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Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I too support the amendment, not surprisingly, since my name is attached to it. For once I do not think I am confused, but in so far as there is any confusion when we use the word "steelwork" in the construction industry, we mean structural steelwork. We sometimes refer to reinforcing, but when we do so it is in a context where we know what we are talking about. This reference is to structural steelwork, components of buildings. The components will be roof trusses, columns or gantries, the skeleton of a building. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to the skeleton of a tower block. I do not believe that that applies here, although I may be wrong, because it is on site and relates to certain parts. If I am right, it would be odd if the structural steelwork for a tower block were included under the Bill but the structural steelwork on the sites covered in the subsection were excluded. I say that off the top of my head and I hope I am right.

Structural steel elements are wholly different from plant, whether the plant is machinery or what one brings in for heating, ventilating and similar needs. The structural steel elements are an integral part of the construction process. The fact that they are built somewhere else and brought on to the site is immaterial; they are part of the process and are usually ordered under the normal conditions of contract which apply to the construction industry. I have received a couple of letters which have no doubt also been sent to my noble friends and it is probably in order for me to quote one of them. A structural engineer who is in the business of making the structural components I am talking about writes to us in the following terms. I hope that he wrote to the Minister, although the letter does not suggest that. He states:

not another task.

    "It already suffers from being one of the first things that entails substantial expense on a project and being subject to onerous conditions making it late in payment, but being off site until 90% of the value has been spent"--
that is, spent by the steelwork provider--

    "means that it is less easy to get paid for; and therefore it needs the full protection from the construction bill".

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The key comment in that quotation is,

    "less easy to get paid for".
One of the main aims of the Bill is that it should be easier for subcontractors to get paid for the work which they do. To exclude the steel contractors from the Bill excludes them from one of the Bill's main aims. I cannot imagine that that is the Government's aim.

I have received another letter from the British Constructional Steelwork Association, which I shall not quote, which supports that view. A distinction ought to be made, and has not yet been made in the Government's mind--I hope that the Minister is having an interesting conversation with the Whip; I am sure he will turn his attention to us fairly soon. Of course he will. I am pulling his leg. The Government have not adequately distinguished between what is understood in the construction industry, by both clients and constructors, as construction. They have probably done so under the influence of the Department of Trade and Industry, but I do not wish to go into that.

The Government should think carefully about the amendments and come back to us with a resolution which indicates that if they have not understood the points properly they have at least turned their minds to them and considered them.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, what more can I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howie, but, yes, certainly we shall return? This is very much one of the areas around the edges of the process industry that still perplexes us but not, we hope, for too long.

I am confident that at Third Reading I shall be able to say more about the point, but for the moment we are still turning it over, discussing it and trying to get the right formulation. I have little more to say other than that we recognise that we must tackle and solve the problem. It has been well discussed and eloquently advocated in the House. We paid great attention to what was said in Committee and will pay attention to what has been said today. I look forward to bringing a resolution to the House in a week's time.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, again I am grateful to the noble Lord for his assurance that on Third Reading the Government will produce a resolution to the problem. As he has heard and, I am sure, understands, it is a difficult problem. The support of the noble Viscount for the amendments will weigh with the Minister in what he has to produce on Third Reading. We look forward to that. In the light of what he said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 128 not moved.]

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Skelmersdale): My Lords, in calling Amendment No. 129, I should say that if the amendment is agreed to then I cannot call Amendment No. 130.

Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 129:

Page 59, leave out lines 17 and 18.

22 Apr 1996 : Column 934

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the arguments in favour of my amendment to delete:

    "nuclear processing, power generation, or water or effluent treatment, or"
are identical to the arguments which I raised earlier in relation to civil engineering works in mining. All those activities involve a very large element of straightforward old-fashioned construction work. You cannot build a nuclear processing plant I presume that means a power generation plant of any kind--without digging a hole in the ground. The hole you dig in the ground is a straightforward, old-fashioned civil engineering process called "muck shifting". You dig a hole, and in that hole you put the foundation. At the top of the foundation you put a shed of some kind, which encloses the nuclear plant, power station or whatever it happens to be.

Earlier, the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, quite properly referred to the Government's decision to exclude warehouses. Thinking about the matter rationally, a power station is just a kind of big warehouse, is it not? It is a shed. You do not pack baked beans in it or anything of that sort, but you pack certain plant in it.

That plant is excluded from the Bill; nobody argues about that at all. But there is an immense body of civil engineering (construction) activity that is involved in producing the "envelope", the shed, in which the processes are conducted. There is no possible argument for excluding the civil engineering works concerned with a nuclear power station, or any other power station or water treatment plant, from the Bill. Those are classic civil engineering operations and are to be included in the Bill.

Why on earth cannot the Government just recognise that? Why can they not quite properly exclude from the Bill those functions that are mechanical or electrical engineering or something of that sort, but leave in those that are quite obviously construction works, such as muck shifting, producing the foundation, building the envelope on top of the foundation and putting the roof on the top? I do not see any problem here.

I sincerely hope that the Government will have second thoughts about this matter. If they will not accept the amendment as it stands, I hope that they will at least accept the thought that lies behind it.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I support the noble Lord's remarks. I have visited many power stations in my time. I supplied most of them in those halcyon days in the coal industry. Anybody who has ever visited a power station will recognise that what is visited is a vast structure which entirely dwarfs the equipment within it: the boiler plant, the turbines and the generators that produce the electricity. It is the structure that you see and the structure that you enter. A vast part of the work is civil engineering.

We are here, I suppose, to try to help the Government as much as we can through this difficult Bill. However, this is another issue which I hope the noble Lord will examine carefully in order to come back with a suggestion at Third Reading.

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Lord Berkeley: My Lords, given the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, in relation to paragraph (c), if the Government accept the removal of the word "steelwork", which we have just discussed, paragraph (c)(i),

    "nuclear processing, power generation, or water or effluent treatment",
could be interpreted as referring only to the pieces of plant or machinery that are brought to the site and put on those lovely foundations that we have built, having done the muck shifting. After that, you connect up a few pipes and wires--which is a very simplistic description of the enormous amount of work that has to take place--and away it goes. It is slightly different and a little more complicated for a nuclear installation. The bulk of expenditure for water and treatment plant is in civil engineering and structural steelwork.

Perhaps the Minister, in responding, can clarify the meaning. Does this subsection refer just to the plant and machinery, which basically come in a box and are plonked on a foundation; or does it include the whole contract, including all the matters to which the noble Lord, Lord Howie, referred?

5.45 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has put his finger on it. This is the point that we were discussing in Committee. However, we keep being drawn back to structural steelwork and the construction of warehousing and sheds. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, I believe that this part of the Bill is to be interpreted as referring purely to plant and machinery. That is why, in speaking to the previous amendment, I said I thought the word "steelwork" was confusing at that point. I also said that I had another remark to make later about steelwork.

I agree with the comments that have been made. I do not agree with the amendment, since I do not think it is necessary. However, if my noble friend can confirm that we are not talking about shells and structural steelwork but merely about plant and machinery, that will be very helpful.

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