Building Regulations

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th November 1965.

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9.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Building Regulations 1965 (S.I., 1965, No. 1373), dated 6th July 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd July, in the last Session of Parliament, be annulled. The purpose of the Motion is to enable the Government to give explanations and, perhaps, some undertakings concerning these Regulations; it is not necessarily our purpose to divide the House. If the undertakings are outrageously inadequate we shall have to consider recording our protest in the Division Lobbies, but I am sure that the Government will be co-operative in respect of any proposals that we may put forward for improving these Regulations—perhaps by Amendment at a later stage—because the Regulations are a co-operative effort between the last Conservative Government and the present Labour Government. The enabling Act was the Public Health Act of 1961, which was put on the Statute Book by a Conservative Government with the intention that there should be Building Regulations common to the whole of England and Wales to replace a mass of byelaws —which, generally speaking but not always, were on the basis of the model byelaws—a certain number of private local Acts and some central regulations.

These Building Regulations are intended to cover public health and safety in the construction of buildings and in the materials used in that construction. During the passage of the Bill which became the Public Health Act, 1961, the hope was expressed that the Regulations would be ready within three years of the Bill becoming an Act, and thus, within those three years, that we should bring about the concentration of all the different and differing pieces of legislation and subordinate legislation into national Building Regulations. Although that three years will have lengthened into about four and a half years before the Regulations become operative, we certainly welcome their arrival now.

We welcome them, but—and it is a big "but". We welcome them in principle and form, as one body of Regulations to which builders, architects, developers, local government officers, and lawyers may refer, but we cannot shut our eyes and ears to the considerable volume of complaint about the contents of the Regulations. This is not just frivolous criticism from some small speculative builders who object to the prospect of being disciplined by these Regulations. These complaints and this criticism come from large and responsible firms and federations such as the Confederation of British Industries. It is a long time since I have known such a volume of informed criticism against a Statutory Instrument.

I have had, in the appointment with which the House has honoured me, some experience of the rough and smooth passage of Statutory Instruments. This one is having a very rough passage. It is right that the House should debate what has gone wrong with these Regulations in the four and a half years of their preparation which has given rise to this criticism. I think that things went wrong only in the last year, when the Minister did not sufficiently consult those interested.

I understand that the history of the Regulations is that, immediately after the 1961 Act, the then Minister of Housing and Local Government appointed a working party, which produced a provisional draft of the Regultions as a basis for consultation with the building industry and with other interests concerned. In April 1962, the Minister appointed the Building Regulations Advisory Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Wynne-Edwards, a vice-president of the Institution of Civil Engineers. I should like to express the gratitude of the House —not only this side, but also, I hope, the Government side—to that Committee for the hard and detailed work they did in advising the Minister and making recommendations about the draft Regulations.

The first act of that Committee was to send out the provisional draft to 127 interests concerned for comments. Part of it went out in May 1962 and another part in October 1962, and the deadline for those comments was February 1963. Nearly 3,000 comments were received from those 127 interests.

Having congratulated the Committee, it would not be out of place to congratulate those who responded to this request for comment because—if this is not digressing too much—we value in our system of Government this consultation with the interests concerned, and we value the fact that so much voluntary effort is put into assisting any Government in the preparation of specialised legislation of this sort. This should not go unrecognised by the House, and we should thank those who spent much time in sending in their comments on the draft of these Regulations.

I stress that point in this case particularly, because it seems a pity that the process of consultation was not taken further, first in hearing oral evidence from those who sent in written comments —and many of then, I understand, were anxious to give oral evidence in elaboration of what they had written—and secondly in submitting a second draft. Neither of those things was done—neither the taking of oral evidence nor the submission of a second draft.

In February, 1963, the responsibility for Building Regulations was transferred from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Mr. Wynne-Edwards' Committee was directed to report to both Ministers, which it did in Februar3', 1964. That Report appeared in Cmnd. 2279, Building Regulations Advisory Committee—First Report. The Report sets out clearly the problems confronting the Committee on the draft Regulations and it recommends solutions to the problems. It was not the job of the Committee to redraft the Regulations but merely to advise the Minister. The terms of reference of the Committee were laid down in Section 9 of the Public Health Act, 1961: (1) The Minister shall appoint a committee, to be known as the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, for the purpose of advising the Minister on the exercise of his power to make building regulations, and on other subjects connected with building regulations.(3) Before making any building regulations, the Minister shall consult the Building Regulations Advisory Committee and such other bodies as appear to him to be representative of the interests concerned. It is true that he had consulted "such other bodies" once, but during 1964 the Department prepared a second draft, which I believe was ready in August, 1964.

I should have thought that, in face of the 3,000 comments received from those to whom the first draft had been submitted and in face of the recommendations of the Wynne-Edwards Committee, it would have been right for the Government of that time, in October, 1964, handed a second draft when they took office, to send it out, not perhaps to the whole 127 but to a selection of them. I understand that the only people to whom it was sent were local authority associations, and I am puzzled why they should have had that privileged position as against the building industry. That is my information. I may be wrong, and I stand to be corrected. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong.

But I know as a fact that those interested in the building industry and so on knew nothing of these Regulations between the draft which they received in 1962 on which to comment and the Statutory Instrument which was laid before the House in July 1965. To have submitted another draft during 1964–65 would not have delayed these Regulations any longer than they have in fact been delayed already. But the result has been that, because of the lack of consultation on a second or final draft of the Regulations, there is this volume of protest upon many practical points in the Regulations as at present drafted.

I can best refer to some of the major points by turning to the recommendations of the Committee, which appear on page 37 of the Committee's First Report, and asking the Parliamentary Secretary to what extent those recommendations are now embodied in the Building Regulations. I do not intend to refer to all 25 of the recommendations but some are very relevant and in asking the questions I may endeavour to answer them in part myself.

