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 Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West 12:00 am, 2nd May 1966

I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) will forgive me if I do not comment on what she had to say about that aspect of her constituency which she described. The last time when we took part in the same debate together the subject was Cyprus, on which, to my astonishment, I found myself in substantial agreement with some of the things she said.

The most agreeable feature of the debate, the House will agree, has been the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Hilton). As soon as I saw the list in The Times of new Members of the House of Commons, I had a wager with a friend that the new hon. Member for Bethnal Green would make his maiden speech on the Second Reading of the Building Control Bill. We are very glad that he has done so, because he brings to this problem a depth of experience which few if any of us in the House can match.

We were also fortunate in having the Minister come to the debate with a fresh mind. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), the Parliamentary Secretary and I are all too familiar with the subject by now, although on this occasion in our travels we missed the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) who conducted the last Bill almost to the end of the journey, but not quite. By one Parliamentary day the Government failed to obtain their objective of getting the former Building Control Bill, because they preferred—and I think the House recognises that this is true—to spend three days electioneering, debating the Welfare State, leasehold reform, and new taxation proposals. We shall be interested to hear tomorrow from the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether those new proposals have been modified since that debate.

Perhaps it was wise from the Government's point of view to decide to concentrate on propaganda rather than legalising the building control scheme which they had been putting forward and operating for nine months, to use the unhappy phrase of the last Minister, on the authority of the statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 27th July. At any rate, the Government's priority was propaganda rather than legislation, and we all know that priorities are the language of Socialism.

On the last occasion, the right hon. Member for Leeds, West promised us that this would be the first Bill of the Session. It was the 21st. The Parliamentary Secretary—we must not forget him—told us in Standing Committee: My right hon. Friend's Department has a sense of urgency about the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 16th December, 1965; c. 33.] I dread to think what happens to a Government Bill when there is no sense of urgency, but perhaps we can congratulate the new Minister on bringing the Bill forward so early in the Session.

Although we do not like the Bill, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I think that the present state of limbo of the construction and building industries is the worst of all, and it is vital for them to know exactly what their future is to be under the building control scheme. Therefore, if the House agrees—and I suspect that it will—to give the Bill a Second Reading, I can assure the Government that we will wish to pass its stages quickly, because it is only fair that the construction industry, which has been waiting for the Bill for a long time, should have it at the earliest possible moment.

During the course of the passage of the two Bills, we have been given various reasons why the legislation should be permanent. There is no doubt that the original reason which was given for the introduction of the Bill was the economic crisis and the statement of 27th July. There was no intention when the Government came to office of legislating on building controls. It was not in the 1964 Labour Party election manifesto and I doubt whether it was in the election manifesto of the right hon. Member for Leeds, West, although I have not read it. After the right hon. Gentleman had been in office for about a month, he told us that the construction industries were in a generally satisfactory condition. He told the magazine then called The Builder that he had no intention of imposing further controls and he said: We see the industry in a positive and not a negative way. I do not know what changed the Government's view into deciding to take a less positive and more negative attitude to the problems of the industry, but I suppose that it is fair to say that it was largely the economic situation. We have, therefore, to decide why they have adopted permanent legislation to cure what, we hope, is a temporary situation.

After all, one of the first Measures introduced into the last Parliament was the Control of Office and Industrial Development Act. It was announced on the second day of the last Parliament. It expires in 1972 and is, therefore, not permanent. What is the Government's intention about offices? Are they to abandon office control in London and Birmingham in 1972 in the unlikely event of their still being in power at that time, or is it their intention to continue office control by using the terms of this Bill? If so, that is a fine commentary on the assurances which we were given during the passage of the Control of Office and Industrial Development Bill when we were told that its provisions would he temporary.

There is no doubt that the Government have shifted their ground in their approach to building controls. On 27th July, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not talk about permanent control of the building industry. He wanted to cure the economic situation which existed at the time and tomorrow we shall see whether he has been able to do so. The Parliamentary Secretary—I will not weary him by quoting further from his speech of 7th February to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors—said on that occasion more or less that the Government needed the Bill as a contingency measure for the next economic crisis. It is scarcely encouraging for the House to be told that on the eve of the Budget.