Building (Scotland) Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:45 pm on 20th February 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 3:45 pm, 20th February 2003

The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3757, in the name of Margaret Curran, that the Building (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 3:47 pm, 20th February 2003

Sometimes the most non-controversial bills turn out to be the best ones. I believe that the Building (Scotland) Bill will significantly enhance and streamline the regulatory regime that covers building in Scotland, which will benefit not just builders and building standards officers but all of us who use buildings. Moreover, the bill builds upon other initiatives that have been introduced by the Scottish Executive to improve the quality of Scotland's housing stock.

As ministers with responsibility for social justice, Margaret Curran and I fully recognise the need to improve the conditions in which the people of Scotland live. We have made thousands of homes warmer and more energy efficient through the central heating programme and the warm deal. However, we have had to take action to improve insulation and energy efficiency because when the houses were built they were not up to the standards that we are now putting in place. It is better and more cost-effective to establish higher building standards at the outset than to have to deal later with the consequences of inadequate standards.

Current building regulations have already been amended to take account of Scotland's climate and geography. We have set the highest standards for thermal insulation and energy efficiency in the UK. However, we recognise that there is still room for improvement and the bill allows us to put in place a regulatory regime to take forward that agenda.

Members of the Transport and Environment Committee will be aware that I have instigated the inclusion of sustainable development in a number of pieces of legislation, most notably in the Water Industry (Scotland) Bill. As a member of that committee, I was pleased to see that sustainability was crucial to the bill from its initial stages. As a minister, I am keen to see that sustainability also flows through to the relevant regulations.

By ensuring that future buildings will meet a series of tough standards, we are moving towards a preventive regime. Scotland's buildings will be designed to last longer, to be sustainable and to be safer for the people who use them. That is a much better result economically, socially and environmentally. Energy conservation is recognised as a key contributor to sustainability. The bill is a powerful tool in helping to advance Scottish Executive policy in that regard.

I suspect that few of us ever give a thought to building standards as we go about our daily business, although in practice they affect us each and every day. When things go wrong, however, building standards can have a major impact on the lives of the people concerned. That was certainly brought home to us all by the tragic events at Ryan's Bar in Edinburgh in June 2000. Part of the building fell on to Miss Christine Foster, who was working at the bar. That has led to the introduction of provisions in the bill to increase local authorities' powers of inspection in relation to dangerous buildings. Our aim is to reduce the risk of such tragedies happening in the future.

Improving safety is a key plank of the bill. Although prevention of falling masonry from buildings is perhaps the most noteworthy aspect, the bill establishes a regulatory regime that is aimed at better protection for the public and that will allow the introduction of safety measures that prevent users of buildings from coming to harm. Those improved safety measures, which will be achieved through improved verification procedures and improved local authority powers, will help to reduce the potential for easily avoidable accidents, including accidents in the home that can affect babies, young children, older people and adults alike.

As has been mentioned in the debate, the Building (Scotland) Bill has been characterised by consensus. Even before the Scottish Executive introduced the bill to Parliament, the policy objectives and proposals had a wide range of support. I place on record my thanks to those organisations and individuals who participated throughout the consultation process and who assisted in the preparation of the proposals.

The proposals in the bill are the result of more than two years of consultation and they have been informed by many key stakeholders. I believe that that comprehensive consultation process was integral in assisting us to introduce a bill that meets the needs of all those with an interest in building standards. It was widely recognised that Scotland's building standards system dated from another age. However, prior to devolution, there was little prospect of parliamentary time being made available to deal with those deficiencies. Respondents to the consultation—from builders to users to regulators to professional and regulatory specialists—all agreed that the legislation was in need of modernisation to bring it up to date and make it fit for purpose.

The constructive approach that was taken by the Transport and the Environment Committee exemplifies some of the best features of the committee system that we have established in the Parliament. The committee's stage 1 report said:

"It is clear to the Committee that, with the exception of the provision to allow private sector verifiers, a general consensus has developed in support of the main provisions of the Building (Scotland) Bill. In part, this reflects the inclusive nature of the Executive's arrangement in advance of the publication of the Bill.

In evidence to the committee, the majority of key stakeholder organisations welcomed the Bill"

The committee discussed private verifiers at length and I hope that members were satisfied with the safeguards that we have incorporated into the bill. Again, that reflected the consensual nature of the discussions around various aspects of the bill.

Committee members and clerks worked hard to provide detailed scrutiny of the bill and to suggest relevant and appropriate improvements. I am not sure whether this is the first bill to proceed through stage 2 without a single vote being taken, but it is by far the largest and most complex bill to have achieved such a measure of consensus.

