Orders of the Day — Housing and Building Control Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 5th July 1983.

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Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne 3:37 pm, 5th July 1983

There is one other important aspect. The increase in the discount from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. and the reduction in the qualifying period from three to two years will accelerate capital receipts, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, can then be used by local authorities as they decide.

I was dealing with parts II and III of the Bill, which deal with building control. The present system of building control is not satisfactory. There have been persistent criticisms that it is cumbersome and bureaucratic and that the form of building regulations is inflexible, inhibits innovation and imposes unnecessary costs. That is not surprising. The system has grown gradually and haphazardly, from controls imposed a century or more ago under local authority byelaws, into a national system of great complexity.

We now have the opportunity to make radical changes. The Bill follows closely the proposals set out in Command 8179 published in February 1981, "The Future of Building Control in England and Wales". Those proposals have been the subject of intensive discussion and consultation with interested parties, including local authorities, professional and industrial associations, trade unions, property owners, and the building industry itself. Parts II and III of the Bill reflect that consultation and are substantially the same as in the previous Bill.

The main purpose of part II is to provide the opportunity for greater self-regulation through a system of private certification of compliance with the building regulations. I stress that it will be an option available to builders and developers. They will still be able to have their buildings supervised by local authorities if they wish. No one will be forced to use an approved inspector. No professional person will be obliged to provide an inspection service if he does not want to.

Part III provides for simpler regulations that can be kept up to date more easily. At present, local authorities have a monopoly in the provision of building inspectors. The Bill will allow properly qualified professional people to undertake work which, at present, can be carried out only by the public sector.

Inspectors will be approved by the Secretary of State or by bodies designated by him, such as professional institutions. Approval can be restricted to particular types of buildings, depending upon the applicant's professional qualifications and experience. In future, certain public bodies approved by my right hon. Friend will be able to certify their own work, if they wish, under arrangements similar to those for private certification.

My right hon. Friend will be empowered to approve documents that offer suitable practical guidance on how to comply with the regulations. He will also be able to delegate those powers by order laid before both Houses. The technical detail, which causes so much difficulty in the current regulations, will be presented in documents such as the British standards and agreement certificates which are written for technical users and are authoritative.

Partly as a result of the persuasive arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), a valuable new provision was inserted in the previous Bill. It remains in this Bill and will provide builders with a right to appeal to the Secretary of State for a determination in the event of a dispute with either an approved inspector or a local building control authority over the compliance of plans with building regulations.

Parts II and III of the Bill reflect the Government's belief that, wherever possible, the individual should enjoy greater freedom and choice, and should accept the responsibility that goes with them. Those parts of the Bill also reflect our conviction that in many areas of policy, partnership between the public and private sectors rather than a municipal monopoly provides hope and opportunity for progress.

Our philosophy for housing and building control is in marked contrast to that of the Opposition. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and his right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) were the principal architects of the Labour party's housing policy which many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as some Opposition Members, believe made a significant contribution to our victory on 9 June. Both right hon. Gentlemen used to be journalists on the Daily Mirror. I make no complaint about that. The right hon. Member for Gorton is a prolific, if superficial, author. His first book, which I commend to the House as an interesting study of ancient history, is entitled How to Live Under Labour. Then, with characteristic modesty, came a volume which he called How to be a Minister. In that, this high priest of egalitarianism describes how When you, the Minister, walk through the door of your Department, doormen will salute you. The doormen have gone now and I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that although that might have happened in the Labour years it does not happen in his old Department now.

I quote something else with approval: I believe profoundly in freedom as the objective to which all others must be subordinate … Power should not be concentrated in a few hands; its exercise should be extended to as many free citizens as possible. Those are not my words, although I agree with them. They were written three months ago by the right hon. Member for Gorton in a chapter which he contributed to a book called: Renewal—Labour's Britain in the 1980s. Yet the same right hon. Gentleman, in the previous Parliament, fought a sustained rearguard action—which ended in failure in this House — against wider home ownership.

The Labour party manifesto was in relation to housing policies, the right hon. Gentleman's manifesto, because he was one of the majority of Labour candidates who actually believed in its policies. He wanted—later he will tell the House that he still wants—to take away the tenant's right to buy his own home, to prevent councils selling, even voluntarily, at a discount, and to force any former tenant who has bought, and who wants subsequently to sell his house, to sell it back to the council. Despite his professed wish that power should not be concentrated in a few hands and his professed purpose of extending power to as many free citizens as possible—objectives which are shared by every Conservative Member—the right hon. Gentleman wishes to halt, and, if possible, to reverse, the most fundamental transfer of wealth and property from the state to the people which we have seen in our history.

By their fruits ye shall know them. The truth is that the Opposition are always prepared to put their own prejudices before the wishes and aspirations of the people. Private ownership of property is incompatible with the Opposition's zeal for municipal and public ownership. The truth is that personal ownership of wealth and property, spread ever more widely, is the surest guarantee of political liberty. Socialists — at any rate those who have gained temporary or possibly even permanent control of the once mighty Labour party—prefer a dependent to an independent society. Their dream, which is the people's nightmare, is of a Britain where more and more of our citizens work for the Government, for nationalised industries or for local authorities; where more and more people are dependent on the state or its agencies for their employment, their health, their pension and their housing. They do not want the people to choose. Their philosophy shows the characteristic arrogance that comes from the conviction that the few should decide for the many. They want to perpetrate and extend the tyranny of the Socialist-controlled council house estate.

I acknowledge that the official Opposition will seek to prevent the Bill reaching the statute book, but the harder they fight the Bill, the more they will alienate themselves from the British people who, barely four weeks ago, gave a decisive endorsement of our policies.

Throughout the country, there is a consensus of testimony that it was on housing that the deepest instincts of the Conservative party and those of the British people were at one.

No Conservative would ever make the claim once made from this Dispatch Box by a Socialist Minister that we are the masters now. But we claim, with a proper mixture of pride and humility, that under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister we are the people's party once again.