I think that in many cases the recommendations have not been embodied in the Regulations. To take, first, Recommendation No. (6), which is that the possibility of separate regulations for smaller buildings should be examined; this in particular is referred to in paragraph 37 on page 16 of the Committee's Report where it is stated: It is of significance that half of housing, and two-thirds of repair and maintenance, were carried out in 1962 by firms employing up to 50 men. We believe it might help in the smooth operation of building control if the simple and smaller projects (which form the vast majority) could be dealt with by a separate set of relatively simple regulations … leaving the more complex regulations for application to larger buildings, where more difficult criteria are involved. To what extent is that recommendation carried out in these Regulations? I can find very little evidence of it, but in one case where it seems to be carried out it is done by the exclusion of large undertakings from certain exemptions which they had under the previous model bye-laws. I refer in particular to the application of fire precautions to industrial buildings.

Fire precautions come under Part E of the Regulations, headed "Structural Fire Precautions". As I understand, the basic principle of Part E is the separation of a building into compartments, with those compartments contained within fire-resisting walls. It is very right that where members of the public and many workpeople or any congregation of people are collected together the fire precautions should be very strict. I am told that in money value fire causes loss of life, limb, employment, business, property and so on amounting to £156 million a year. Therefore, anything that the Building Regulations can do to prevent that sort of loss is very welcome. But in securing safety for people these Regulations have created some impossibilities in the construction of industrial premises to accommodate plant and machinery.

In Schedule 1 there are certain exemptions from the fire precautions for buildings which house plant and machinery, but to come within these exemptions the building has to be a single-storey building and, as I read the Regulations, one can be certain of not contravening the Regulations only by putting the plant in a single-storey building well spaced from others or in a multi-storey building not exceeding 90 ft. in height and having no connection by mechanical aids or conveyors between the floors. When one thinks of the industrial machinery which is erected nowadays this is quite ridicu- lous. What is the Minister doing about this real difficulty which I know has been laid before him by industrialists and particularly by the Confederation of British Industries?

Recommendation No. (2) on page 37 of the Committee's Report states that the appropriate form of regulation should be governed by the circumstances of each case. This in particular is referred to in paragraph 21 on page 13 where the Committee says: … the form of regulation used should be tailored to the circumstances—the state of design practice, the level of technology, the complexity of requirements, the quality of the administration and … the economic importance of preserving flexibility for an incentive to new methods. This certainly has not been observed in the Regulations in connection with oil-fired heating and the hot water installations which may be fired by oil.

When one looks at Part L, which is that which deals with chimneys, flue pipes, hearths, fireplace recesses, and so on, and Part M—heat-producing appliances and incinerators—there are certainly some very restrictive regulations upon modern installations of oil-fired heating and of anticipated future developments in oil-fired heating. Things like 5 in. thick hearths, 8 in. thick jambs, 7 in. diameter flues, all follow far too closely the requirements of solid-fuel installations, make oil-heated industrialised building very difficult, and the use of prefabricated pipes for oil-fired appliances almost impossible in the future.

I hope that the Minister is alive to these defects in the Regulations, and that he has some proposal to put them right. I do not think that any of us would want to hold up this edition of the Building Regulations if we had some assurance that the Minister really had these matters in mind and would be prepared to bring in early amendments.

I want now to refer to Recommendation 3 in page 37 of the Report, and to see to what extent it has been embodied in the Regulations. It says: Deemed-to-satisfy clauses, though open to misuse, cannot at present be dispensed with; further study should be given to their future form. As the House will know, deemed-to-satisfy clauses are those which follow a mandatory injunction that such-and-such should be done in building construction; the deemed-to-satisfy clauses say that if one does so-and-so or uses such-and-such material, that will be deemed to satisfy the requirements.

The trouble is that when we start to set out items that are deemed to satisfy the requirements they may be taken as exhaustive and not merely as examples. The Committee said in paragraph 24: We understand that some local authorities tend to try to insist on compliance with the published deemed-to-satisfy specifications and are reluctant to accept other ways of meeting the mandatory requirements. There is a very real complaint here from the plastics industry.

The deemed-to-satisfy clauses set out a number of items that do not include plastic material. This may be very restrictive on the plastics industry in connection with damp courses, external cladding, internal surfaces, ceilings, and, in particular, in connection with thermal insulation and sound insulation. I would ask the hon. Gentleman whether the Minister has this in mind, and whether he has any solution so that the development of this industry will not be hampered. I am told that one manufacturer foresees closing down and being forced out of business by these Regulations if they are strictly enforced, while his product appears to be perfectly safe.

The solution of the Committee to the deemed-to-satisfy-clauses problem is set out in paragraph 25, which states: We think that further investigation might be undertaken along the following lines: — (a) in relation to the present draft; making it clear in an explanatory memorandum that they are only examples of methods of compliance; (b) in relation to future drafts: deciding what should be done to make the clauses more representative of present-day practice; and exploring the possibility of removing them from the regulations altogether to a more comprehensive advisory manual of practice. Indeed, this may be the right solution in Amendments to the Building Regulations in due course. The French have a solution to this, I gather, in the Agrément system, which is explained in paragraph 50 of the Committee's Report. But the Committee itself recommends that the whole set of Regulations should be issued periodically in an amended form. The Committee says this: There are clearly advantages in a regular rhythm and an annual issue would soon become an accepted convention. In the light of the rate of technological evolution an annual issue does not seem too frequent, and we accordingly recommend it. Has the Minister in mind bringing before the House frequently Amendments to the Regulations so as to keep them up to date?