I thank the members and the clerks to the committee for their contribution to the bill from stage 1 through to the present time. Additionally, I thank the Subordinate Legislation Committee for the scrutiny that it provided.

The bill introduces a modernised building standards system for Scotland. Businesses and individuals throughout Scotland will be able to take advantage of the greater flexibility of the system to drive down costs, reduce delays and improve the quality of new buildings.

The new system clearly provides for the powers of the parties to the building standards system. The owner will be responsible for complying with the requirements of the bill. The verifier will be responsible for verifying that compliance and might also be the enforcement agency. The approved certifiers of design will be individuals and organisations that are recognised as competent to certify the standard of design of a building or part of a building. The approved certifiers of construction will be individuals and organisations that are recognised as competent to certify the installation of certain elements of a building. A central standards body will be responsible for setting building standards, auditing verifiers and certifiers and verifying Crown buildings.

The new system that we are introducing will dissolve the rigidity of the current system. We are introducing a flexible system that will allow designers enough scope to promote new and innovative design. The system will provide many opportunities to cut red tape—which, I am sure, will be welcomed on all sides—and to reduce delays, while ensuring that tough standards are met.

The new system will simplify the regulatory requirements that are to be met when constructing a building in Scotland. Certification will help to reduce delays and costs and will deliver improved and innovative design. The improved flexibility will allow owners, designers and builders greater freedom to select the method by which they will demonstrate that they meet the requirements of the building regulations and standards. All those measures will be achieved without compromising public safety.

Prior to exchanging contracts, home buyers often want to establish that a property has no outstanding building control problems. That is usually done by establishing the existence of completion certificates for the building work, and local authorities generally issue a letter of comfort. The bill strengthens that practice by introducing the more meaningful and consistent mechanism of the building standards assessment.

The new system is also designed to help existing home owners. Many members hear concerns from their constituents about work that is undertaken by tradespeople. The national list of approved certifiers of construction will offer greater reassurance to people who undertake renovations to their home.

Better building quality will be delivered through the new minimum functional standards in the regulations, which are compliant with the 1990 European construction products directive. I make it clear that the thrust of our implementation of the regulatory regime will be geared towards delivering higher standards across the board. The bill strikes a balance between encouraging the attainment of higher standards and providing tough sanctions for non-compliance or the provision of false or misleading information. There are both carrots and sticks in the bill, which will allow us to drive up standards.

Before I conclude, it is important that I advise the Parliament that, for the purposes of rule 9.11 of the standing orders, Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Building (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of the Parliament for the purposes of the bill.

Although the Building (Scotland) Act 1959 did a fair job, we recognised that the time had come to introduce a modernised system that would deliver what Scotland needs for the 21st century. The 1959 system has been criticised for being slow, unresponsive and heavy handed in relation to minor works and the bill addresses those concerns. The bill has been widely welcomed by the key stakeholders in the public and private sectors. The new building standards system will bring with it significant benefits for businesses and individuals.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Building (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 3:57 pm, 20th February 2003

I am tempted simply to say that I agree with the minister and then sit down. I am amazed by the level of harmony that we have reached; we never quite reached such a level when Hugh Henry was the Deputy Minister for Social Justice.

The fact that the bill will have been passed quickly does not take away from its importance—it is extremely important and long overdue. That speed is a mark of how well the parliamentary system has worked. I pay tribute to the Transport and the Environment Committee for its deliberations at stage 2. I was particularly pleased that the committee accepted Fiona McLeod's amendments on suitability for access for those with disabilities, which is an important step forward.

I am a wee bit disappointed that, in the one vote that we have had today on the bill, the Executive did not accept Kenny MacAskill's amendment on broadband. That amendment was eminently sensible and progressive—just like Kenny—and I would have liked an unequivocal commitment on the issue.

The only thing that remains for me to do is to say that we support the bill and are delighted with it. I am also pleased that the Queen agrees with the minister.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative 3:59 pm, 20th February 2003

I thank the clerks of the Transport and the Environment Committee, wherever they are, for all their hard work on the bill. The bill has involved a huge effort and a lot of commitment from many people. Our thanks should go to the civil servants, consultees and the Scottish Parliament information centre, who produced worthwhile briefing papers on the subject.

The bill fulfils several needs. First, it reviews and replaces the 1959 act, which, although it has served us well, is regarded as no longer of its time, as Des McNulty said. Secondly, the bill discharges an obligation under the European construction products directive, which is also vital.

It is important that the bill will introduce more flexibility into the building control system and will reduce red tape and bureaucracy. In conjunction with the continuing requirements, that means that a less rigid approach to design will be delivered, which I welcome. It is also significant that the bill will increase the power of local authorities with regard to dangerous buildings. Amendment 40, on the imposition of fines, which was discussed today, will certainly deter any unlawful occupation.

