Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill

– in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 30th January 2004.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:34 am, 30th January 2004

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am absolutely delighted to be here as the first runner in the private Member's Bill race for this Session—I was tremendously surprised to come top in the ballot. I have not been at all short of advice on what I should do and say, not only today, but throughout the rest of the Bill's progress. In excess of 30 alternative Bills were offered to me by various individuals and organisations, but I believe that the Bill that I have brought to the House today is the best of the bunch.

I am very pleased to introduce a Bill that has the support of Members—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am not sure whose electronic device that is, but Members in the Chamber, and others, should be aware that they are absolutely forbidden.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I am very pleased to introduce a Bill that has the support of Members on both sides of the House and of many outside organisations. Without running through the whole catalogue, I would particularly like to thank the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mr. Ainsworth, for agreeing to sponsor my Bill, and Brian White, whose Sustainable Energy Bill in the previous Session was one of a long line of private Member's Bills that have moved forward this extremely important policy area.

From outside the House, I have had the active support and help of WWF, the Association for the Conservation of Energy, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Town and Country Planning Association and the National Security Inspectorate. I want to say thank you very much to all those who supported me in my preparatory work.

It is right to bring legislation before this House only if certain tests have been met. First, is there really a problem that needs a solution? Secondly, could something else be done that would achieve the same objectives more simply, more quickly and more cheaply? Thirdly, is it capable of making a difference and of achieving the desired impact? I want to spend a few minutes showing that my Bill passes those tests.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Of course it is perfectly legitimate for the hon. Gentleman to set out his tests, but does he accept that some of us may have other tests? Did he give any thought to the impact on the hapless consumer and taxpayer, or is that beyond his purview?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I should like to give a positive answer to both the right hon. Gentleman's questions. I am delighted to see him here, and I hope that if he detects any weakness in my case, he will not hesitate to draw it to my attention.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Following the negative point made by Mr. Forth, does the hon. Gentleman agree that for the sake of an initial cost, people will feel much more secure and enjoy a better visual environment if his Bill goes through?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I believe that to be the case, and I thank the hon. Gentleman.

I turn first to the part of my Bill that deals with crime and crime reduction. I could deluge the House with crime figures and statistics. To be frank, many of those have been devalued, but there is no doubt about the distress, damage and economic costs involved in burglary, house-breaking and attempted break-ins. That is well documented, and every Member will have examples. I could regale the House with many heart-breaking stories about the impact of crime on individuals and the often devastating effect on their lives and families when intruders come into their home and defile it. I have little doubt that it was anger, fear and a devastating sense of violation that drove so many listeners of the "Today" programme to respond so fiercely to its poll to ascertain which private Member's Bill should be introduced. Perhaps on another day, Mr. Pound will have something to add to that story. The Bill does not deal with the issues that some of those people were concerned about, but lays the foundations for a cut in crime.

There has been much correspondence since it became known what the Bill would achieve, but not all of it has been positive. One of my hon. Friends has passed me a letter from a constituent, which states:

"Break-ins . . . could be dramatically reduced if those caught had a hand removed. It would make things much more difficult the second time."

That does not form part of my proposals; I do not believe that it represents a Front-Bench view.

I was surprised to find that builders and developers can turn a blind eye to the crime prevention advice that they receive. When preparing for the Bill, I had a meeting with Mr. Michael Hodge, Greater Manchester police's architectural liaison officer. Mr. Hodge is a chartered surveyor, not a police officer. He and his team are responsible for advising builders and developers on sensible crime reduction design and crime reduction features in buildings. They are consulted about approximately 3,000 applications a year in the whole of Greater Manchester. At first, that sounds fine, but when one considers the matter in detail, the figure accounts for only one fifth of the applications that are made. The advice that the team can give is limited to planning matters such as spaces, alleyways and dark corners around buildings, not buildings' locks, doors and windows. Moreover, the advice can be ignored.

Mr. Hodge gave me a couple of examples. One relates to the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Goggins, who has taken up the matter. He is unable to be here this morning, but I hope that he will not mind my using some of his ammunition.

The houses built by the Redrow Homes development on the Wythenshawe estate have windows of an inferior design and can easily be broken into by those of an evil disposition. The police got fed up with going to the Redrow Homes estate week after week to find that exactly the same means of entry had been used every time—the defective windows. The hugely disproportionate use of police time was a major anxiety to them. They naturally approached Redrow Homes and asked whether something could be done to fix those windows. The answer was no: Redrow no longer has any legal liability because the homes have been sold. There is therefore a built-in problem with that estate and window design.

Mr. Hodge's complaint is not simply that the problem arose, but that Redrow Homes is now building an identical estate with identical window design in Eccles—and nobody can stop it. There are no rules or regulations; the advice can simply be ignored.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I have been following the hon. Gentleman's speech closely. Will he deal with two points that arise from his example? First, how does he envisage enforcement operating if a builder does not comply with the advice? Secondly, how would the Bill help with existing buildings? Will it be retrospective and impose duties on owners or occupiers, or will it apply only to brand new buildings?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his sensible questions, which I hope to tackle later, not least because one of the clauses specifically deals with them. The matter must be approached carefully because a balance needs to be struck. I hope that I can satisfy the hon. Gentleman once I have proceeded a little further.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

The hon. Gentleman has highlighted the nonsense of the use of defective and insecure materials in Wythenshawe and a proposal to use them again in my Eccles constituency. Does he agree that it is frustrating for Members of Parliament and local councillors when they do not have powers to prevent such things from happening? Is not that one reason for supporting the Bill?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is right. Most frustrated of all are the police, whose resources are used night after night to respond to crime that should not be permitted to happen. We are not only considering frustration; let us think of the households that suffer intrusion and have their property violated. As we know, it provokes the most intense emotional response from people.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I presume that because the hon. Gentleman is a Liberal Democrat, he will discuss the responsibility of the individual. So far, we have not heard why the individual who bought the house—presumably after advice from chartered surveyors and solicitors—does not complain that the law is not intervening to protect him. When does the individual come into the argument?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman is covering what has been described as retrospection, which is not a useful phrase. When I was preparing the Bill, one of my correspondents suggested that I was proposing town hall lock-watchers, who would come round every night and make sure that we were all locked up safely. It is not that sort of measure. When I explain its precise provisions in more detail, I hope that I can satisfy the right hon. Gentleman. If not, I am sure that he will let me know.

I have been in touch with the National Security Inspectorate and with the Secured By Design organisation of the Association of Chief Police Officers. To some extent, those two organisations are in competition commercially, but they are united in welcoming my Bill. They believe that it will prove an effective driver for sensible, proportionate crime reduction to be built in from the beginning and not added on as an extra.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

Has my hon. Friend received any representations from organisations that oppose the Bill?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I have not, but a critic might say that not all organisations are aware of the measure. However, those that know about it and those whom I have consulted appear to be clear that there is in the existing provision a gap that the Bill will successfully plug. Hardly any new buildings in the country are made for a specific client. Houses are sold to people, offices are rented or let to people and the person who occupies the building is seldom the person who built it. By and large, if the builder does not have to do something, he does not do it. I hope that my Bill will be seen as a way of plugging that gap.

There are several ways in which the Bill could make a significant difference in terms of crime reduction. The first relates to the conflict and tension that can exist between fire precautions and crime reduction. I understand that ACPO and the fire service are having high-level discussions about how to overcome some of those difficulties. This is a particular problem in high-rise buildings.

We have very high standards of fire protection in this country, and I have no wish to see them lowered. Indeed, when I was an architecture student, I attended a course of lectures in which pictures of bodies piled up behind jammed fire escape doors were intended to be—and were—a stern reminder to those of us designing buildings in those days that fire protection was of supreme importance. Like the fire service, I would like to see sprinkler systems used more widely, especially to cut arson damage in schools. However, we also need to prevent and deter crime. With a better regulatory framework, we can work towards having our cake and eating it, in the sense of having buildings that are safe from fire and safe from crime.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I take a great interest in this issue, having, in my previous life as a solicitor, advised the Fire Brigades Union in relation to many disasters of this nature. The Bill refers to the security of buildings. Does the term "security" include security against fire as well as against crime? Would it not be better to have a joint regulatory system in which the regulations deal with both fire and security, to ensure that there is no lacuna of the kind that the hon. Gentleman has identified?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The difficulty at the moment is that it is not within the powers of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to make regulations relating to crime reduction, so that aspect tends to be the Cinderella—I was going to say the ugly sister—of the arrangements. I hope that, when my Bill is passed, we shall have the capacity for regulations to be made in a way that strikes a balance between those two requirements. That will deal with the current lacuna.

