Timber Frame Houses

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 28th June 1983.

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Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle 3:31 pm, 28th June 1983

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the widespread and growing use of the timber frame system in the construction of dwellings and the revelations of serious dangers and defects in this system which will lead to future excessive expenditure and hardship for tenants and owner-occupiers. This matter is urgent, as the Granada "World in Action" programme last night revealed serious fire risks. There is need for an urgent debate to do five things—first, to get Government action to stop the use of this system until all of the serious and worrying accusations about the inadequacies revealed in the programme are fully investigated. It has long been the view of many hon. Members that timber frame construction is likely to cause major structural problems which will only come to light in the future. It seems that owner-occupiers are being subjected to what the planners and builders did to council tenants in the mid-1960s with factory system building. Secondly, the matter is urgent and should be debated as there is an accusation of serious fire risks. The report of the National House Building Council showed that on 33 per cent. of building sites visited fire stops had been omitted or incorrectly placed. Examples of fires in timber frame houses have shown serious risks not present in traditionally constructed dwellings.

Thirdly, a debate should be held to force the Government to prevent the continued use of this system, at least until the Building Research Establishment's survey of timber frame construction is published in full and to ensure that the report is not hushed up. It seems that at the moment we are operating on the basis of act first and think second.

Fourthly, we need an urgent debate on the Government's involvement in the matter. There seems to be some type of cover-up as I was refused a copy—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I cannot hear the hon. Gentleman. I ask that he be heard in silence.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

There seems to be some type of cover-up going on, as I was refused a copy of the National House Building Council's report on this system which was then obtained by Granada and shows all of the major defects in the system.

On 7 April 1983 a Minister at the Department of the Environment refused to allow me to see a fire research station report into a fire in one of these timber frame houses. He said that the report stated that there was no risk to life. Last night's programme showed that there was a serious risk to life. The standard of the solo timber frame house built by Barratt in England did not satisfy Scottish regulations, but the Government have given an exemption and allowed them to be built in Scotland. Sir Lawrie Barratt's connections with the Conservative party are no secret. In 1979 the famous helicopter was used in the election campaign by the then Leader of the Opposition.

An urgent debate is needed, if for no other reason, to allay the fears of thousands of people who have already bought timber frame houses. There is a real need for a debate as we may be on the verge of a national scandal on the scale of the system building scandals of the 1960s. Without further Government statements, it appears that a fraud is being perpetrated on the first-time buyer by certain speculative builders, assisted by Ministers —[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not use the argument that he might use if a debate were granted. He is asking for permission to move the Adjournment.

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the growing use of the timber frame system of constructing dwellings and the recent relevations of the serious dangers of this system and its design faults. As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 10, I am directed to take account of the several factors set out in the order but to give no reasons for my decision.

I listened carefully to what the hon. Member said and to his representations, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order. I therefore cannot submit his application to the House.