Further, what has the Minister in mind in connection with the Committee's Recommendation 11 so far as it relates to these Building Regulations? Recommendation 11 is: Suitably trained advisers to local authorities for control of building must be made available. That is elaborated in paragraph 60 of the Report. This is of very great importance. The Committee talks of it as a matter of urgency: We recommend therefore that as a matter of urgency further consideration should be given to ensuring that there are more persons with necessary qualifications to enable local authorities to carry out their functions for control of buildings … It is no good bringing in these Building Regulations if there are not the skilled people in the local authorities to operate them and, as the Committee says, to negotiate effectively with designers of the largest structures … and interpret … the varied criteria which Building Regulations of the present and future may employ. I think the House would wish to know to what extent the personnel of local authorities is being improved and trained and becoming skilled in the application of Building Regulations, because, however sound we may make Regulations, if we have not got the skilled men to operate them they will cause only chaos and confusion.

Closely connected with that is the Committee's very first recommendation: Further study should be given to the working in practice of the present system, including the skills and costs involved. This relates in particular to Clause A9 and Schedule 2 of the Regulations. I cannot see from the Regulations that full consideration has been given to this recommendation. The system on which these Regulations are based is the submission of plans to the local authority, plans which show sufficiently the design and the specification of the work to be carried out. The Committee said this: Among the matters which deserve objective assessment are: the balance between the prior submission and approval of details on plans, and subsequent control by inspection; whether the system makes undue demands for the preparation of plans; the requirements of professional skill from the authorities responsible for administration; and the cost of operating the control. I cannot see in Schedule 2 any improvement in the system of submission of plans, any speeding up of the process, or anything more efficient than there was under model byelaws and the various private Local Acts. I would have hoped that these Regulations would have produced a much speedier and much more efficient process for the submission of plans.

The final recommendation to which I want to refer is No. 24: Careful consideration is desirable on how outstanding matters involving further research should be followed up. It then refers to paragraph 111 of the Report, which sets out a very great number of matters which still remain outstanding. These matters are grouped under four headings, the first being Matters which need to be solved quickly in the interests of the proper evolution of the Building Control and one example of those is The relationships between the dimensional co-ordination, industrialised building, and ' deemed-to-satisfy ' provisions". This goes to the whole root of whether these Building Regulations will encourage or hinder modern methods in building construction.

The second group of outstanding matters is Other problems of wide scope needing preliminary general discussion to establish aims and criteria". and an example of those is The protection of foundations from flowing water, floods, excavations, etc. I am personally concerned about this in my own constituency where the laying of a sewer has drawn off water from beneath a residential area and caused subsidence to some very nice residential properties. There is here a practical point under the Regulations which should be the subject of amendment as soon as possible.

The third group of outstanding matters is "Problems of Definition and Procedure", and one example given is Arrangements for the submission of plans, preparation of forms, etc. which I have already mentioned.

Finally, there are Problems of limited scope offering prospects of solution by ad hoc specific programmes of applied research and one example given is Concessions for fire-protection devices". This raises the whole question of sprinklers and the application of the Regulations to large departmental stores. This is dealt with to some extent in the Regulations. Again, I have something of a constituency point here because there was the disastrous departmental store fire in Liverpool not long ago. It was a tragic occurrence, and one hopes that the Regulations really give attention to the defects which were apparent after that fire. I read the Regulations as rather loosening the previous model byelaws in this respect in relation to departmental stores.

It is evident that these Building Regulations must be treated as a first instalment on something which is growing every moment and needs constant attention if we are to make the best use of scientific and technological progress in building methods. If the Minister wishes to bring forward amendments to the Regulations frequently, the House, I am sure, will not begrudge the time spent in examining them, and I do not think that it would wish to delegate the duty to any specialist body outside Parliament. This is one of the most important matters which the House has to consider, the practical application of technological and scientific advance. While giving the utmost care and attention to the public health and safety side of the Regulations, we must strive to encourage and not hinder ingenuity, initiative and inventiveness in building construction. In short, to use the inelegant but expressive term, these Building Regulations must be "with it".

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I respectfully draw your attention to the fact that there is not a copy of the Public Health Act, 1961, available to hon. Members in the Vote Office. Is it not the responsibility of the promoting Department to see that any old documents which would be needed in the debate are available to hon. Members? As this has happened before under the present Administration, may we have your protection and your direction that the paper is made available?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

The hon. Gentleman should have consulted one of his hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins), who raised this point with me eight or nine days ago—his hon. Friend is sitting quite close to him—and who had raised the same point with the Deputy Chairman a week before that. First of all, I must emphasise that the Rulings of the Chair do not have to be made three times to become Rulings. My colleague in the Chamber, the Deputy Chairman, ruled when the subject was raised about a fortnight ago that it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to ensure that relevant papers for a debate are provided in the Vote Office. I added to that a week later that it is not the duty of the Chair to decide which papers are relevant. The question of relevancy must be argued out between hon. Members of the Opposition and hon. Members of the Government.

Photo of Mr James Scott-Hopkins Mr James Scott-Hopkins , North Cornwall

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely one should be able to ask for your protection when the Government, as has happened on several occasions—I was the hon. Member referred to you just now as having raised the subject—fail to produce any of ihe documents to which hon. Members need to refer. This seems to be a growing habit. It is only for that purpose that my hon. Friend and I are raising the subject with you. We hope that you will help hon. Members to have available documents which could be necessary and in many cases are necessary, which you and one of your colleagues ruled it is the responsibility of the Government to produce.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, in particular in view of the remarks which followed when I made a Ruling the second time the matter was raised. I must now, however, emphasise that the point is quite clear. It is the responsibility of the Gov- ernment to provide relevant papers, but it is not the duty of Mr. Speaker to decide which papers are relevant.

10.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I should like very briefly to ask some general questions about the Building Regulations, 1965, and the Report of the Advisory Committee, both of which are available and are the main documents relative to the Prayer. These general questions are important to firms which make lightweight concrete. I want also to make one or two points concerning inconsistencies in the Regulations in regard to lightweight concrete.

