HL Deb 21 May 1998 vol 589 cc194-6WA
Lord Hughes of Woodside

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for the future of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee. [HL2036]

Baroness Hayman

The Building Regulations Advisory Committee is a statutory advisory non-departmental public body constituted under Section 14(1) of the Building Act 1984. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions is statutorily obliged to consult the Committee on Building Regulations and other subjects connected with those regulations. The regulations apply in England and Wales. Appointments to the committee are made jointly by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and by the Secretary of State for Wales.

The Government are continuing a programme of regular "Financial Management and Policy Reviews" of non-departmental public bodies. Under that programme we have now received and accepted a Financial Management and Policy Review report relating to the Building Regulations Advisory Committee for the period 1992–96.

The report traces the history and policy development since the establishment of the committee in 1962. In particular, it traces the evolution of the early building regulations—which provided a very prescriptive regime of building control—to a far more flexible process based on functional requirements. The report also highlights some of the more important procedural and technical areas which have evolved over the years—for example, providing for private sector involvement in the building control process at the election of applicants, and the rise in concern within the regulations for energy conservation and access and facilities for disabled people.

Financial Management and Policy Reviews are essentially concerned with assessing and reviewing the policy relevance and the cost-effectiveness of the body concerned. We are happy to say that BRAC scores high on both counts. We have no doubt that its experience with examining the core relevance of regulations will be of great value to this Government's policy of "better regulation".

As the report illustrates, the fact that members of BRAC are unsalaried, and that many willingly put in many hours in working parties, means that the cost effectiveness of the committee is excellent compared with what could be achieved by contracting out to consultants for the provision of expert advice. As the report also indicates, consultants in this context would not necessarily provide the full breadth of expertise we have to hand on BRAC and could also not necessarily provide the continuity of knowledge which is so essential.

Members are appointed to the committee for terms of usually two to three years. The committee's numbers had dwindled over the last year or so and, in addition, some appointments came to an end at the turn of the year. We therefore had the opportunity of appointing fresh blood to the committee—13 members in total. We have also within the discipline of the Nolan recommendations considered it right for the benefit of continuity and the excellent public service which has been offered to re-appoint five existing members. Details of the new committee membership were released in a letter dated 20 April 1998 to editors of the construction and property press.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Mr. Nick Raynsford, had the opportunity to meet the new committee in February and was able to say in person how much the Government valued the work of BRAC. He was also able to thank all those members who had served, or who were continuing to serve, on the committee. In giving a particular welcome to the new members he expressed the view that they should find the committee an interesting one to serve on. Having now studied the FMPR we have no doubt about the ongoing importance and relevance of the committee.

We have arranged for a copy of the FMPR report and the letter to editors to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.