A further aspect of the crime reduction measures in the Bill is the installation and inspection of security systems. We all know only too well of alarms that ring and ring and ring. There are thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—of defective security and alarm systems in this country. In some ways, it is not the ones that ring that cause concern, but those that do not. Quite properly, there is an obligation on building owners and users to keep their heating systems up to scratch, but there is none in regard to security systems. My Bill provides for the possibility of introducing such an obligation.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

Will the hon. Gentleman give the House an idea of how much an alarm company typically charges a householder for the regular inspection and maintenance of an alarm system over the course of a year? I know how much I pay, and I suspect that some people would have great difficulty meeting such costs.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is a very fair point. I should perhaps have emphasised earlier that I am providing an opportunity for regulations to be made. When the time comes for specific regulations to be made, they will of course be subject to a long consultative process, of which I am thoroughly in favour. I am not trying to take a short cut round any of the processes. It is extremely likely that the regulations would primarily be concerned with retail and commercial premises, rather than domestic premises. However, that would clearly be a matter for the consultation in the light of the legislation being passed by the House.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I am confused now, because the hon. Gentleman has waxed eloquent about the emotional burden suffered by the victims of household burglary. Has not the thrust of his remarks so far been about improving the security of dwellings against crime?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is right. One of the most effective ways of protecting a house against burglary is to have locks, doors and windows that resist entry. I am not sure whether one would want to put on the public record that the efficacy of alarm systems in the domestic context is somewhat unproven, but they appear to provide more of a deterrent by their existence than by the fact that they go off. However, that is perhaps a subject for more detailed discussion later.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I hope that our discussions on the Bill will take into account the amount of police time that is wasted by their coming out to deal with defective alarms. We have a big problem trying to deal with a very small police budget, and it causes the police great distress when they have to waste time dealing with such matters and are unable to tackle crimes that are much more deserving of their attention.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We could discuss this matter at length, and I would welcome further discussion when the Bill goes into Committee.

Mr. Hodge of Greater Manchester police gave me an example of failure to take advice. It related to a development in Oldham, where the developer had produced plans showing the layout of the homes and gardens, in which the rear garden fences were 600 mm high. For those who are still using old money, 600 mm is 2 ft. The developers were putting in back garden fences 2 ft high. Not surprisingly, the police drew their attention to the fact that this would not be very secure. The interesting point here is that the developer could simply say, "No, I'm sorry, we are going to stick with what we've got. We are leaving it to chance whether those homes are secure."

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

An issue that I shall raise with the hon. Gentleman later relates to conflicts between different objectives. I am sure that he is aware that, in many cases, the advice that the police give on security and design conflicts directly with the views of the planners. For example, many people like to live in a cul de sac because they feel more secure. However, the latest thinking on sustainable design specifically rejects the idea of the cul de sac and encourages buildings to be fronted on to through roads. That is a good example of such a direct conflict. Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that problem?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I do. I would simply draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that I am amending the building regulations, which do not relate to the spatial layout of dwellings. That is a matter for planning law in general. I am not trying to escape from his question, but my Bill has a more limited perspective: it deals with buildings, what makes buildings and what is joined on to buildings. My example about fences illustrates the grey area that exists between what is decided by planning and what may or may not be covered by building regulations. I shall seek to persuade the Standing Committee that we need to look carefully to determine whether the proposals can cover fences and boundary walls.

I hope that I have convinced the House that there is a problem of crime, so far as buildings are concerned, and that left to its own devices, the building industry has not only lacked urgency in dealing with the problem but, in some cases, deliberately rejected simple, sensible steps to improve the situation. I also hope that I have convinced the House that my Bill can make a significant difference by making buildings more secure and those who live in them much safer.

The sustainability part of my Bill is, of course, a huge and complex subject, and I must begin by alerting the House to the fact that this is not the big "answer to everything" Bill; it is a modest step towards making buildings in this country cheaper to run, healthier to live in, and less damaging to the planet. It may disappoint some people by its modesty, but if so, I hope that they will urge the Government in due course to bring forward a much more substantial sustainability Bill that can catch many of the wider issues that are not covered in my proposals. In that regard, I draw the House's attention to Library research paper 04/10, which has much useful background information on the context of my Bill and on the concept of sustainability.

The facts, however, are easily stated. First, we have one of the most inefficient building stocks of any western democracy. Secondly, we emit more carbon dioxide from our homes each year than from our cars, yet the House spends much more time struggling with transport policy than with housing policy. Thirdly, we are profligate with our use of energy in buildings. We could readily save some 13 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year by applying straightforward simple technologies and techniques to our current building stock, without even considering changing the fuels that we use to produce that energy. Fourthly, we kill 20,000 or more people each winter because of poorly insulated, poorly heated and poorly built homes. Fifthly, plenty of existing and readily available technology and materials can improve performance and dramatically reduce running costs.

Certainly, tearing everything down and starting again is not an option. For one thing, the buildings that we have at the moment have what is called embodied carbon in them—energy was used to build them, and rebuilding them would take even more energy. There is an analogy with the car, in that it is claimed that more energy is used building a car than will ever be burned by driving it. Currently, we are renewing only about 1 per cent. of our building stock each year, so the process of renewal and turnover is slow. We must therefore not only have rules that deal with new buildings, but do what is sensible and proportionate with existing buildings when they change.

If we accept climate change as a reality, and if we are to honour our Kyoto obligations, tackling the gross inefficiency and wastefulness of our building stock is essential. It is not only essential but easy—certainly it is easy compared with making people get out of their cars and get into a bus. It is also cheap, because in most cases it will reduce, not increase, the bills of people who use the equipment. It is also healthy. Were we to examine the costs imposed on the national health service, individuals and the economy by bronchitis, asthma and heart disease as a result of people living in poorly insulated and improperly heated buildings, we would find substantial savings to be made.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

It would be helpful to the House if the hon. Gentleman were to explain, in simple terms, how to deal with a typical example of an energy-inefficient old dwelling occupied by an average or low-income family. Who would tell them what they had to do? Who would pay for it? How and when would it be done, and by whom? Unless we have a much clearer idea of how the wand will be waved, some of us will remain to be convinced.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point; that is a reasonable question. I shall point out again what my Bill does and what it does not do. It does not introduce a new fiscal scheme of incentives and grants. Several exist at the moment, and for those who want more information about the warm front scheme and others, the Minister may have some information. My Bill is about enabling regulations to make the transition from an old inefficient building stock to a building stock that is more fit for purpose—fit for those who live in it, and fit to meet our Kyoto obligations. I would be more than willing to debate some of the incentives needed to make that happen—but I return to my point about this not being a sustainability Bill. In other debates I have strongly criticised the Government for not having the right incentives in place to bring about the changes to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. My Bill is one weapon in changing the process; it is not the only or the complete weapon.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the argument of Mr. Forth is predicated on an acceptance of the status quo? It does not recognise that we have some serious problems with our housing stock.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the hon. Gentleman—I am inclined to call him my hon. Friend in this debate, for his support and help. He is absolutely right. I outlined a few moments ago the problems that we are facing with excess winter deaths; that is a bureaucratic-sounding phrase, but we are talking about people dying because they live in houses that are too cold, too expensive to heat and unhealthy to live in. We are talking about a huge waste of energy and a tremendously large and unnecessary contribution to our greenhouse gas emissions because our housing, commercial, retail and industrial premises are so inefficient.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I want to take the hon. Gentleman back to one of his earlier comments, about which I am now confused. He said that we needed to examine how we can update the existing stock of buildings when they change. Building regulations already apply when there is a material change to a building, but the intention of his Bill, I think, is to apply those regulations when there is a change of occupant. Will he clarify that point?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Yes, I shall deal with the detailed provisions of my Bill in a few minutes. Perhaps I should make more progress so that I do so before too long. Many of the questions being asked are entirely proper, and later, if the hon. Gentleman is not satisfied that I have dealt with his point, perhaps he will put it to me again.

The improvement and elimination of gross inefficiency of our building stock is essential. Unfortunately, however, it is currently illegal—or at least, outside the existing scope of the existing legislation—to require anyone to pay attention to it. I draw the House's attention to the Environmental Audit Committee's eighth report, published last year, recommendation 17 of which states:

"In reviewing the building regulations, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister must incorporate not only far higher standards of energy efficiency requirements, but also requirements for the use of renewables where possible, with a view to moving towards zero space heating requirement for buildings."

My Bill is designed to permit the Government to implement recommendation 17 of that unanimous all-party report, and I was particularly pleased that the Chairman of that Committee was willing to be one of its sponsors.

What of the three tests that I set out? First, no one in the House—not even Mr. Forth—has any doubt that there is a problem to be solved. We all believe that more should be done to increase awareness, prompt investment and encourage and inform the public. It is not all about legislation. Surely, however, when a Select Committee tells the Government to do something and the Government says that they cannot because the law does not allow it, it is time to change the law. That would constitute only a small step, not the whole journey, but a vital step none the less.

What, then, does my Bill propose? Most of the first six clauses make amendments to the Building Act 1984, which contains 135 sections and seven schedules. As far as I am aware, these are the first changes to be made to the primary legislation for 20 years, although many amendments have been made to the regulations arising from the Act, and there are also the approved documents, or ADs.

My Bill provides powers for more detailed regulations in two areas. It is not concerned with the intricacies of construction methods, heating technologies and so forth; it is concerned only with setting out the broad framework on which, at last, sustainability and crime reduction measures can be built.

Clause 1 makes two important changes. It provides additional fundamental purposes for the Building Act and the regulations that depend on it. One of those purposes—

"furthering the protection or enhancement of the environment"— is strongly linked to "facilitating sustainable development".