It is strongly felt by firms that the Regulations not only make the situation worse than in the past but inhibit future development. The general questions that I want to ask, which follow from those asked by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page)—"When will alterations be possible? How long will the Regulations be in force?"—What will be the method of change, not so much in this House, which is important, I agree, but also with regard to firms outside? How can they bring their ideas to bear on the Ministry? How can representations be made? I have no personal interest in the matter, but there is strong feeling on the matter which has been brought to my notice.

The particular questions are highly technical, and I raise them not expecting a reply tonight. I know the interest which my hon. Friend has in this subject, but it is to illustrate the general principle that I bring the questions to his notice. I refer to lightweight concrete. With regard to Schedule 8, page 138, part 4, why are lightweight concrete blocks not included in the list? They have been used in the past, as far as I understand. On page 139, in the reference to fire precautions, lightweight aggregate for concrete columns is given credit to the degree that 9 in. columns have two hours' fire resistance, which is superior to that of dense aggregate. Yet on the same page where there is reference to reinforced concrete beams as opposed to columns, for which it is superior, there is no mention of lightweight aggregate at all. There is this inconsistency. Again, when it comes to concrete floors, there is no mention of lightweight concrete.

These are inconsistencies which will remain, it is felt, as long as the Regulations are in force. One returns to the question of when can things of this nature be corrected. All that is, perhaps, non-controversial, but one can move to something which is perhaps a matter of argument—sound insulation. On pages 54 and 55 the minimum weight of concrete in party walls is given as 85 lbs. per square foot or 7 inches of dense concrete, yet it refers to 10 inches of lightweight aggregate. In other words, a better performance from the lightweight aggregate is asked for. But experiments at the Building Research Station show that lightweight aggregate is superior to dense aggregate. These questions illustrate the concern of many people in the industry outside as to how the Regulations can be corrected.

There is also the question of qualified staff to operate these Regulations and also in the expanding building activities of local authorities. The Minister of Health liaises, or should do so—mistakes have occurred in the past—with the Department of Education to see that there is a supply of doctors. I hope that something is being done by the Departments concerned, through the College of Estate Management, for example, the Colleges of Technology and other institutions, to see that there is enough trained staff to carry out what are, in general, valuable provisions, but provisions which contain inconsistencies.

10.38 p.m.

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

The concept of Building Regulations is an important advance on the old system of model building byelaws, which tended to prohibit or at best circumscribe the use of new materials and techniques, even if they secured generally satisfactory standards of safety, health and amenity. Moreover, the building byelaws were capable of rather loose local formulation and interpretation and it was very obvious that a central measure of standardisation was required. For that reason, we welcome the Regulations.

On the other hand, study has shown that there are a number of anomalies in these Regulations and I intend to draw attention to only one of them. I refer particularly to Part E, dealing with structural fire precautions. In my view, the Regulations have been drafted predominantly with domestic buildings in mind and not enough thought has been given to certain possible types of industrial buildings. Incidentally, there is some doubt as to the actual interpretation of what a building is. Perhaps the Minister will think about the way the subject is dealt with in the Preamble. One would reasonably expect a building to have both walls and roof, but is it not possible that an open steel framework must also be considered a building?

We should direct our minds to certain types of modern industrial buildings. Some are found in industrial chemical works and others in the premises of large grain merchants. In the former category are fractionating towers and polymer buildings and in the latter are bulk loading structures. The first is a steel space frame to support process vessels at various levels with associated piping and a number of access floors. A polymer building is a multi-storey structure, largely brick clad, designed to support vessels or, indeed, machinery in some cases, on or between various levels of floor. There are numerous openings for vessels, chutes and pipes. Bulk loading structures are towers supporting storage bunkers. These are served by mechanical elevators passing vertically through steel floors. Examination of the Regulations in connection with fire precautions shows that the concept of compartments, as described so eruditely by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), restricts the design of the more conventional of these buildings, and in the case of the requirement of "compartment floors" for multi-storey process structures over 90 ft., I am advised that it simply is not possible to design them.

The Regulations portray the ideal chemical plant as a group of well-spaced single-storey buildings and small multi-storey structures of not more than 90 ft. in height, preferably not connected by mechanical aids of any sort. Quite obviously, this is nonsense.

There must be suggestions about how these designs can be made possible, and I make only two. Steel structures, whether sheeted or open, must be exempt from the concept of compartment floors. Secondly, the definition of "inperforate" which appears in the Regulations must be relaxed to permit penetration of floors and walls by vessels, chutes, conveyor housing, internal plant and similar items of incombustible construction.

Having dealt with how to make design possible, let me go on to making design economical in other cases. Steel structures, whether sheeted or open and having a low density of occupation, should be exempt altogether from Part E of the Regulations. The insistence of Regulation E4 that every floor above 30 ft. high in buildings over 90 ft. in total height should be a "compartment floor" is illogical and should be relaxed to take account of density of occupation, hazard and means of escape. One suggestion here is that a fire-stopped floor achieved by closing all openings around vessels or pipes at intervals of, say, 45 ft. in height would be more reasonable.

Finally, the fireproofing of a steel-framed building should be related to hazard and not only to size. For instance, the Regulations at present would require that this protection should be applied to the frame of a 30-ft. high cooling water pumphouse, where there is probably little or no hazard. Once more, I draw attention to the fact that the whole of this Regulation is based upon certain Public Health Acts and that the 1961 Act is vital to our study of the problem. Will the Minister who is responsible for the promoting Department in this case make it available to hon. Members?

10.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Scott-Hopkins Mr James Scott-Hopkins , North Cornwall

I wish to refer to only one aspect of the Regulations: that is, Regulation A4, on page 12, which refers to agricultural workers. It exempts from the application of the Regulations a building used exclusively for the accommodation of hop-pickers or"— this is the important one— other persons engaged temporarily in agricultural or horticultural activities". This seems to be a very strange exemption and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will explain it.

