. However, I am disappointed because the examples that he gave do not cover the full range of cases that we think should be covered here. I should have thought that, from the point of view of people living in a dwelling, it is irrelevant whether it is a penthouse, a room above a shop or anything else. They are entitled to the same protection as anyone else.

There is one particular case with regard to which I hope the noble Lord will agree that there is an even stronger argument for having the protection that his Bill would provide; namely, the case of a caravan which is not mobile and is stationed permanently on a site. It is still therefore a caravan rather than a house or flat but very definitely it is a dwelling. I should have thought that the fire risk in a caravan was considerably greater than the fire risk in most normal dwellings.

I am perfectly prepared not to move the amendment, but I should like to ask the noble Lord to consider carefully between now and Report stage whether he would wish to extend protection to caravans, which to me seem particularly to need it.

Baroness Blatch

I agree with my noble friend that Amendment No. 6 radically alters the nature of the Bill. For that reason I do not support it.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, posed another question and I am advised that a flat above an office would be covered. It would still be a dwelling. However, the office itself would not be covered. The other two measures that my noble friend mentioned in the course of presenting his amendment cover that. Perhaps we—my noble friend, myself and my department—could write to the noble Lord on the point that he raised about the caravan.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful for the assurance that a dwelling above a shop or office would be covered. It would be helpful if any correspondence could take place before Report stage.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Relaxation of requirement as to smoke detectors]:

Lard McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 7: Page 2, line 1, after ("authority") insert ("after consulting the relevant fire authority").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 15. We are concerned with consultation with the fire authority before any exemption is made. Clause 2 relates to exemptions from the provisions of the Bill.

We accept that there are occasions when exemptions will be necessary. One thinks of cases where smoke detectors would be damaging in, for example, an historic house. It is difficult to decide whether there should be an exemption because human life could be involved. It is obvious that the number of exemptions should be kept to the absolute minimum. I suggest to the Committee that the consideration that should be adopted when an exemption is considered should not be a matter of building control regulations (which is what most provisions of the Bill will come under); it is a matter for the fire authority. If there is a severe risk of fire, an exemption ought not to be granted even if it meant that the historic building could not be occupied as a dwelling. The example of Hampton Court is only too close to our minds. In that case a fire was caused in an historic building—almost the historic building—because the building was a dwelling. I suggest that the fire authorities, which know the nature of the risk, ought to be the ones to be consulted in this respect. I beg to move.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, I have tabled an amendment to deal with this matter, which was raised during Second Reading. Perhaps he might wish not to press his amendment but to consider our amendment, which is the next one on the Marshalled List.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I think that that is wise. A grouping has been produced and on reflection I believe that Amendment No. 8 should have been included with my amendments. That would have made discussion easier. We are almost certainly in full agreement on this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Wade of Chorlton moved Amendment No. 8: Page 2, line 5, at end insert: ("( ) Before giving a direction under subsection (1) above, a local authority (other than the Council of the Isles of Scilly) shall consult the fire authority for the area in which the dwelling is or is to be situated.").

The noble Lord said: In the debate on Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, raised the issue of consultation with the fire service. I accept his concern and have put down my amendment to meet it.

The Bill provides for guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State on ways of meeting the requirement to fit smoke detectors which provide adequately for the early detection of the outbreak of fire. The fire service will be involved in the preparation of that guidance. When such guidance is followed, there will normally be no need for further consultation. The guidance document will provide advice on when individual consultation may be desirable.

However, the noble Lord's concern specifically related to Clause 2 which allows the appropriate authority to dispense with or relax the requirement to fit smoke detectors. There are unlikely to be many situations in which that power needs to be used although the noble Lord has just referred to an important one. The conversion of an historic building into a dwelling was the example referred to on Second Reading. When such a situation arises, it seems sensible to require the building control authority to consult the fire authority before deciding whether or not to give a direction under Clause 2. That is the purpose of the amendment.

The Council of the Isles of Scilly has been excluded from the terms of the amendment because under the provisions of Section 37 of the Fire Services Act 1947 it also carries out the function of a fire authority. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

Given the rather quirky exception to the example of my noble friend, the Government are happy with Amendment No. 8. It may be said that building control authorities could be relied on to consult fire authorities on such a matter without creating a statutory obligation. But while such consultations normally occur, there could be problems. The amendment makes clear what is expected. Indeed there is already a somewhat similar provision in Section 15 of the Building Act 1984.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Guidance as to fitting of smoke detectors]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 9: Page 2, line 31, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: I love "may" and "shall" amendments. I like it even more when I propose to change "shall" to "may". However, this amendment will do to be going on with. It is a probing amendment. I understand that the Secretary of State has the power to issue guidance. It is clear from the debate on Second Reading that guidance will be necessary. I seek an assurance from the Government that, regardless of the wording of the Bill, the Secretary of State will issue guidance. I beg to move.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

The effect of the amendment would be to require the Secretary of State to approve and issue guidance on the fitting of smoke detectors. I fully accept that the Bill cannot operate effectively until that has been done. However, I am advised that the amendment would not be in accordance with normal drafting practice.