Another is

"furthering the prevention or detection of crime".

As I hope I have made clear, it is important to provide the capacity for regulations on those matters.

Clause 1(3) refers to demolition, which is more important than it looks. The reuse or recycling of materials requires the capacity to deal with what happens when a building is being demolished. The building industry has estimated that even at present, when only 1 per cent. of stock is being renewed per year, it uses 6 tonnes of material per person in the United Kingdom each year. There is clearly huge scope for more use of recycled and reused materials.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Have all the experts and interested bodies whom the hon. Gentleman quoted so proudly earlier made any estimate of the additional costs involved at either the construction stage or the demolition stage? As the hon. Gentleman will doubtless know from his own research and expertise, recycling is not a cheap option; indeed, it can be very costly. Who would pay?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

There is quite a lot of money in the recycling of building materials. At present far too much is being taken away in trucks and dropped in holes, following which a landfill levy is payable. I am sure that this will be the subject of careful consultation, and the Minister may wish to comment on that. Following recent practical moves, recycling is more economic than it was under the old system. I am thinking particularly of the recycling of road surfacing materials. Once people's minds are focused on what needs to be done, it will be clear to them that in many instances the cost will be low.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I assume that this part of the Bill deals only with new buildings. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman wants to ensure that a builder foresees the ultimate demolition of the building he is constructing, and the recycling of the materials used. Let us assume that the life span of a building is 50 or perhaps 100 years. Does he expect those who construct it to anticipate the recycling needs, demands and opportunities of 100 years hence? That is surely far beyond what can be expected.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That would obviously be desirable. After all, people who make cars have to consider how those cars will be disposed of at the end of their lives. Any regulations—at least during the first few years of their existence—would relate primarily to buildings that had been built some time earlier being taken out of use, but the hon. Gentleman makes an important point: sustainability is not just about how a building is used, but about how it is built and what happens to it at the end of its life. As I said at the outset, there is a great deal more to be said about the concept of sustainability. Much of that is in the Library note.

Clause 2 deals with the contents of building regulations. Subsection (2) inserts the words "use and re-use" in the Act, and is of a piece with the recycling issue that we have just been discussing. Subsection (4) adds to the list in the Act—comprising 22 examples, it is not an exhaustive list—of purposes for which regulations may be made. Two of the examples in the subsection relate specifically to the security of buildings, one in broad terms and the other referring to

"installation and inspection of security systems".

I hope I have already demonstrated the importance of regulation in that context.

Another example in subsection (4) is "energy efficiency of appliances". The fastest growth in energy use is taking place in appliances in commercial buildings. The last thing that will be mentioned to anyone buying a new photocopier or computer is its energy efficiency.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that building regulations should apply to the energy performance of photocopiers in offices?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I have a view on whether that would be desirable, but whether it is feasible is another question entirely. It should be borne in mind, however, that buildings contain fixed equipment, services and appliances of all kinds, which should be covered by regulations. The current building regulations cover them to a limited extent, but I think that my examples should be at the forefront of the Minister's thinking when he is devising more detailed provisions.

The fourth example—

"equipment for monitoring and measuring supplies of electricity"— relates to two-way metering. I have long been fascinated by the fact that about 1 million electricity meters are replaced each year. We are, in fact, building in obsolescence, which makes it more difficult for micro-CHP—combined heat and power—or renewables to fit in to either the domestic or the commercial sector.

Subsection (4) refers to "recycling and composting facilities". I am told—I dare say the Minister will say it again—that current building regulations may well cover that, and if so we will probably discuss it in Committee. My point is that buildings constructed for the future must be fit for purpose, which will mean incorporating recycling and composting facilities where appropriate.

I was asked earlier about the sale, letting and re-letting of buildings. Subsection (5) covers that point, and makes it possible to introduce regulations to deal with the circumstances of a change in tenancy or ownership—a sale or resale.

Energy use in the industrial sector has declined by 50 per cent. in the last 30 years, mainly because the industry has gone. Public sector energy use has declined by 9.5 per cent. over the same period and the commercial use of energy has increased by 68 per cent. It is in the commercial sector that opportunites arise, when tenancies change, to update buildings that may be 20, 30 or 40 years old to ensure that they have up-to-date heating and cooling equipment, that they are reasonably airtight and properly insulated.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for taking us through the Bill with such care, which will help hon. Members to respond to it. On this particular point, however, does he have any estimate of the impact on the rent levels of commercial buildings when one tenant vacates and, as will happen under the regulations, the landlord has to make extensive modifications? Presumably, rent levels for subsequent tenants will go up considerably. Have any of the Bill's supporters made estimates of how much people will have to pay for all this joy?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that the running costs of the buildings will be substantially reduced. My office is in a leased building and the only way of upgrading it—or getting anyone to take responsibility for upgrading—is for me to do it myself as a tenant. I have to bear the cost and leave the benefit for the landlord when I move. That means that for many tenants the option of upgrading and reducing their running costs is not feasible, because they have to write off any investment. There is an opportunity at the point of sale or change of ownership to upgrade the building, and that is the appropriate moment to do so.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I am sorry to press the point—it is slightly different from that made by Mr. Forth—but the hon. Gentleman has switched to the issue of commercial buildings, which I mentioned earlier. However, the Bill refers just to "buildings": it does not distinguish between domestic and commercial buildings. As I understand it, under the Bill as it stands, whenever there is a new shorthold tenancy—or, indeed, if a local authority puts someone in temporary accommodation—the regulations would immediately bite. That could amount to a whole series of demands on the owner of the buildings. Does the hon. Gentleman anticipate amending the Bill in Committee to make the necessary distinction, or perhaps to provide some relief for people who let buildings in those circumstances?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in Committee so that we can explore that point. My personal view is that the regulations should go for the targets that will produce the greatest dividend, so it is all about the proportionality and appropriateness of the regulations. As I have already pointed out, my Bill is enabling, not prescriptive on those matters. If some hon. Members believe that we should be enabling only for a particular sector of the building stock, I would like to hear the arguments.

Moving on to subsection (6)—

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for taking us through the various provisions. Before he moves on to subsection (6), I want to take him back to subsection (3), which states, "after 'gases,' insert 'vapours,'". Would the hon. Gentleman explain to someone who is not the brainiest of people what is the difference between "vapours" and "gases"?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that sedentary intervention. It is about widening the definition to ensure that there is no loophole with regard to steam or other substances that might be emitted by plant or equipment.

Subsection (6) is designed, I hope, to deal with the circumstances when a council decides to reroof its estate of 1960s houses—

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again but, unless I have missed it, he has not said anything about clause 3. Is he going to deal with it?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am sorry for my slow pace, but I will get there eventually. I could skip along a bit if it would help the hon. Gentleman.

Subsection (6)—of clause 2—will deal with the circumstances when a council decides to re-roof its estate of 1960s houses, but does so only according to the standards when they were built, without taking the opportunity to update to an appropriate new standard.

I hope that subsection (7) will find favour throughout the House because it catches Crown buildings and prevents them from being built or adapted to a lower standard.

That takes us to clause 3. It primarily confers the capacity to introduce regulations that require the regular testing of equipment or building elements where, over time, there would otherwise be a risk of a serious drop in the performance of that element. It might be heating or ventilating equipment or other items where an efficiency failure would have a serious effect on the sustainability—and, indeed, the comfort—of the building. I hope that that deals with the point that Mr. Hammond wanted to raise.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I am sorry, but it does not quite do so. If I understand them correctly, current building regulations provide for continuing obligations, but in practice those obligations bite almost entirely on the owners and operators of commercial buildings. The hon. Gentleman seems to be broadening the scope of continuing obligations into the domestic field—into residential dwellings. Again, I have considerable concerns about the recurring cost burden that might affect people on quite low incomes who occupy the dwellings. Will the hon. Gentleman deal with that point?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I will try, though I am not word perfect on schedule 1 of the Building Act 1984. I am almost certain—I will be corrected later if I am wrong—that the continuing requirements apply to buildings regardless of their use, so the hon. Gentleman is not strictly right. The current obligations may already be applied to the domestic sector. I am not extending them to the domestic sector, but extending the breadth of what can be incorporated into the requirements for check-ups at certain intervals. I hope that that provides some reassurance. The Bill is broadening the scope of what is required to be kept up to date by regulation, rather than extending regulation into the domestic sector.

Clause 4 brings schools and public utilities into the scope of the regulations— it may surprise many hon. Members to know that they are currently excluded. Clearly, changes in arrangements for school management and developments in the Department for Education and Skills make it more appropriate to bring schools into the normal control system. The privatisation and deregulation of public utilities reinforces the same point—that it is appropriate to bring them under the scope of the overall framework.