I welcome the introduction of the possibility of private sector verifiers carrying out work that has been carried out only by local authorities in the past—I applaud the Government's vision in that respect. Certainly, the Government's thinking on that matter is much more measured than the evidence that we received from the City of Edinburgh Council, which smacked of closed shop and closed minds.

Finally, I welcome the bill's intention to provide more information to house buyers and the reassurance that tradespeople will be obliged to work to higher standards than previously. I thank colleagues for supporting my amendment on regulating lead solder use in domestic water-supply piping, which puts another brick in the wall of delivering better practice. I wish the bill success and hope that it delivers all that is expected of it.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 4:01 pm, 20th February 2003

The bill could be described as non-contentious, but useful and interesting. Members have said that it has been largely welcomed by the building trade, which had a great input into the initial consultation on how the bill should be put together.

I thank the committee's expert witnesses in particular—they enlightened our ignorance about many technical matters. One of the perks of being an MSP is having access to people who can give insights into other people's lives and work, which is good.

The pluses of the bill—which puts together the regulatory framework—include the opportunity to reduce red tape and produce more flexibility. Concerns were expressed that such flexibility might be to the detriment of standards; there could be dangers in making regulations less prescriptive, and disability groups were especially worried about access standards, although I think that their concerns have been addressed. Another major concern was expressed about the use of private verifiers. However, responsibility for verification will stay with the local authorities in the meantime, which gives us the opportunity to monitor how private verification works south of the border and whether it would be desirable for Scotland.

Another positive aspect is that it will be easier for local authorities to be proactive in respect of buildings that might be dangerous.

The bill establishes a building regulation framework that offers exciting opportunities for new energy efficient and accessible buildings. Much can be done at little or no extra cost at the construction stage that would be extremely expensive to retrofit.

I would like consideration to be given to opportunities that are offered by extension and refurbishment, and to how those can be exploited to bring older buildings up to higher standards. To do so by regulation is tricky, because it is obvious that matters depend on the degree of extension and refurbishment. If one is putting in a porch in a stately mansion, it is obviously not sensible to expect the whole mansion to be brought up to standard, but extensions, additions or refurbishment provide opportunities to upgrade older buildings. Those opportunities should be exploited.

Work on the bill has been interesting and the outcome has been good. I now look forward to the exciting bit—the building regulations that will be possible through the framework.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour 4:03 pm, 20th February 2003

I support and welcome the bill, as proposed by ministers today. Many members have acknowledged the wide agreement across the political parties, which was reflected in discussion of the stage 3 amendments. The minister accepted amendments that were lodged by John Scott and Kenny MacAskill and, as Linda Fabiani pointed out, there was only one division. John Scott's and Kenny MacAskill's amendments are welcome additions to the bill.

I echo the thanks that have been given by other members to the clerks of the Transport and the Environment Committee, two of whom are in the gallery. They gave their usual professional and high standard of support to members of the committee during their consideration of the bill.

Members have mentioned that part of the reason why there has been broad agreement among the political parties is the degree of advance consultation that took place on the bill. The consultation included local authorities, professional organisations, consumer groups, public interest groups and industry groups. The degree of consultation was welcomed by, among others, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, which stated:

"we welcome the way in which the drafting has been undertaken ... We think that the bill is a good example of how legislation can be drafted in Scotland."—[Official Report, Transport and the Environment Committee, 30 October 2002; c 3564-3565]

Credit goes to ministers and Executive officials for that process.

The reasons for the broad support for the bill go beyond the fact that there was extensive consultation. There is also broad agreement among political parties on the importance of renewing the building regulations and reviewing the way in which they deal with matters such as health and safety, accessibility, the conservation of fuel and power and sustainability, which Mr McNulty mentioned earlier. The ability to impose continuing requirements on owners of buildings is also to be welcomed.

Another important matter that Des McNulty mentioned was the powers for local authorities to intervene when dangerous or defective buildings are identified. Des McNulty reflected on a recent incident in Edinburgh that some of my colleagues, including Angus MacKay and Sarah Boyack, stressed during the passage of the bill.

One issue to which Des McNulty referred on which there was some disagreement by the committee with the Executive's position is the appointment of private sector verifiers. I disagree somewhat with John Scott on that point, in that I was more impressed than he was with the evidence from the City of Edinburgh Council. I was reassured considerably by the comments that Margaret Curran made in the stage 1 debate. She said that the Executive will give a firm commitment not to introduce such verifiers until a full study has been undertaken into their potential impact and she gave a clear commitment that local authorities would be part of any such study.