There is an almost identical provision in Section 6(1) of the Building Act 1984. In that case the verb used is "may", and not "shall". The noble Baroness has already said something about the Government's intentions in relation to the content of the approved document and no doubt she will be able to confirm that such guidance will definitely be issued.

Baroness Blatch

It is an afternoon for being helpful. I agree with both noble Lords that guidance will need to be approved and issued under Clause 3 at the same time as the Bill is brought into force.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The lowest common denominator for an objection to an amendment is to say that the amendment is not in accordance with common drafting practice. That means that it is accepted as being perfectly proper, reasonable and in accordance with what is intended by the Government. I hope that I shall not hear that argument repeated on more important matters. I am grateful for the assurances that have been given. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 10: Page 2, line 34, after ("fitting") insert ("and subsequent use").

The noble Lord said: This is a continuation of the discussion about standards for installation and, thanks to my noble friend Lord Rea, for disposal. It is essential—I made this point at Second Reading—that there should be instructions for users not only as to the fitting of smoke detectors but also for the subsequent use of smoke detectors. There is a perfectly good precedent for that in the regulations which exist for the fitting of gas boilers. The noble Lord and the Minister have already made the point that mains smoke detectors are more desirable than battery smoke detectors. Nevertheless, one must expect that battery smoke detectors will be installed and that guidance on subsequent use will be required to ensure that the batteries do not run down. I hope that the amendment is thought to be helpful. I beg to move.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

We understand the noble Lord's request. The point was covered fully in our discussion on earlier amendments relating to regulations. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord's requirements. I am sure that my noble friend can give further assurances if required.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Rea moved manuscript Amendment No. 10A: Page 2, line 34, after ("fitting") insert ("and eventual disposal").

The noble Lord said: Before withdrawing the amendment I wish to ask the noble Lord, Lord Wade, whether the approved guidelines will contain instructions about the eventual disposal of these devices. I shall study carefully the advice that was given to him by the Radiological Protection Board and the Government, but I wish to know where we stand on the issue before withdrawing the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

There is some confusion on our part because we do not have a copy of the manuscript amendment. I have not seen it, nor has my noble friend. All I can say is that guidance will be included.

Lord Rea

I am surprised because I believed that copies of the amendment had been circulated to all Members of the Committee concerned. It is not my intention to press the amendment today. I shall consult with my expert advisers and may return to the matter on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Enforcement]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 12: Page 3, line 9, at end insert: ("(1A) Any person duly authorised in writing by the local authority may at any reasonable time enter any land for the purpose of exercising their functions under this Act. (1B) A person authorised under subsection (1A) above to enter any land shall, if so required, produce evidence of his authority before so entering. (1C) Any person who wilfully obstructs a person acting in the exercise of his powers under subsection (1 B) above shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine lot exceeding level 2 on the standard scale").

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment. We seek to clarify the way in which the proposals in the Bill are to be implemented. There will not be too many problems if the requirements of the Bill form part of the building regulations. However, if there is to be any other form of regulation—in other words, if the approved document is to be incorporated other than in building regulations—there could be a problem.

The present position in respect of rights of entry is that in respect of a factory or workplace the authorised officer has an immediate right of entry. However, in respect of the dwelling he must give 24 hours' notice. If access is refused, the authorised person may obtain a warrant. I am not suggesting that there should be anything more than the provision already made in building regulations. However, it seems to be necessary that the enforcement of the smoke detector provisions should be as powerful as the enforcement of any other part of building regulations. I hope that the principle behind the amendment will be acceptable to the noble Lord, Lord Wade. I beg to move.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

I understand the points made by the noble Lord. I am not convinced on the advice I have received that the amendment is desirable or necessary. The granting of power of entry is always a sensitive issue in this Chamber, and rightly so. We need l o remember also that the word "land" includes the dwelling itself. I do not believe that we should create an additional power of entry unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. In these circumstances I do not believe it is necessary.

The intention is that the provisions of this Bill should be enforced at construction stage. A building control officer already has the necessary powers of entry to enforce the requirements of the building regulations on land where dwellings are being constructed. Surely it is sufficient for him to rely on those closely related powers. After all, he is not likely to be making his inspection solely for the purposes of enforcing the provisions of this Bill.

Approved inspectors operate by agreement. Therefore, there should be no problem in their case. The Bill does not require building control officers to inspect occupied houses to see whether they have smoke detectors. I find that that is an unacceptable manner of enforcing its requirements. Therefore I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

I agree with what my noble friend has said.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

What a surprise. I shall read carefully what the noble Lord has said. But it does not appear to square with the advice I have been given. Perhaps it is a matter to which I can return at a later stage if necessary. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Lord Wade of Chorlton moved Amendment No. 13:

After Clause 4, insert the following new clause:

("Effect of initial notice under Part II of Building Act 1984

.—(1) This section applies where—

  1. (a) an initial notice is in force in respect of any work specified in the notice which consists of the construction of a dwelling (whether such work forms the whole or part of the work so specified); and
  2. (b) the person who constructs the dwelling, or arranges for it to be constructed, does so in the course of a business carried on by him.