Clause 5 places a requirement on the Secretary of State to report on how he is getting on. We often pass legislation that places duties on the Government or confers additional powers, but we seldom tell them to report back on how it is going and what they plan to do in some objective or realistic way, shorn of spin. The clause requires them to do just that. I hope that it will not only find favour in this Bill but perhaps provide a model for future legislation in other areas. Subsections (1) to (3) require a full report to the House every two years on changes to the building stock in England and Wales resulting from the Building Act 1984 and the Government to tell us about their future proposals and targets to move things forward.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I welcome the plan to report on the recycling and reuse of materials used in construction or to carry out works. Last year, a Home Office building unfortunately used plywood from the Indonesian rain forests that was not from a sustainable source for fencing and shuttering. Will my hon. Friend consider whether we should also take into account the certified sustainability of materials?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend on that point. Section 1(1)(b) of the 1984 Act contains a list of subjects on which the Secretary of State reports. I understand why she did not pick it up, but paragraphs (b) to (e) include the sustainability points, so such a requirement already exists. The point that I made a few minutes ago about changes to the applicability of regulations to the Crown means that the Crown would not be able to claim an exemption, which is also a valuable safeguard that I hope reassures my hon. Friend.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North

The hon. Gentleman's earlier comments about my constituency were transmitted to me in the BP service station on the A40, which led me to rush in to the House. I appreciate that financial discipline is not the flavour of the day with the Liberal Democrats, but can he estimate the cost of the bi-annual report to Parliament?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We must be careful with our vowels: the report is not bi-annual; it is biennial—every two years. I have chosen that period because it is realistic to expect some developments that are worth reporting and because it is sufficiently frequent to make any Government report on their progress during the course of a Parliament. The costs have been estimated, and the clause has been drawn to minimise the cost in acquiring the data and presenting them to Parliament, although I do not completely discount the inconvenience to civil servants of having to account for what is going on—to be frank, that cost is worth paying.

Clause 5 also requires a separate report on reductions in fuel poverty in social housing as a consequence of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, which sets important targets but does not require the Government to tell us how they are getting on. Government statistics show that more than 900,000 council homes in this country are non-decent and that a further 450,000 such homes are managed by registered social landlords. The statistics show that there are 1,600 non-decent homes in Stockport and 2,800 in Corby—the Minister's home authority. The 2000 Act was designed to tackle that serious problem, and clause 5 requires the Government to report on it.

From informal talks with the Minister, I understand that the Government have a deep sense of unease about that provision, and I shall listen carefully to what he has to say.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

This is the second report that the hon. Gentleman will ask the Government to produce. While I can see little argument about the Government reporting on the standards that have been set, because they would know those anyway, that is very different from asking the Government to specify the exact number of persons removed from fuel poverty in the period covered by the report, which could be an expensive exercise. The hon. Gentleman ducked a previous question about how much the first reporting exercise would cost. How much would it cost just to produce the statistics for this report?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

In relation to the first report, I was given an informal estimate—although I cannot specifically vouch for its authority—of some £100,000 a year. Partly as a consequence, a money resolution is attached to the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is right: I do not have an estimate for the cost of the second report.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I am confused by the figure of £100,000. One of the requirements in the Bill is for the Secretary of State to report on the number of buildings in England and Wales that are not dwellings. As far as I am aware, there is no such record. The rating lists record hereditaments, not buildings. The Bill would require a count, ab initio, of all the buildings in the country. The hon. Gentleman cannot suggest that that could be done for £100,000.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is not correct about the building count. I am not trying to introduce a new Domesday survey, although if I were, it would cost more than £100,000. I am indebted to the Department for the informal estimate that I gave the House. I may have led the House astray on that point and I am willing to be corrected if necessary.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

While we have the opportunity, it is important to clarify as many points as possible with the hon. Gentleman. The Bill states:

"A report under this section must contain estimates, as at the end of the period, of . . . the number of buildings in England and Wales that are dwellings; and . . . the number of other buildings in England and Wales."

That sounds a lot like the Domesday Book. It is fair to ask how the hon. Gentleman expects the information that the Bill will require the Secretary of State to report to be produced without considerable cost. Without considerable expenditure, the information would be worthless.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Well, we have the non-domestic rate lists and many other options for collecting data, most of which are already collected and available to the Department. I have explored that point in some depth, but it can be taken further in Committee if I have overlooked some of the issues.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North

The hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way. The explanatory notes refers to the only direct costs imposed by the Bill and state:

"These costs are estimated at £50,000, including printing costs of £5,500."

The hon. Gentleman's figure of £100,000 may be optimistic, but as far as the House has been informed, the actual figure would be half that.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Typical Liberal Democrat accounting!

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Well, the usual accusation is that we underestimate spending. If I have misled the House by overestimating, I hope that hon. Members will put that in our credit account for a future occasion. There may come a time when that £50,000 could be very important, so I shall bank it now.

Clause 6 refers to the "Proper person" and may be described as "the buck stops here" provision. When a building contractor is at work on site, the company must have a proper person overseeing health and safety. Surprisingly, however, it is not necessary to have a proper person as regards the implementation of building regulations. It could of course often be the same person—for example, the contract manager—but the omission is unexpected. There is no doubt that building regulations are becoming more complex and technical, involving new technologies and so on, and there is some feeling among people whom I have consulted, both inside the building industry and outside, that the regulations are not always applied with the requisite accuracy and precision. The requirement to appoint a "proper person" means that there will be a buck-stops-here provision.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Subsection (2) of clause 6 refers to offences, which presumably have penalties, so what penalty does the hon. Gentleman envisage?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

As a solicitor, the hon. Gentleman could probably do better than me on that point. He could refer to section 57 of the Building Act 1984, which applies to such offences, although I may be able to return to the question later to tell him how the provision would relate to the standard scale. Perhaps I can come back to the hon. Gentleman on that point, if need be.

Clause 7 springs from the attempts to clarify the law following the decision of the London borough of Merton to adopt bold targets in its local plan, which traded housing density on brownfield sites for the provision of renewable energy generation. The proposal has to be approved by the Secretary of State—or perhaps more accurately, the Secretary of State must have no objection to it. After much discussion between the borough and the Secretary of State, it was agreed that the borough's proposal to include such targets fell within the scope of the existing law. However, other local planning authorities that want to follow suit are being held up—if not held to ransom—by doubts and queries from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Clause 7 simply says that it is okay to build sustainability into the planning process.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that clause 7 creates a permissive rather than a mandatory power, but we could end up with a situation in which some local authorities adopted the target while others did not. Might not that produce a distorting effect on the cost of housing? Will not the provision also fall foul of European legislation, as an impact—albeit perhaps an unjustifiable impact—on free trade?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is an odd argument; it suggests that the only possible planning policy is a universal one that applies from John o' Groats to Land's End and from Norfolk to Aberystwyth. The same planning rules would have to apply everywhere so that there was no market distortion, yet those rules, almost by definition, distort the market. After all, in a free market, there would be no green belts, so we have to recognise that the planning process, especially in dense urban areas such as Greater London, is an important safeguard against some of the excesses that might otherwise occur. I am aware that the Minister will want to say something about that, and I shall be listening carefully when he does so.

Clause 8 deals with the licensing of houses in multiple occupation. Six hundred thousand of the households living in the 1.5 million HMOs in this country suffer from fuel poverty. In 2002, the Government tabled amendments to the Home Energy Conservation Bill, which were similar to my proposals and, like them, would have made energy efficiency a condition of licensing. Sadly, the Bill fell so the Government's intentions did not pass into law. Clause 8 brings those proposals back to the House.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman should not hide his light under a bushel. In fact, clause 8 would do something much more far-reaching, as it would bind a future Parliament in legislation. It would provide that any measure passed after 1 January 2004 "shall" contain something that this Bill specifies. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman and his party would be loath to establish such a precedent.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The provision is designed for an entirely different reason. The Housing Bill, which is going through the House in parallel to my Bill, will make a difference to my Bill, depending on which one reaches the statute book first. The clause is thus a before or after provision. Furthermore, I remind the hon. Gentleman that no Parliament can bind its successor and it would be perfectly proper for a subsequent Act of Parliament to strike out the provision and start again, so I do not accept his point.

I apologise to the House for taking so much time for my speech, but before I conclude I have to confess that before the debate, I asked the Government what they thought of the Bill so far. After all, they are bigger than me. They replied that some bits were good and some were bad, and that they would want to chew it over in Committee. They said that the Bill goes too far, too fast. No doubt we shall hear about that from the Minister.

I believe that the Bill is sound and comprehensive, although I do not claim that it is perfect in every detail, as I hope I have made clear in my responses to hon. Members today. I hope that we can reach a sensible consensus in Committee without the need to spill too much blood. If the Minister has doubts and difficulties, I shall try, with the leave of the House, to respond helpfully when I wind up the debate.

The Bill is practical, powerful and profitable. It sets out practical measures to use existing materials and technology to cut waste and to improve efficiency. It is powerful because it goes with the grain of what is already happening; it is not hair-shirt stuff, it is about helping people to have better and cheaper buildings that have less impact on the planet. It is also powerful because it will bring the Government back to the House to tell us how they are getting on—a missing ingredient in so much of the legislation that the House passes.

The WWF, a key sponsor of the Bill, is running a one-planet campaign, to point out that we have only one planet to live on, but in the United Kingdom we live as if we had three planets. The Bill will help to give us a small footprint, so that we take up less of the planet—it will give us a more delicate shoe size.