The provisions of the bill receive, on the whole, widespread support. However, as Nora Radcliffe pointed out, that does not mean that the provisions are not significant. The bill represents an updating and improvement of building control legislation in Scotland and, as such, I am sure that colleagues will at decision time support unanimously the passage of the bill.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 4:07 pm, 20th February 2003

I will make one point but, before I do, I will add my tributes to the clerks, the expert witnesses, my colleagues on the committee, Bristow Muldoon for his convenership of the committee during the process of the bill, which was extremely interesting and, not least, to Des McNulty for the work that he did in preparation of the bill while he was on the committee and the work that he has done since as minister—we could perhaps even call the bill the Des res bill.

However, every time the minister mentioned sustainability and thermal efficiency he looked nervously in my direction. He will not be surprised that I want to remind the Executive that the storm that two days ago dumped 3ft of snow on the United States will cross the Atlantic and arrive here. That will serve to remind us—this makes me slightly worried about the minister's comments in his introduction—that although we have better regulations for thermal efficiency than our neighbours down south do, we have the worst and least efficient thermal efficiency regulations in northern Europe. We need urgently to do something about those regulations in the light of climate change and the possibility that we might get worse winters and hotter summers in the future. In the interests of saving energy and ensuring that people in Scotland do not live in cold houses in the future, the Executive must upgrade the thermal efficiency regulations as soon as possible to the highest possible standards.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I ask Margaret Curran to wind up the debate, after which I will take a motion without notice.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour 4:09 pm, 20th February 2003

I am very pleased—as I am sure are most members of the Parliament—that the instruction was not to keep talking until 5 o'clock, although I think I could do that.

I am pleased to be closing the debate and bringing to a conclusion the passing of the bill. I was delighted to be told that I was getting this slot again—it has been a while since I made a closing speech—because the slot allows members to indulge their more argumentative side. I begged David Davidson to argue with me so that we could have a debate on the bill, but we did not manage that. I even found myself saying earlier that I thought that Kenny MacAskill was quite reasonable, which is a first for me. There is clearly consensus on the bill.

As others have, I record my thanks to the members of the Transport and the Environment Committee for their sterling work on the committee and for their contributions in the chamber. I also thank the clerks for their support. I pay tribute to the work of the Executive officials, not just for the framing of the technical detail of the bill, but for the way in which they have conducted the process of achieving it and the preparation that they have made for it. As Des McNulty said, their engagement with the key stakeholders, from builders to local authorities, has helped us to establish the proper evidence that we need for the bill, and it has allowed us to deliver a robust package of measures.

As members have said, it is tempting to associate consensus in politics with unimportant matters; however, as Linda Fabiani said, to do so is wrong. The bill represents very important measures that the Executive is determined to implement and which have received cross-party support. We are addressing fundamental shortcomings in the current system and introducing a new and modern building standards system for the 21st century. We must address the twin goals of conservation of fuel and power, and of sustainable development. In short, we need buildings that are fit for today's world and which meet the standards that are suitable for today's needs. It is those things that building standards deliver, and the bill delivers a new framework for continuing the improvement of standards in Scotland. It is a detailed bill and the subject can, on occasions, be technical—as we have been reminded this afternoon. However, the bill is no less vital for that and it is likely that the bill, like its predecessor, will underpin the building standards system for several decades.

Des McNulty has talked about the bill, and members will be glad to know that I am not going to go over it again. We have all come to terms with the issues in the bill, so I will move swiftly to a conclusion.

I pay tribute to the work of Des McNulty, who has handled the bill expertly. His dedication to managing the bill through the committee process has led to today's consensus and our satisfaction with it as legislation. It is Des's first piece of legislation as a minister, but I suspect that he might be put in charge of more bills if such consensus is to be the outcome—that is quite an achievement for Des. As Robert Brown said, we quickly made a connection with a members' business debate, we accepted an amendment from a Tory and we have called Kenny MacAskill reasonable—which is quite significant. I encourage all members to support the motion that the Parliament pass the Building (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

On a point of order. I ask the Presiding Officer to review this afternoon's questions to the First Minister and to consider the admissibility of Mr McLetchie's questions, in which he appeared to ask the First Minister, in a long preface, to comment on the policy of a political party for which the office of First Minister is not accountable.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Without making any immediate judgment on what you have said, Mr Robson, I think that it would be reasonable for the three Presiding Officers to read the Official Report , come to a view and communicate that view to you, if that would be acceptable.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

Thank you. May I move a motion without notice to bring forward decision time to now?

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I think that you will have to move the Parliamentary Bureau motion first.