(2) So long as the initial notice continues in force, the duty of enforcing the provisions of section 1 above that is conferred on a local authority by section 4 above is not exercisable in relation to the dwelling concerned, and accordingly a local authority may not take proceedings in respect of an offence committed under that section in relation to that dwelling.

(3) Where, in respect of any work, an approved inspector is under a duty to give a final certificate to any person by virtue of section 51(1) of the 1984 Act (certificate of completion of work and discharge of functions), the approved inspector shall not give the certificate unless he has taken such steps as are reasonable to enable him to determine whether or not the requirement mentioned in section 1(2) above is complied with in relation to the dwelling concerned.

(4) If the approved inspector is satisfied that the requirement so mentioned is complied with in relation to the dwelling—

  1. (a) he shall issue a certificate to that effect; and
  2. (b) when he gives to any person the final certificate relating to the work consisting of the construction of that dwelling, he shall at the same time give to that person the certificate issued under this subsection.

(5) Where—

  1. (a) an initial notice ceases by virtue of section 51(3) of the 1984 Act to apply in respect of any work (acceptance by local authority of final certificate); and
  2. (b) the approved inspector has issued and given a certificate in accordance with subsection (4) above in respect of the dwelling concerned;
subsection (2) above continues to apply, by virtue of this subsection, in relation to the dwelling as if the initial notice continued in force.

(6) A person is guilty of an offence if—

  1. (a) he gives a certificate which purports to comply with subsection (4) (a) above and which contains a statement that he knows to be false or misleading in a material particular; or
  2. (b) he recklessly gives a certificate which purports to comply with that subsection and which contains a statement that is false or misleading in a material particular.

(7) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.").

The noble Lord said: This new clause relates to a matter which is of particular concern to the National House Building Council. The intention is that the provisions of the Bill will be enforced by the person who is enforcing the provisions of the building regulations of 1985 relating to other aspects of the construction of the dwelling.

While that is often a building control officer employed by a local authority, Part II of the Building Act 1984 enables building work to be supervised by approved inspectors from the private sector. The National House Building Council has been approved to act as inspector for the construction of most new dwellings. It has asked that the role of approved inspectors should be specifically recognised in the Bill; that is clearly right. It would not be satisfactory if the local authority still had to enforce the provisions of the Bill even though an approved inspector was enforcing the requirements of the building regulations. That was never the intention.

Therefore, the new clause is modelled on the relevant provisions of the Building Act 1984. When an approved inspector is appointed instead of the local authority for the purposes of building control, an initial notice must be served on the local authority. When the approved inspector is satisfied that the work has been completed in accordance with the regulations he issues a final certificate to that effect. When an initial notice is in operation or a final certificate has been given, the local authority cannot take action to enforce the building regulations.

The new clause would operate in the same way. If an approved inspector has been appointed in respect of work consisting of the construction of a dwelling, the approved inspector would also be responsible for enforcing the provisions of the Bill. He must certify that he has done so at the time that he issues his final certificate. When such a certificate has been given or during the period when an initial notice is in force, the local authority will not be entitled to take proceedings in respect of an offence under Section 4.

I appreciate that this is a rather complex clause but it is important that the Bill should work in the same way as the Building Act 1984 if duplication of enforcement is to be avoided. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I entirely accept that it would be an anomaly if the new Bill were to be at variance with the Building Act 1984. We do not oppose in principle the use of approved inspectors who are in practice only the inspectors of the National Housebuilding Council. However, I should like an assurance on the record that the delegation to approved inspectors does not apply to Clause 2; in other words, it does not apply to exemptions.

The noble Lord, Lord Wade, agreed in his earlier amendment that the fire authorities shall be consulted with regard to exemptions. Clearly it would be an absurdity if that provision were to be nullified by the use of approved inspectors.

Baroness Blatch

It is appropriate that we should end a long week on a harmonious note. I am happy to say that the noble Lord is entirely right in his assumption on the last point. I am happy to say also that the Government agree with the views of my noble friend that the Bill should make an express provision for a situation when an approved inspector rather than the local authority is providing the building control function for a housing development. We discussed how that might best be achieved and are satisfied that the proposed amendment is consistent with the procedures relating to the work of approved inspectors in the Building Act 1984. We therefore support the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Short title, interpretation, commencement and extent]:

Lord Wade of Chorlton moved Amendment No. 14: Page 3, line 24, after ("Act") insert: (" "the 1984 Act" means the Building Act 1984; approved inspector", "final certificate" and "initial notice" have the same meanings as in Part II of the 1984 Act; construct" and "construction", in relation to a dwelling, include providing a dwelling by reconstructing or converting a building or any part of a building; dwelling" means a house or flat used or intended for use as a private dwelling; and").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment earlier. It is a drafting amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.