The Bill provides a launching platform for action against crime and a renewed attack on fuel poverty, and for real moves towards a greener planet and meeting our Kyoto targets. I urge the House to support the Bill today, to carry it through Committee and to turn it into law.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles 10:49 am, 30th January 2004

The Bill has positive and negative aspects, as has been highlighted in the debate already, but its weaker elements can be considered in Committee and a compromise can be reached. However, may I first address the comments of Mr. Forth? I think that he invariably speaks for an aspect of human nature. He invariably says that our citizens do not want to be regulated too much and that cost is an extremely important element in people's lives. Those things are correct, but they are, after all, only some aspects of human nature.

What happens in real life is that if we all agree that sustainability, ecologically sound and secure housing and buildings, and the environment that we live in are important—I am sure that we do—we have to recognise that, initially, there may be a cost if we are to attain the benefits of those concepts. Of course the benefits will be a more sustainable planet and local environment, secure housing and communities and, to be frank, a better visual environment, which is extremely important. So life is about a trade-off. The right hon. Gentleman certainly highlights some aspects, but I have other considerations and believe that, between us, we reflect in total the considerations of citizens in general.

I return to some of the aspects of the Bill, which I welcome and hope to see the House develop and bring to a conclusion. Clause 1 would introduce additional

"purposes for which building regulations may be made"— in particular,

"furthering the protection or enhancement of the environment . . . facilitating sustainable development, or . . . furthering the prevention and detection of crime".

Of course, it adds demolition matters about which building regulations can be made. Those issues are important to my constituents in Eccles and, indeed, those in our city of Salford.

Anyone who has heard the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety, my hon. Friend Ms Blears, my hon. Friend Mr. Lewis or me make a contribution about our city in the House in recent years knows that the situation in relation to housing is not satisfactory. That is why I take issue with the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst in some of his contributions. The assumption that because something has a cost and takes energy, time and commitment does not mean that it should not be done. To argue for the status quo is to fail to recognise that some of our constituents live in circumstances that we would not choose to live in ourselves. Therefore, it is reasonable for the House to look at the current situation to see whether it can be improved.

Another issue—I may as well take it head-on—where my hon. Friends and I have a difference with the official Opposition involves regulation in general. Again, it could be argued that we come to almost the same conclusion, but for different reasons. My view of the official Opposition's approach to regulation is that they are actually anti-regulation.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

That is confirmed by the right hon. Gentleman.

I personally advocate minimal regulation. The Labour party and I want to see minimal but appropriate regulation. When we look at existing regulations, it is fair for the Opposition to argue that we should be much more severe in our review of regulations. I accept that, but regulations can be positive. That stands absolutely openly in the case of health and safety regulations, and I do not hear any hon. Member say other than that.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am always obliged to rise to a challenge like that, particularly after the hon. Gentleman's kind remarks about me, for which I am very grateful. Just to say that anything labelled health and safety must therefore be uncritically accepted will not wash. One of the big problems now is that our European partners are imposing more and more restrictive and uncompetitive regulations on us under the label of health and safety, so I do not accept his proposition—if this is what he is saying—that something cannot be disputed simply because it says health and safety.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

The right hon. Gentleman, as usual, is good value for money, but he has not, of course, represented my comments in full—or as my Prime Minister would say, "in totality". The right hon. Gentleman will remember that I said that there is appropriate and inappropriate regulation, while I was commenting on the spirit of health and safety regulation only a few moments ago. There are areas that need looking at not only to reduce regulation, but to improve and strengthen appropriate regulation. The health and safety issue was raised only as an example of an area where we can all agree on the need for regulation. When we approach issues such as sustainable and safe housing and building and the built environment, we should stand back and ask the rhetorical question: would I like to live in these circumstances myself? Like the right hon. Gentleman, I sometimes stand back and say, "Would I want me and my family be involved in this?"

Clause 2 would amend the list of matters contained in paragraph 7 of schedule 1 to the Building Act 1984 that may be dealt with by the building regulations to include reference to the reuse of building materials, measures affecting the emission of vapours from buildings and the security of buildings. Those of us who live in communities where housing is old, or perhaps not so much old as badly designed—something referred to by Mr. Stunell—know that it is proper for us to say that there should be certain minimum standards. My view is that we have some serious mistakes in buildings, particularly homes, to own up to since 1945. Why should people who are forced to live in defective accommodation—whether private or public—not have the right to be able to ensure maximum security, for example?

My colleagues in the Opposition will ask, "Ah, who pays?" but in this life we have to pay for what we want. When hon. Members choose to buy a car, for example, they know what a newer, safer, perhaps more efficient car costs. Assuming that we have the means, we choose the better, safer car. However, some of our constituents do not have those means, and hon. Members sometimes have to take that into consideration and take steps that we hope will help those people to have more secure and safe homes.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Again, would the hon. Gentleman like to consider a possible alternative way to look at that—priorities? I am always very interested in the individual circumstances of the kind of people about whom he is now talking. They do not necessarily buy a better car if they have more money; they might instead want to make their home more secure. They might want to cut down on their intake of cigarettes and alcohol. They might want to go to the betting shop less often. They have a wide range of possibilities, and I am not ready to accept uncritically the proposition that anyone who lives in a home that is insecure must be forced by regulation to improve its security, or must be subsidised to do so by the taxpayer, until I know a lot more about that person's own choices and priorities. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that as a reasonable proposition?

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

The right hon. Gentleman highlights a facet of human nature, but of course human beings are multifaceted. For ordinary people, priorities are usually a question of money. When one has money, one can prioritise. When one has little money, one finds it difficult to prioritise, so I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's assumption that a person may choose safety and security or a new car. Most of my constituents are interested, first and foremost, in making sure that they and their families are secure and that they have access to the normal things in life. Security and the quality of housing have the highest priority for almost every one of my constituents.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North

I am grateful to my multifaceted hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene. Is it not possible that we have the best of both worlds? My hon. Friend is well known as a keen student of the British crime survey. In 2000 the survey identified a cost of only £440 to make a home secure by design standards. The figure rises to £660 when security is upgraded during refurbishment. At the same time, the average cost of a burglary is £1,670, so the measure could be extremely cost-effective.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

My hon. Friend is correct, but all too often our constituents consider those facts only after they have had a burglary. Surely we should encourage our constituents to take these matters into account at an earlier stage and be aware of the cost-effectiveness of this approach. It is proper for the House to consider, whenever possible, writing minimum standards into reasonable and appropriate regulations so that our constituents do not have to face those circumstances in future.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I am still not clear where the hon. Gentleman thinks the ultimate burden of the costs will lie. Does he accept that it will lie with individuals, and thus their freedom and choice will be removed by having to use their limited resources to comply with the regulations, or is he suggesting, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth implied, that the burden will fall on the taxpayer, and that the costs to individual householders will ultimately have to be met by the Exchequer?

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Those are legitimate questions to pose. At this point in my thinking about the issues, I would not say yes to either of those propositions.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

We may end up with a dual approach: whatever is most appropriate in the circumstances. That may not be acceptable to Opposition Members, but sometimes we have to say that when people face a choice between costs or a lack of security, we should encourage them to go for security. One of the aims of the Bill is to remove that dilemma. The dilemma is more pertinent to people who have existing accommodation with security defects. The thrust of the Bill is that appropriate security standards should be written in at design stage for future developments.

Our problem is that serious mistakes have been made in building since 1945. I should like to see sustainability and security written in at the design stage. I have difficulty with the current practice in local authorities whereby planners produce a design for some new building or complex and it is then sent out for consultation. I would encourage local authorities to consult the police, transport, and further education authorities and the wider community before a design is put on paper. We make a bad mistake by not adopting that approach. The Bill goes some way towards encouraging such an approach.

I do not intend to discuss energy matters today, but some commercial developments in the field of sustainable energy deserve our close attention. Some of the new developments are at a micro level that can be used for recycling even human waste at household level. I support the Government in their pursuit of positive, renewable energy solutions. We need to encourage a wider and continuing debate in the country on these matters.

We use the term "partnership" a great deal. It is sometimes considered a hackneyed phrase, but from consultation with my local police force and other agencies, I am convinced that there is a general willingness among them to act in partnership. Sometimes this can be quite shallow. We need to find mechanisms to ensure that a real partnership approach to these issues is generated, including the pooling of resources. The Government have moved a long way since 1997 to encourage institutions and organisations to work together. We must go further and examine the potential for pooling the budgets of those organisations so that we can focus more closely on specific problems.