I assume that negotiations of some kind must have taken place between the National Farmers' Union and the men's union. My point is that the majority of the Regulations, I have no doubt, have no relevance whatever to temporary accommodation for people of this type. There are, however, certain Regulations, particularly concerning fire, which are of the greatest importance.

I do not mind how temporary the buildings are, but there should be Regulations to provide that certain materials used in those buildings are fireproof. Because the Regulations appear to be sound, my hon. Friends have drawn certain conclusions from them. Nevertheless, I think it is extraordinary that this has been excluded so far as agricultural workers and temporary buildings are concerned. It is a matter which is causing me the gravest concern.

10.45 p.m.

Photo of Sir Anthony Meyer Sir Anthony Meyer , Eton and Slough

I want to concern myself with only one point in these Regulations, but it is a matter of some considerable importance. The Regulations in their present form threaten to put out of business entirely a very go-ahead, efficient firm in my constituency, and they threaten to put it out of business not for anything which is said in the Regulations but for what is not said in the Regulations.

This firm in my constituency manufactures suspended ceilings which consist of panels of polyvinyl chloride stretched on aluminium frames. These provide a light and easily erected ceiling which has one particular advantage. It offers a remarkably effective and economical means whereby old factories can be brought up to modern technical requirements, without losing the benefit of natural light from roof lights, because natural light goes through these sheets of polyvinyl chloride, and one gets an even spread of light.

This form of ceiling is of very low flammability. It has been tested, and has been classified as such, in accordance with British Standard 2782 Part 5/508, but the Regulations which we now have before us make no mention of the British Standard 2782. What they do do, in Regulation El4, which is the Regulation which concerns suspended ceilings, is to stipulate that these ceilings must be of Class 1 or Class 0 as defined in British Standard 476. British Standard 476, incidentally, is five years older than 2782, and this is for fire tests of building materials and structures. Therefore, by implication, any suspended ceiling which does not conform with British Standard 476 is outside the scope of the Regulations and its use is impermissible.

The difficulty is this. The type of suspended ceiling with which I am concerned cannot be tested for flammability by British Standard 476 because if we use the flame test, which is the test in British Standard 476, this particular type of material vanishes into thin air. It does not catch fire. Far from it. It is self-extinguishing. But it just vanishes. Therefore, the test cannot be carried out on this form of ceiling.

If this Regulation comes into force unamended it makes ceilings of this type eventually forbidden, except, presumably, by special Ministerial dispensation, and this will involve a separate application in each case, and that means not only delay, which is serious enough, but also that a great many people who might otherwise want to put up ceilings of this type will be discouraged from doing so.

To the best of my knowledge there are some 11 firms, including the one in my constituency, which is the largest in this field, which are making this kind of ceiling, and their activities will be paralysed or at any rate gravely prejudiced if these Regulations appear unamended, because, of course, architects, local authorities, industrial firms and so on will be influenced by the apparent prohibition in the Regulations on this type of ceiling.

I said "apparent" prohibition because there is a comic side to all this. At this very moment when the Minister of Public Building and Works is issuing these Regulations which forbid the use of this ceiling he has ordered precisely this ceiling for erection in the Stationery Office in Holborn and for the Ordnance Survey office at Crabwood, in Hampshire. I may add that a ceiling of this type is installed and is giving great satisfaction in the Queen's Art Gallery in Buckingham Palace.

I have a list of other places. Many examples are to be found in buildings all over the country, particularly where absolute cleanliness is important. They are found, for instance, in a number of nuclear establishments. Many of them are buildings where the fire hazard is considerable. A good many local authorities, including the G.L.C. and the City of Bradford, have given specific approval to the very low flammability of ceilings of this type.

Needless to say, when the Regulations first came out, the firm in my constituency made urgent representations to the Ministry of Public Building and Works. It made those representations on 27th September, but all that it has had in writing so far is a stalling reply, and I am not complaining about that. However, the firm has been told verbally that this prohibition by omission is unintentional and is an oversight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) mentioned a number of other cases in which there seem to have been oversights. Such things happen. But the Regulations have been quite a while in cooking, and one would have thought, as my hon. Friend suggested, that it might have been worth leaving them to cook just a little longer, to make sure that all the anomalies have been looked into.

In any case, I hope that tonight the Parliamentary Secretary will give an assurance, firstly, that amendments to the Regulations will appear very shortly so as to remedy the obvious defects in them. But that is not enough, because, if the Regulations come into force unamended, as presumably they will, there will be an element of discouragement to architects, industrial firms and so on against installing a particularly convenient and modern kind of ceiling.

It seems to me to be up to the Minister to take some kind of action to ensure that firms in the trade are not penalised and that the authorities that are liable to use this kind of ceiling are made aware officially that there is no possible objection to use of ceilings of this type.

10.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Boyden Mr James Boyden , Bishop Auckland

I want to apologise most sincerely for the absence of the publications which hon. Members wanted for the debate. I will certainly look into the matter, and I hope that it will not happen again, although we shall probably not have another debate on the Building Regulations for quite a while.

One difficulty which the debate has brought out has been the question of where the line is to be drawn between accurate and tidy Regulations and getting on with the job of putting new Building Regulations under way. The real difficulty is that the Regulations are based on public health and safety and, whilst as far as possible such Regulations should not inhibit good building techniques, there are a whole lot of other agencies which are dealing with the technique side, not the least of them being the Directorate General of Research and Development at the Ministry of Public Building and Works, the new Agrément Committee, the National Building Agency.

What has happened has been, in a way, the consolidation of existing practices with a view to going forward at a later date with new and better, though I would not say "bigger", Regulations.

