Orders of the Day — Building Control Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd May 1966.

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Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry 12:00 am, 2nd May 1966

The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but between his taking office in October, 1964, and January, 1965, he twice told the industry that he foresaw no chance of the Government imposing further controls on the industry. At that time, he had an ally, Mr. Fred Catherwood, who was preaching the admirable gospel, "The Government do not want licensing". The Minister was with him on this. Licensing is coming and Mr. Catherwood is going. He deserves to go where he has gone. We are, however, stuck with this Bill.

By 27th July, 1965, the Minister had spent his fight against control and, if I may use that rather fashionable but vulgar phrase, had rolled over on his back like a spaniel and had accepted that they were coming. On 27th July, 1965, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the controls. But no serious reason has been advanced for the need to introduce them. The right hon. Gentleman started this afternoon, and then I thought drew back, to claim that they had something to do with the shortage of materials. I should not have thought that that was the case, because the Government should blush with shame at the glut of bricks with which we are faced. Then he tried to claim—indeed to some extent he did claim—that it was to redirect the resources, and I shall seek later to explain why that view is not sustainable. The right hon. Gentleman can hardly claim that it was to damp down the building industry. After all, the Government want houses to be built rather than hotels—in fact, more building, not less. That claim is not tenable, in my view, either.

Therefore, what is the reason for the Bill? The original reason was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 27th July. He said that the Bill was part of the Government's measures to reach our aim of eliminating the deficit in the course of next year and of maintaining the strength of sterling …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 27th July, 1965; Vol. 717, c. 228.] While that may or may not be the reason for introducing a control Bill, it is not a reason for introducing a permanent control Bill. That was why, on 8th December, I asked the Government why, if their crisis was temporary, there was a need for a permanent Measure, or whether the Government believed that their crisis was permanent. The right hon. Member for Leeds, West went away, as he is doing now, and for two months brooded on this question. He is going to find the answer now. After he had brooded, the Parliamentary Secretary hatched up an answer. When I heard the reply, it was so ludicrous that I am almost disposed to spare the hon. Gentleman the embarrassment of reminding him of it—almost but not quite.

The occasion was the ordinary general meeting of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Many off-the-cuff remarks—and some of them perhaps prepared—are male by members of the Government at dinners, but on this occasion they were made at an ordinary general meeting on 7th February this year. The Parliamentary Secretary explained that: if a time limit is imposed on the operation of this Bill, the Government will be deprived, once the time limit has expired, of a useful weapon to deal with the situation. Indeed, if it were to arise again there would be no alternative but to have recourse to retrospective legislation once again and this would surely be as unwelcome to the trade as it would be to my Government. That is fair enough. The Government's record of retrospection is bad enough already. But then the hon. Gentleman warmed to his task and we got the meat. He explained that in another economic crisis, the measures which were appropriate to the 1965 crisis would probably not be exactly what was needed". That is a pretty important admission, and, in my submission, an excellent reason for not making the Bill permanent.

But, as the hon. Gentleman said—and this is another of his gems— The Government, in this Bill, is aiming at the anticipation of a crisis so that measures can be taken in good time to ensure that a really serious situation does not arise". The Government have dropped the pretence that the Bill was to deal with the July crisis which they had created, and we are now told that the purpose of the Bill is to deal with future crises which the Government expect to create. We have all heard of contingency planning, but that is really ridiculous! Even as contingency planning, it is absurd because the present measures might be altogether inappropriate at a later date". That was what the Minister said.

Now, I suppose, that is why we are getting this contingency planning—if contingency planning is the reason for the Bill—rushed through on the tail of that other useful Measure, the Outlawries Bill. Certainly, speed has not always characterised the handling of the Bill previously.

I said earlier that the reason behind the Bill can hardly be the redirection of resources, and I maintain that now. When I spoke on the previous Second Reading, I pointed out to the Minister that his proposal would be unlikely to result in the building of a single new house. That is because the organisation and personnel for building houses and hotels are two completely different things. Housing is exempted from the Bill, but the crazy logic of what seems to be the Government's argument—and I heard echoes of it again this afternoon—is that while people cannot build an hotel or a bowling alley in certain places, they can build them in Liverpool or in Glasgow.

The Bill almost propounds the extraordinary philosophy that if a builder wants to build a casino, he must build it in a place where there ought to be a house. This is a most extraordinary philosophy. How it helps the housing plight of some of the large cities which have a housing plight is difficult to understand. If a major firm is told that it may not build an hotel in Eastbourne, it does not follow that it will build houses instead, much less build them instead in Liverpool. But it may build a hotel there.