The Bill would widen the circumstances in which building regulations apply to buildings erected before the regulations came into force. That is important. Some of us who have been lucky enough to buy our own houses had to buy older houses when we first got on to the property ladder. We invariably find that older houses do not meet modern standards because they were built before current regulations. We need to consider how to assist people and encourage local authorities, construction companies and the other organisations involved to ensure that minimum standards are implemented and that they are affordable. It is no use Opposition Members raising the issue of cost. We accept that that is an issue.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, notwithstanding the fact that he tried to pre-empt what I am about to say. When we strayed into this territory during the speech of Mr. Stunell, he retreated into saying that the measure was permissive and that he anticipated that if regulations were made with retrospective effect, they would be more likely to apply to commercial buildings than to dwellings. Ian Stewart, by contrast, has tackled the issue head-on and clearly seen the need to apply the measures to dwellings. How does he envisage the situation of the person who, through force of circumstances, bought that older and defective property and wants to sell it in order to move on? Under the terms of the Bill, that sale would be a trigger point requiring the building to be upgraded. Is that not a real problem?

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

That is not, in my view, a real problem. It is an issue, but the situation is dependent on how one chooses to address it. If I chose to do work on my house—whether for sale or improvement—I would like these new sensible and appropriate regulations to apply. We need to think things through, but that is the purpose of the parliamentary process. There are aspects of the Bill with which I disagree, so I hope that they will be addressed by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove in Committee and beyond.

Other aspects of the Bill address the demolition of buildings, the use of materials incorporating recycled materials and the reuse of such materials. There is a big problem in my constituency because some private owners of buildings are not prepared to rent or sell their buildings because they think that it is in their best interest to wait until land prices improve—that might be due to the speculative nature of their business. I do not have a problem with a business person making such choices, but I do have a problem if those buildings are a blight on local communities. I would strengthen local authorities' powers so that they could right that situation. The owner of a property has a responsibility to ensure that it is safe and not a blight on its local community, so it is extremely important that we consider that matter.

The Bill would require a person carrying out work on erecting a building to conserve fuel and power and reduce emissions. Such measures may relate to the work carried out or, more generally, the building or its services. Some of those things are common sense. Although I accept that Opposition Members may ask legitimate questions about the Bill, I am with the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, on balance, in wanting to ensure that such points are addressed because the current circumstances are often not acceptable.

The Bill is mainly positive. It would be an extremely good move for an identified responsible person to be responsible for ensuring that appropriate regulations are followed. I have personal experience of finding difficulty pinning down the appropriate person when trying to improve my home. If something goes wrong with any of my constituents' developments, it is important that they know exactly who is responsible for that, so the certificate system is a good measure. I say that because we must have minimum standards. We could be more positive and say that we must have quality measures—if most people were making a speech of this nature, they would major on the positive terminology of quality measures—but for my constituents and many people throughout the country, we really are talking about minimum standards: standards below which none of our citizens should be expected to live. I welcome the provision to identify such an appropriate person.

I shall highlight several problems that we should tackle. Too many people do not have access to decent and affordable housing in decent surroundings—that was the thrust of the contribution made by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, and I hope that it is the thrust of mine. There are still homes in poor condition throughout this country that are occupied by vulnerable people. There is a shortage of housing in parts of the country. Homes are unaffordable for people on moderate incomes, including many workers in our key public services.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am interested that the hon. Gentleman has introduced the concept of affordability into his argument because the entire direction of our debate so far has shown that everything in the Bill would put costs up. There would be costs for householders, builders, authorities and the Government—although claims were made that there could be counter-savings, that might or might not be the case. Is he convinced that his constituents would have more affordable housing as a result of such a Bill?

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

The right hon. Gentleman again uses a general argument to address a specific issue. I have some sympathy with his argument for the reasons that I pointed out earlier. However, if we are talking generally, it is legitimate to consider problems with future housing. I mentioned key public service workers. They earn a wage, but some cannot access affordable housing of a reasonable standard. We must address that matter, so it is no use for him to use his specific argument to try to diminish a more general point.

If hon. Members are right to address the concerns of our constituents, I must say that some of my constituents in low-income jobs in the public services want reasonable and affordable housing. Then why should my constituents not have expectations of a reasonable house that is safe and secure? Is there something wrong with such aspirations? No. If Parliament addresses such issues and identifies the sensible and reasonable standards that could be expected—that is part of our job—the debate is legitimate. If any hon. Member wishes to disagree with that, I am prepared to take an intervention. No intervention!

The building of new housing has been in decline for decades. Private house building, in particular, has not responded to increased demand for home ownership. Successive Governments have failed to tackle the problem, so the gap between the need for new housing and the provision of such housing is widening. We must address such problems. The Bill would do that, albeit in a small way, and it will generate a necessary debate through the parliamentary process.

We have been too wasteful of precious greenfield land for many years. New developments often take up much more land than they need and the full potential of previously developed land has not been exploited. My constituency, which is in the heart of Salford city, is an old area that is in industrial decline. That has been the case for many years, and our housing is among the worst in the country, in some respects. Cheek by jowl with that, Salford is a vibrant city with many positive new developments that are famous throughout the world. We have to take what we have inherited, accept our responsibility for it, and work to improve it. One of the ways to do that is to use brownfield sites and reclaimed former industrial sites before using any more greenfield areas.

The Bill would extend better regulation in respect of sustainability and would help to ensure the wider use of sustainable and recycled materials. Although I accept aspects of some of the arguments advanced by Opposition Members about the costs of recycling, I have to say that where my local authority, Salford city council, has implemented recycling systems and made provision to enable citizens to be involved in them, those citizens have been only too pleased to take the time and make the effort to ensure that the systems are used. The council has implemented a green bin scheme and our citizens are calling for more all the time—the council cannot get them quickly enough to households that want them. It is an excellent initiative, and Salford city council should be congratulated on it.

The Bill would extend building regulations to cover security measures. I understand that there may be other, competing factors—fire safety and so on. Since becoming an MP in 1997, I have been a consistent and strong supporter of building sprinkler systems into new building design. We eliminate a problem by addressing it at the design stage. Some of my constituents' greatest concerns centre on security. Who wants to live in an area of high crime? I do not, I do not want my family to, and I do not believe that there is a single Member of Parliament who would want to—but some of our constituents do, so we have to take action. We must not do it to them; we must do it with them—we must work together on such issues. The balance between the costs of the measures and the benefits that our constituents will gain when the Bill has been knocked into shape during its parliamentary stages and successfully passed, as I hope it will be, will show our constituents that we have gone some way to meeting their concerns.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 11:23 am, 30th January 2004

I warmly congratulate Mr. Stunell on his good fortune in securing an excellent position in the private Members' ballot and on the balanced way in which he introduced his Bill. The measured tone he adopted reassured me on a couple of points that had alarmed me on first reading the Bill.

I draw the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Member's Interests, which records a shareholding in a company that has interests in the construction sector. I should also apologise to the House and to you, Mr. Speaker, as I have already apologised to the Minister and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, for being unable to remain until the debate concludes, owing to a long-standing constituency commitment.

The Bill is thought provoking, and as I went into it, I became more interested in the issues it raises. Regrettably, one cannot say that of all the Bills that one is required to study. I genuinely sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's intention to make buildings more energy and water efficient, and to make homes and commercial properties more crime resistant. No one can argue with those objectives—of course we must try to achieve them. We must reduce the carbon output from homes if we are even to approach the 60 per cent. target that the Government aim to achieve by 2050. On crime, there is a clear analogy with motor vehicles: improving their impregnability by designing better security features has dramatically reduced the incidence of car crime. I therefore do not doubt the hon. Gentleman's good intentions, nor do I doubt that some parts of the Bill would work. However, I agree with the Minister's reported view—reported by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove—that some parts of the Bill simply go too far and fail to strike the correct balance between making steady progress towards worthy objectives and the cost and other burdens that the measures would impose, as well as the impact that they would have on other objectives. One of the central themes of my remarks will be the way in which some of the worthy intentions conflict with other social and environmental policy objectives.

I also have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the Bill displays a somewhat narrow focus. The first part deals almost exclusively with building legislation and the use of building regulations to achieve its objectives, but some of those objectives might be better addressed by other means—perhaps in other legislation. Two measures currently before the House—the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill and the Housing Bill—would be better vehicles for realising parts of the hon. Gentleman's agenda than separate legislation. In addition, many of the objectives that he wants to achieve would be better, more effectively and less painfully achieved through mechanisms other than legislation or regulation—through fiscal incentives or the targeting of grant regimes, for example.

Rather than requiring them to do so, the most effective way to persuade householders to install and maintain security measures in dwellings would be insurers making such action more attractive by offering appropriate discounts and rebates. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, and I urge the Minister to consider—although I confidently predict that he will require little urging in this respect—that the Government, before they take the regulatory route, should try to use their substantial clout with the construction and insurance industries and others to achieve these desirable objectives. There would then be no need to create elaborate and bureaucratic legislative and regulatory mechanisms.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

I am perplexed to find myself acknowledging so many of the arguments advanced by Opposition Members this morning. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that the Government have been keen to encourage voluntary approaches to such issues. However, if the Government have made every effort to get the institutions, organisations and stakeholders in an industry to adopt a voluntary approach, does there not at some point have to be reasonable regulation?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

It is conceivable that in some circumstances regulation will be necessary, but the hon. Gentleman speaks as if the Government have already pursued to the ultimate limits through voluntary agreements all the areas that the Bill addresses. I do not want to put words into the Minister's mouth, but I suspect that he will take the Opposition's view that these worthy objectives can be pursued a great deal further without the need for regulation.