It was rather well put in The Surveyor and Municipal Journal on 6th November of this year, when the Surveyor and Engineer of Epping and Ongar said about the Regulations: There has been a 'coming of age', but that maturity will not be reached until the Regulations have been moulded by many further revisions as a result of the experience gained from operation, practice and, perhaps most important of all, from the trend of relaxation and appeals, which will indicate in time which regulations may be difficult to work, or are becoming out of date. It is a typically British empirical way of going about things, and, as the hon. Gentleman said—I do not think he was really trying to make much political capital out of this—it has been an enterprise for which the Government whom he supported did a large measure of work, and this Government have pushed steadily on with it.

I do not find much indication of the rough passage to which the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) referred. Indeed, one of the new features which the hon. Gentleman praised is that the technical people, local government people and the Ministries—since this was started by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government—have been at great pains to consult as effectively as they could. This consultation will continue, and I hope to explain shortly the steps that are being taken, and will continue to be taken, to improve the Regulations and meet the points which have been raised in the debate.

I cannot give specific answers to all the particular points which have been raised, but I will deal with some of the things that illustrate these points. Although we drew the line, after the first round of major discussions, which took a long time, there is provision for continuous amendment and continuous improvement, and I shall explain that a little later.

I would point out to the hon. Member for Crosby that if the Prayer is successful there will not be any Building Regulations—neither the old ones nor the new ones—and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's impartial attitude tonight will not go as far as that piece of prejudice. I am sure that he would not like to go down in history as the man who stopped the Building Regulations.

I need to spend a little time on the way in which the Working Party and the Advisory Committee, to which the hon. Gentleman referred many times, worked. One of the difficulties is that all this is based on the Public Health Act—health and safety. The actual technical side of building is not within the compass of the Public Health Act. While that Act was being discussed and going through this House, the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, a Statutory Committee, was set up to advise the Minister of Housing and Local Government on the exercise of his power to make Building Regulations and on other subjects connected with Building Regulations.

One of the interesting things about this is that the Minister, now the Minister of Public Building and Works, must consult this Committee before making any Building Regulations. This Committee was being set up while the Public Health Act was being discussed in the House and at the same time a working party of experts was producing the kind of 10-year revision of model byelaws which the Ministry of Housing and Local Government had done from time to time.

At this stage it changed its direction a little, and instead of working on model byelaws it produced the first draft of the new Building Regulations. It was this draft to which the hon. Member for Crosby referred when he said that he thought that after the first set of discussions the Regulations should have been referred back for further consultation.

I thought that the Advisory Committee worked extremely hard and very sensibly, and I agree with the praise which the hon. Gentleman gave to the members of it. It really took a very sensible attitude in sending out this draft to the interested bodies for their observations, and having got their observations, as it were it drew the line and adopted these Regulations as they stood.

As the hon. Member for Crosby said, there were 2,800 comments. They were not hostile, but constructive, and the best of them found their way into the Regulations. One of the difficulties about the British is their conservatism, and it is interesting to notice that one section—a fairly new section on fire regulations—provoked the biggest discussion. There were 888 comments on them.

This is an example of the way in which private bodies, local authority bodies and the Government work together. They were constructive suggestions, worked out in a very democratic and sensible way, and in my view the Advisory Committee was right in saying that having got all this mass of material, and having worked on it for a long time, it was right to draw the line and say that it would not have oral evidence, but, as it were, say, "We must now have the Regulations" That, in essence, is what happened. It is one of the reasons why there are relatively minor difficulties, some of which have been brought out tonight.

All this was done under the previous Administration. The decision to draw the line and to bring the thing together and before the House was a decision of the last Government. What has been happening since is that two quite difficult tasks have been carried out in the Ministry, namely, to turn the ideas of the Advisory Committee into technical language and then again into legal language. I am sure that the hon. Member for Crosby knows the difficulties involved in that. It reminded me of George I's conversation with Walpole. George spoke German and turned it into Latin, and Walpole spoke English and turned it into Latin, and then it was turned into common sense. The common sense of the Committee was turned into more technical language, and then again into the legal language that we have in front of us tonight. It was more complex and difficult than had first been expected —especially the fire section.

As for dates—the Regulations were laid on 22nd July but do not come into force until 1st February, 1966. This gives opportunity for criticisms, and some have been ventilated tonight. Amendments cannot be made by the 1st February, 1966, and it would seem to be more sensible—this answers one of the points put forward by the hon. Member for Crosby—that the first set of amendments should be made towards the end of 1966. The six months' grace was mainly to enable the people who have to carry out the Regulations to become acquainted with the theory behind them, and to enable the designers and manufacturers to study and apply them.

The Minister is taking some trouble to organise conferences of interested people. I was pleased to see, the other day, that at Plymouth—with our knowledge and approval but not exactly stimulated by us—about 500 people came together to discuss these important Regulations. We are arranging courses at three big centres —London, Leeds and one other—on this kind of field. We believe that it is much better to educate than to convict. We hope that people will be persuaded of their value and that the Regulations will not lead to a lot of prosecutions at this stage.

The original committee is being reconstructed. Mr. Philip Bennett, the architect, has been appointed chairman, and the names of the other members are being discussed. The process of consultation and discussion which every hon. Member, who has spoken tonight, has raised is going on.

I am not trying to dodge the issues which have been raised, but I cannot answer in great detail, because hon. Members are experts in this field. The proper procedure for making representations—I will not use the word complaints —is for the interests concerned to write to the Ministry to make their case. I will give a list of the bodies which have been consulted, which have made representations and are being consulted since the Regulations were made and the bodies which are looking for amendments —Cape Building Products, the Metal Fixing Association, the Structural Insulation Association, the Multiple Shops Federation, the Fibre Building Board Development Organisation and the Confederation of British Industries.

There has been correspondence with a large number of individual firms and— answering one point raised in the debate —a meeting has been arranged with the British Plastics Federation. Meetings have also been offered to the Wallpaper Manufacturers Association and the Joint Building Control Committee, which consists of representatives of the building industry and professional bodies. The meetings have been cordial and useful, both to the Department and, on occasion, to the people making the representations on the present Building Regulations or on those which are coming into force.

