Orders of the Day — Housing and Building Control Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:24 pm on 23rd November 1982.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Barnet Chipping Barnet 5:24 pm, 23rd November 1982

I am extremely glad to have been called unusually early in the debate. It is a great pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor). I should like to take up some of her points about parts II and III of the Bill. With respect, I do not think she quite understands the role of the professional in the building industry. Certain professional people may be among those who are approved inspectors under the Government's proposals. The hon. Lady made one or two remarks that seemed to impugn the integrity of such people.

I hope that the hon. Member for Bolton, West will forgive me if I do not take up her comments on part I concerning the extension of the right to buy. The arguments were well rehearsed during discussion of the Housing Bill 1980. However, there is a fundamental difference about the Government's right to allow council tenants to buy their homes, because the State is the owner—whether it is central Government, Government Department, or local authority. It must be remembered that local authorities are part of the State. They draw most of their revenue from Government block grants and therefore there is a fundamental difference between homes which the State owns and homes which a private citizen owns.

I welcome part I because I believe in the principle of the right to buy and in the extension of home ownership. It is right that those who were forbidden by the 1980 Act to buy their council homes because the lands on which their properties stood were held on leaseholds should have the right to buy, as well as certain tenants of housing associations and trusts. On the wider housing issues already raised in the debate, I commend the Government on the way in which they have enacted a range of proposals that emphasise the important role in housing policy of partnership between the private sector and the local authority. I need mention only shared ownership, homesteading and the breaking up, through ownership, of vast council estates. Those estates led to social divisions within the country. Therefore, I welcome the enactment of such measures.

It would be appropriate and prudent of me to declare such interests as I have. I am a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, although no one will dispute that I am a non-practising architect. I am also a non-executive director of a development company and of a construction company.

Part III of the Bill deeply interests me. It has always surprised me that four different sets of building regulations should apply to different parts of the United Kingdom: to inner London, to the rest of England and Wales, to Scotland, and to Northern Ireland. Ideally there should be one set of building regulations that cover the whole of the United Kingdom, but I realise that that would be difficult because I understand—although I am not a lawyer—that there is a different legal system in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, if the Bill is enacted and new regulations are issued, I hope that the Government will seriously consider whether Scotland and Northern Ireland should follow suit.

I am equally amazed that within each of those four parts of the United Kingdom one necessarily comprehensive set of building regulations should cover all types and sizes of building. The regulations apply equally to the erection of simple structures and of technically complicated structures that are built in different materials. There is a case for separating those building regulations. There is every reason to suspect that the building regulations at present are in many respects too complex and confusing. They are cumbersome and in some ways—I do not wish to exaggerate—unnecessarily bureaucratic. On occasion, they are too inflexible. They inhibit innovation, particularly in design, and they impose unnecessary costs.