I return to the point that I was about to make, because critically—

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

Just let me make this point.

Critically, many hon. Members who have contributed this morning have already lighted on the principle concern about the Bill: that there is no regulatory impact assessment of any kind alongside it. I understand why, of course: it is well beyond the scope of the resources of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, probably even of the resources of the WWF, to prepare one. But whereas the Government can use their considerable powers of exhortation to try to persuade people to do things that will move us in the direction of the sustainability agenda, before they even consider using regulation to do that, they will have to have careful regard to the balance of costs and benefits, and that can be done properly only once a regulatory impact assessment is available to the House.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

I accept the hon. Gentleman's comments, and that was the thrust of the intervention that I sought to make. Does he accept, however, that there is a wide difference of opinion on the matter? It is highlighted by the fact that, when I intervened to ask whether a sensible approach could be taken and to say that the Government may in some circumstances have to implement reasonable and appropriate regulation, which I think the hon. Gentleman accepted, Mr. Forth said from a sedentary position that there are no such circumstances. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, yes, sometimes, as long as the Government meet the requirements set out, it may be that we have to regulate?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

My right hon. Friend Mr. Forth, as he always has and as he always will, speaks for himself and has his own views on all of these subjects. He will correct me if I am guessing wrongly, but I suspect that he may sometimes be tempted to state his case in the most extreme terms precisely because of the barrage, the torrent, of regulation that we have been faced with over the past few years from the Government—4,000 regulations a year.

Of course, I and my party accept what the hon. Gentleman says: there will be occasions when it is right to regulate. Some regulations are beneficial and necessary. No legislator, spending their day working in a community that is built on legislation and regulation, could feel that there was never an occasion when it was right to regulate. It is a matter of balance and of taking a rounded view of all the issues.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

The hon. Gentleman talks about a barrage of regulations, but forgets that the number of statutory instruments has not really changed since the time of the Conservative Government. If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about regulation, can he explain why very few Conservative Members turn up in the Regulatory Reform Committee?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I can neither explain that, nor can I explain why so few Labour Members have turned up to such an important debate as this, if its consequences are as far-reaching as hon. Members have suggested.

The Bill would impose substantial costs on home owners and home buyers, at a time when one of the Government's key agenda issues is, rightly, affordability of housing. Ian Stewart eloquently made the case that everybody has a right to expect that we are critically concerned in this place with ensuring that affordable, decent housing is available for our constituents. If the Bill as presented to the House this morning is enacted in its entirety, it would move that goal of affordability still further away in the interests of achieving something called "sustainability", which is exactly the point that I want to impress upon the House this morning. If a legislative measure focuses narrowly on achieving a positive outcome, and declines to look at the unintended negative consequences of pursuing that agenda, on all sorts of worthy social and environmental agendas, we will find that we have a Bill that does not makes sense.

Given that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove is the author of a pamphlet entitled "Local Democracy Guaranteed", I was disappointed to hear nothing from him about the Bill's approach of using the building regulations, a highly centralised, one-size-fits-all approach to regulation, with very little local discretion in them. When challenged by the hon. Member for Eccles, the hon. Gentleman conceded that he understood the value of local discretion and local authorities' ability to deal with the specific issues and concerns in their communities. If sustainability is to be a workable agenda, it surely must be a local agenda. It is almost a contradiction in terms to conceive of sustainability being something that is imposed by a remote national Government on local communities. I should have liked to have seen more of an acknowledgement in the Bill of the role that local communities and local authorities could play in considering how to tailor the appropriate parts of that agenda to the needs and different imperatives and priorities of their areas.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I hesitate to take more of the House's time, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I do not know whether he has studied how building regulations now apply, but they are not one size fits all; they set some overall standards and it is left to the discretion of building designers how those standards are met. That useful change was introduced about 20 years ago, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not had an opportunity to catch up with it.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The building regulations define the end result and leave it to the building designer to choose the method, but they are a national set of standards and they appear to me to leave relatively little discretion for tailoring things to local needs.

The Bill's objective is, I think, acknowledged. We want to see more sustainable buildings over time. But that is just one policy objective among many and there are many different ways in which to approach that. The hon. Gentleman has chosen the regulatory approach—a man with a clipboard ticking boxes. Although that does not invalidate the objectives that he is pursuing, it is a flawed delivery mechanism, and it will make resistance to the Bill all the stronger. In the case of some parts of the Bill, it undermines the credibility of the proposals altogether, as I shall seek to illustrate.

I could not help but feel that the Bill does not quite live up to its billing. The hon. Gentleman might want to disown some of the remarks that the e-politics website attributes to his office. It says that the hon. Gentleman's office claims that the legislation will

"make it easier to generate your own electricity even in the centre of towns."

I am not clear how that is covered by the Bill. It also says:

"It will help make all buildings more crime resistant and allow the police to insist on crime prevention measures that will make homes safer."

I have not noticed a provision in the Bill dealing with the powers of the police to impose the measure on home owners. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will clarify that.

The hon. Gentleman's office is also reported as saying that the Bill will cut greenhouse gas emissions from homes, offices and other buildings, saving energy and slashing heating bills. Of course, that is right. As we improve standards of insulation in homes, heating bills will undoubtedly be cut. In isolation, that must be a good thing, but what about the cost of achieving that?

Much is made in the hon. Gentleman's promotional material and in the WWF's 1 million sustainable homes initiative, which he mentioned again this morning, of the gap between the "quality" of homes in the United Kingdom on one hand and in Scandinavia and northern Europe on the other. The WWF uses on its website the examples of Denmark and Germany. "Quality" probably refers to efficiency in the use of energy and in insulation standards. If so, what the hon. Gentleman and the WWF say is undoubtedly correct. The hermetic seal of the average new home in the UK is considerably less effective than that of one built in Germany or Denmark. However, has the hon. Gentleman ever looked at the cost of achieving parity?

The Danish Agency for Trade and Industry has produced a report—helpfully in English; wonderful people, the Danes—which the hon. Gentleman might want to look at. It compares Danish construction costs with those of various other European Union countries. The House will forgive me if I quote the figures in Danish krone per square metre rather than pounds per square foot, which might be more familiar to many of us.

The cost in 1999—the last year for which data are available—of constructing a typical single family house in Denmark was 8,600 krone per square metre. The cost of a similar single family house in the UK in the same year was £4,183 krone. That represents a Danish construction cost for domestic dwellings that is 106 per cent. higher than the comparable UK figure.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

The hon. Gentleman is quoting figures for new construction, but it is cheaper to install energy-efficiency measures in new homes than it is retrospectively to fit them in existing homes. Therefore, the extra investment costs are surely less than those down the line, which would run to hundreds more krone.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but he has not addressed the critical point. At a time when the Government are facing a housing crisis and addressing—the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is certainly doing so—much of their energy to trying to deal with the housing affordability problem across a large part of the country, are we seriously contemplating doubling the construction costs of new dwellings? I suggest that, although that might move us forward on one agenda, it will move us sharply backwards on the Government's priority agenda of achieving affordability.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I want to be sure that we are comparing like with like. I know, for example, that tax rates in Denmark are exorbitant. I think that I am right in saying that normal income tax is of the order of 65 per cent., which puts our own rates into context. I think that I am also right that various purchase taxes—whether VAT or otherwise—are extremely high compared with ours. Are the hon. Gentleman's figures adjusted to the differential tax rates?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I was quoting costs in crude Danish krone per square metre. However, I also have purchasing-power parity figures that show a less, but none the less dramatic, difference. Danish costs per square metre are 69 per cent. higher than those in the UK for the same year on a purchasing-power parity basis. If the hon. Gentleman cares to look at the document—I will happily pass it across the Chamber later—he will see that it is a fairly rigorous piece of work that was done on a proper basis. The figures certainly raise some alarm in my mind.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

The Milton Keynes development corporation has built higher energy standards into new homes over the past 30 years. One advantage has been that maintenance costs for those homes over that period have been lower than those for traditional homes in Milton Keynes and in other parts of the country. Is the hon. Gentleman ignoring that cost as well?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I do not doubt that what the hon. Gentleman says is true and that there will be a payback for that higher investment in lower energy costs, and, perhaps, lower maintenance costs. If we had all day, which we do not, that could lead us into a lengthy debate about whether energy pricing in the UK is properly reflective of the environmental costs of energy consumption. I suspect that that is not somewhere that many of us would want to go, first because the debate would be a very long one, and secondly, because as democratically elected Members, we would rapidly find that whatever the arguments, our constituents on the whole prefer reasonably cheap energy. Personally, I would be broadly sympathetic to shifting gradually over time to a system that places greater emphasis on taxing consumption rather than incomes, and in a way that reflects the environmental cost of that consumption.