On the whole, the consultations which have taken place and the criticisms which have been made suggest that the amendments are on relatively marginal matters. Of course, they do not seem marginal if, as has been suggested, a firm's business is threatened, but I should be surprised if such difficulties cannot be overcome under the existing state of affairs.

I should like to quote again from this article in The Surveyor and Municipal Engineer, which has this to say about the general atmosphere of the code: The Building Regulations"— those before the House at the moment— provide a code that will increasingly inspire confidence as it becomes better known. There is a certain element of difficulty in all this because people have, perhaps, been more fearful than they need have been.

Photo of Mr James Scott-Hopkins Mr James Scott-Hopkins , North Cornwall

I did not quite hear what the hon. Gentleman said. Did he say that his right hon. Friend would not consider any amendments to the Regulations until the end of 1966?

Photo of Mr James Boyden Mr James Boyden , Bishop Auckland

No, I did not make a positive statement to that effect. I said that it was obviously not practical to consider amending the Regulations before they come into operation in February, 1966, and that a probable date was towards the end of 1966. I did not make a commitment one way or the other. It would obviously be wrong to bring in a whole series of amendments one after the other. It seems to me at least that the proper course would be to collect the views and comments on this matter and then have a set of amendments.

I was going to say, about procedure, that the Building Advisory Committee's recommendation that there should be regular reviews is accepted. Whether there should be annual reviews is an open question, but certainly there should be sets of amendments and provision should be made—this will be done—to revise the Regulations and probably issue another new set after so many years. I should like to be vague on that point and not say how many years. Let us see how it goes.

As hon. Members will appreciate, this is an exceptionally technical and difficult document—160 pages of closely-printed technical material arranged with the greatest care. Every line, every word, is of significance. Therefore, I should not have thought that it was the kind of document which the industry would want to have altered too often. However, one of the points of these central Regulations is that they are much more flexible.

I hope that the brief reference which I now wish to make will not be out of order. Of course, legislation is needed to get rid of many anomalies in Building Regulations generally. For example, there are Regulations covering gas but none for electrical wiring. Legislation is needed to deal with such matters. This set of Regulations—I come back quickly within order—is not breaking new ground in that way. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) spoke about the hop-picking exemption, but this provision takes over what was done under the existing byelaws. Whether it should have been revised is arguable, but it was decided to leave it as it was.

Photo of Mr James Scott-Hopkins Mr James Scott-Hopkins , North Cornwall

This applies to all agricultural workers or horticultural workers. It applies to temporary dwellings for all these people, not only for hop pickers.

Photo of Mr James Boyden Mr James Boyden , Bishop Auckland

But hop pickers were the category mentioned.

May I turn to some of the particular criticisms which have been made on particular points, again by way of illustration rather than by dealing with them to the satisfaction of hon. Members? Reference was made to oil-fired heating equipment. Flues, chimneys and hearths for oil-fired stoves and boilers have to comply with the same provisions as solid fuel appliances, as was the case under the building byelaws. Representations have been received that these provisions are too onerous for oil-fired equipment and too inflexible in that they lay down specific requirements and do not set a performance standard which would provide design freedom. In the absence of sufficient technical knowledge to establish generally accepted criteria it is not yet possible to draft a regulation which is tailor-made for oil-fired appliances. But undoubtedly this will come.

Another hon. Member raised the question of sprinklers and the size of air spaces in buildings. Generally the principle has been agreed that there should be some limitation on the size of compartments which can be built, but representations have been made that the maximum size permitted for shops of 20,000 sq. ft. or a capacity of 250,000 cu. ft. would unduly limit the movement of the public and restrict the development of modern sales methods.

It has been urged that where an effective sprinkler or automatic alarm system is installed the permitted limits of size should be raised. This was considered in some detail by the Advisory Committee who recommended against such a relaxation because there are no powers to ensure that once such systems are installed they are maintained in proper working condition. It is accepted that sprinklers or similar systems, properly maintained, can make an effective contribution towards arresting fire. If ways can be found to overcome the objections expressed by the Committee—and the Ministry's staff are pursuing this subject now—the Ministry will consider making an appropriate amending Regulation. One particular concern which shall be nameless believes very much in the value of sprinklers. It has had only one fire where it has had a sprinkler system, and that was because the water was turned off. There is, of course, always a human element. This is the sort of thing which makes it difficult to produce Regulations which will satisfy the up-to-date and "with-it" aspirations of hon. Members who have taken part in the debate.

I use those as illustrations, and I will give one more. It has been contended that the Regulations are too onerous on multi-storey car parks, which for this purpose are regarded as a special type of storage building. The provisions can be looked at again, but the point is that it is very difficult to fit the Regulations to specialised buildings of this sort, atlhough, naturally, attempts will be made to deal with this.

In conclusion, I should like to make reference—this has not been done so far in the debate—to some of the virtues of compilation in the Building Regulations. There is one rather simple but quite useful innovation in Statutory Instruments, and that is the way in which the paragraphs have been labelled Al, A2, and so on for particular topics. This is an innovation which, I am sure, will prove most acceptable. There was the closest collaboration with the Statutory Publications Office, having regard to an unfortunate debate—perhaps I should not say that—a debate in which the hon. Member for Crosby took part a little time ago. I am glad that on this occasion he did not have cause to raise that sort of point. The collaboration was close all the way through, and the change which I have just mentioned was one of the innovations made.

Photo of Sir Anthony Meyer Sir Anthony Meyer , Eton and Slough

If the hon. Gentleman has now left the part of his speech dealing with specific complaints, will he give me an assurance that, where the Regulations contain a manifest mistake, as must be the case in the instance I gave, he will give urgent attention to devising a procedure for rectification before further damage is done?

Photo of Mr James Boyden Mr James Boyden , Bishop Auckland

I was coming to that. This is a debate in which a great many technical points have been brought up, and it has been almost impossible for me to follow all the matters which hon. Members have raised. I promise to write to all hon. Gentlemen who asked about particular points in order to clarify what the position is. On the broad issues on which there are special interests or special technical points which hon. Members have raised, it would be helpful if the associations or organisations concerned, if they have not already done so, would make representations to the Ministry.

To return to the subject of format and presentation, what has been done, although it may seem relatively small, has taken a fair amount of work. There are also the explanatory documents which go with the Regulations. This, the "Guide to the Building Regulations, 1965", is one such. In a way, it is a layman's guide to the Building Regulations. I again apologise if hon. Members have not had a chance to see it. It is an excellent example of the sort of work which comes out of the Ministry of Public Building and Works. It combines great clarity and simplicity with complete accuracy of technical detail. There is also to be a technical guide covering, in particular, fire, stairways and open spaces between buildings, which will include a general index to the whole of the Building Regulations. This is in course of print and should be available in a reasonable time.

There is another example of the way in which the Regulations are well devised and as clear as can be for people who have to deal with these problems. The Advisory Committee suggested that the "deemed-to-satisfy" provisions, about which there has been considerable discussion tonight and which are very difficult to deal with, should be incorporated in the Regulations or relegated to explanatory memoranda. Three Schedules, Schedule 8 on concrete floors, Schedule 16 on roof construction, and Schedule 11 on thermal insulation, have been incorporated in the Regulations. This, again, is the sort of thing which helps to make for clarity and handiness in use.

As regards the language and the technical difficulties, the people who deal with these matters are used to the language and, therefore, find their way about it much more easily than I can. In this sense, a document which looks a little confusing to the layman is nothing like so confusing to the technical man.

As regards the evolution of new means of dealing with building techniques, the Agrément Committee has been set up. We have appointed the chairman and it is getting under way. There is also the National Building Agency, which works in another field, and of course, there is the Department itself. All are working in the same direction in improving the technical efficiency of the building industry and helping to pave the way for better Building Regulations when the legislation comes in due course.

I come now to the more general point which the hon. Member for Crosby raised in connection with the list of outstanding matters, divided into four sections, which the Advisory Committee said required further thought. It appears on page 35 of the Report. Most of these, probably all of them, are under development at various stages at the Building Research Station or the Fire Research Station.

I thought it a little unkind of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to comment as he did the other day about the expenditure of the Ministry of Technology, because it is precisely in this form of building and fire research and in many other rôles that the principal expenditures of the Ministry of Technology are taking place. The Building Research Station has a very long tradition and record of achievement in building science. It works extremely closely with my Department, and it worked very closely indeed with the Advisory Committee when it was drawing up the Regulations. This work means more money, it is constantly growing and has done extremely well. I daresay that hon. Members know that the present Director is shortly to retire, and all will agree that he has done a very good job and has made his contribution to the productivity of the building industry.

We are anxious in the Ministry to get greater and greater productivity—sometimes the builders get a little tired of all the nagging that is going on—but, whilst we want more productivity, there is no doubt that there is rising productivity in many fields, and this is the contribution that the Building Research Station, among other bodies, has made towards it.

I have no doubt that when these Regulations are adopted, as I hope they will be, they will have the same sort of smooth development that the Scottish Regulations have had. The Scottish Department has just completed the first review of the original Regulations, and has published proposals for their amendment. The Department seems to be satisfied with the way in which the Regulations have worked, and the way in which the technical people of whom we have talked have reacted to them. In this particular sense the Scottish Building Regulations are rather ahead of the English; they were earlier and more comprehensive. I am quite confident that under my right hon. Friend's administration, these Building Regulations will be the success that the previous Government hoped that they would be.

11.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

If I may have the leave of the House, I want to press the hon. Gentleman on this question of amendment of the Regulations. He has caused us great anxiety by saying that there can be no further amendment of the Regulations until, at the earliest, the end of 1966. He said that there are many concerns now in consultation with his Ministry asking for amendment of the Regulations. What is the use of all those consultations if amendments cannot be made for more than 12 months—18 months; before the end of 1966?

My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) has put the case of the exemption of agricultural buildings. There is the case of people dying in a fire in temporary buildings of the sort mentioned. If this Regulation is not amended it may result in death; it is not just a matter of convenience in building construction. My hon. Friends have put specific cases. It is no good for the hon. Gentleman to say that these matters should be put forward through associations. My hon. Friends are the right people to put them forward, and they have put forward specific cases where the Regulations are dead wrong, and should be amended right away without going through a lot of consultation, when the organisation will be told, "We have had a nice little chat, but we shall not amend until the end of 1966."

The hon. Gentleman said that it will be impossible to amend the Regulations before they come into operation, but I call his attention to the Scottish Building Regulations. They were laid on 11th December, 1963, coming into operation on 15th June, 1964—a period of about six months. The contents of those Regulations were questioned on a Prayer in the House and a number of points of error in the Regulations were put forward —particularly a point about ultra vires. The required amendments to the Regulations were made and came into operation on the same date as the Regulations. The amending Statutory Instrument No. 802 of 1964 was laid on 10th June, 1964, and came into operation on 15th June, 1964— exactly the same date as the main Regulations. The hon. Gentleman could do exactly the same thing with the Regulations now before the House, and give effect to the points made in this debate, in which we have shown that there are some very grave errors in the present Regulations. There is plenty of time to correct them.

I do not intend to press to defeat these Regulations tonight because there is so much of value in them, but the hon. Gentleman can rest assured that his Minister will be bombarded with Parliamentary Questions to put these things right. There is plenty of time to do it and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see that the Minister takes action and brings in amending Regulations so that they come into operation on exactly the same date as the main Regulations.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.