I envisage Labour Members being able to construct the argument that under a certain energy pricing regime, the additional substantial construction costs that the measures would impose will make simple economic sense, because over time, the energy savings will be great in money terms. However, I was struck this week, as I am sure were other hon. Members, by the proposals of the Mayor of London for solar panels on the roofs of dwellings. Experts estimate that Mayor Livingstone has installed in his own home some £15,000 to £20,000-worth of solar panels and solar heating equipment, from which he expects to generate energy cost savings of £100 a year. That is an extremely noble gesture by a gentleman who cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered poor, but given the return in cost savings as against capital outlay, it is well beyond the means of the vast majority of people in this country.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

I did not intervene when the hon. Gentleman failed to understand how two-way metering, to which clause 2(4) refers, would work, but it would allow people to recover much more value from installing things such as solar panels. At the moment, solar panels generate most electricity when the house uses the least. That is why the saving is not very great. However, if they were allowed to export to the grid, which is physically but not legally possible at the moment, solar panels would become much more viable.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I suspect the hon. Gentleman of dodgy calculation. If he looks at the wholesale electricity price curve for any typical week day, he will see that the spikes of peak demand occur precisely when domestic demand peaks in the morning and early evening—not when households would be looking to export electricity to the grid. The times when solar panels on domestic homes might export electricity—in the middle of the afternoon—are not periods of peak demand.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I will give way one more time to the hon. Gentleman, and then I must make some progress.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

The hon. Gentleman says that solar energy is the renewable energy source with the longest payback time. Has he considered the whole range of energy efficiency measures that have a much shorter payback time, are far more economical, and can contribute up to about 50 per cent. of what is required for the Government's energy-saving targets over the next 20 years?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

That is the point that I am emphasising. Where there is a clear economic payback there is no need for regulation—people simply need to understand how the payback works, although they may need help with financing the capital cost until they have accrued the savings from it. Regulation is needed only where the individual or corporation that owns the building will not, out of economic self-interest, make the investment without compulsion.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

The hon. Gentleman talks about individuals making such decisions, but they are often made by building companies, which, when they build houses, choose the mass market option instead of taking those issues on board. That is where building regulation has its biggest impact, because it creates a level playing field for all builders.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I accept that to a certain extent. Over time, there has been a steady progression in the standards required by the building regulations. Every few years—once the appropriate consultation has taken place and the Building Research Establishment has done the necessary technical work—the building regulations are upgraded and updated so that the standard of new homes gradually improves. I have no doubt that that will continue to happen, and I have no problem with it.

The Bill also seeks to promote on-site domestic renewable energy production. Again, I am extremely sceptical about whether that makes sense in terms of the costs and benefits. So far, we have talked in terms of money. With energy pricing, I accept that the money saved may not reflect the effect on the environmental burden, but overall, in a very broad market context, the costs of doing something will reflect the consumption of resources in doing it. I am not sure that the additional building costs involved in achieving standards of the kind envisaged by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, or the investment costs involved in developing local renewable energy generation, would be justified either financially or environmentally. Wind turbines have to be built, too, and they consume both resources taken from the earth and large amounts of energy in their construction. We need to see a rather more sophisticated equation than is offered by the Bill; we need a proper impact assessment that balances the costs and benefits.

I want to consider the Bill in a little more detail and deal with some of the issues that require more clarification. I recognise that should the House decide that the Bill should go forward to a Committee, there will be ample opportunity to probe those issues, to remove the parts that make it impractical and unworkable, and to salvage those that make a valuable contribution to moving the agenda forward.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Does my hon. Friend think that it is wise to spend a great deal of parliamentary Committee time trying to put right a Bill in which a huge number of flaws have already been identified, although the debate has hardly started, because many Members who are desperate to speak have not yet done so? The House should seriously consider not giving it a Second Reading so as not to waste Committee time.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I have some sympathy with my right hon. Friend's approach, but I assure him that so long as the Government are not imposing timetables, as of course they do not on private Members' Bills, I am prepared to contribute an almost unlimited amount of my time to considering the matter in Committee. Historically, private Member's Bills are often subject to very substantial amendment in Committee, which does not usually happen in the case of Government-sponsored legislation. It is not inconceivable that a Bill such as this, which has many positive aspects, could be stripped in Committee of the elements that make it unacceptable, and provide a valuable contribution to the debate.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I detect that I have not entirely convinced my right hon. Friend, but it is ultimately for the House to decide whether we shall consider those matters in more detail.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

I have been prepared to acknowledge some agreement between Conservative Members and me about the Bill, but we have now reached a point of departure. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that although he is taking a reasoned approach to the measure and hopes that it can be amended in Committee so that it can be agreed, Mr. Forth, from a sedentary position, has suggested a very different approach?

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

The right hon. Gentleman says that I am correct. Does Mr. Hammond accept that when he said that the actions of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst did not constitute outright opposition to reasoned regulation, he was wrong?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

As far as I recall, I said nothing about my right hon. Friend's position. He is more than capable of advising the House of it in due course. We are considering private Member's business and there is no reason for anyone to assume that views will divide on party political lines. Indeed, that is one of the great joys of being here on a Friday morning—perhaps it is the only one. We often have a better debate on Friday mornings than on other days of the week, for that reason. My right hon. Friend now has the privilege of speaking his mind from the Back Benches without the constraint of considerations of collective responsibility; hon. Members will greatly benefit from hearing his unconstrained views. I apologise to my right hon. Friend because I appreciate that I have been speaking for a long time, as have other hon. Members. I know that my right hon. Friend is desperate to participate. I assure him that there will be time for his contribution.

I have no problem with clause 1. It may need a little tidying up, but we have a regime of building regulations, and although it is relatively bureaucratic, the industry and local authorities have learned to work with it and make it work reasonably well and effectively. The regulations are constantly updated to achieve the objectives that we are trying to advance; the agenda is evolving. It is right to consider new ideas such as making homes more secure, and introduce measures to cover them into the Building Act 1984.

I was especially taken with the example that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove gave of double-glazing units whose seal can be removed from the outside. I experienced something similar, so I understand that that is a genuine problem. It is exactly the sort of matter that a building regulation could sensibly tackle by specifying a standard. If the Bill had contained only clause 1, I suspect that it would have been passed without contention.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove said that the Bill was permissive, and I have no doubt that before any specific regulations were made under it, Ministers would consult widely and conduct a regulatory impact assessment, as they are required to do, and that we would move forward in the evolutionary and measured way that we have always followed for building regulations, without a huge leap leading to all sorts of dislocation.

I am not entirely sure that building regulations are the best or the only vehicle to deal with demolition, but the principle behind the hon. Gentleman's inclusion of the issue in the Bill is sound. I also suggest that there needs to be a joined-up approach. The landfill tax has made a huge difference to the way in which the construction industry approaches demolition. Removing material from a building site and depositing it in landfill is now hugely expensive, and designers of buildings will go to great lengths to ensure that they can recycle as much material as possible on site. That is a tick in the box; we have achieved something already.

Other agendas conflict with this, however. For example, local authority highways departments have standards of their own about the materials allowed to be used as the base material for adoptable roadways. It often happens that where there is a perfect brownfield site with a building to be demolished—and, we hope, recycled—the material cannot be reused because of the regulations for the construction of roadways. There is, therefore, a need to look across the spectrum and to find a joined-up approach. There is also a need to recognise that, just as we might have to absorb some costs in accepting this more sustainable approach, we might also have to compromise in some other areas to achieve the optimum sustainable solution. Bearing in mind those caveats, I believe that clause 1 is well worthy of the House's careful consideration.

Clause 2 is a mixed bag. Subsection (4) introduces security measures into schedule 1 to the Building Act 1984. I have already said that that is okay in relation to installation if we are talking about the windows problem, but it presents a wholly different problem if we are proposing a regime of regular inspection of security systems, because of the recurring cost that that would impose on householders, some of whom might be of quite modest means. I have not refreshed my memory on this matter today, but I seem to remember that my own alarm system, which is inspected four times a year and connected through BT Redcare to a switchboard, costs about £900 a year to maintain. I suggest that such a cost would be well beyond the means of many, if not most, householders. We must be absolutely clear about proportionality here, and I shall return to this issue in due course.

Clause 2(4) also refers to

"monitoring and measuring supplies of electricity".

I thought that I already had such equipment in the form of my electricity meter, but I understand the point made by Matthew Green in his helpful intervention. Subsection (4) also refers to "recycling and composting facilities". Earlier in the debate, it was suggested that regulations about those already exist. I do not know the answer to that, but I would like to tell the House of a specific problem that I have come across, which again emphasises the need for a joined-up agenda.

We would all advocate the maximisation of home composting; it is the most efficient way of dealing with garden and vegetable refuse. If it can be promoted by the very simple and cheap provision of a composting facility at the time of construction, that would certainly be worth looking at. I have discovered, however, that local authorities that have to meet Government targets for recycling waste get credit for composting only if they collect the material—in a vehicle—and take it to be composted at a central composting site. If they give out home composters to individual householders, as my Conservative-controlled borough council in Runnymede has done—that is much the most environmentally friendly way of doing it—they get no credit in the Government's scheme of things. I have written to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about this issue, and both have acknowledged that it needs to be addressed. It is another example of how simply tackling the hard-wiring by saying, "Let's require people to provide the hardware," is not necessarily going to produce the beneficial results that we seek, unless the whole regime around it is constructed in a way designed to deliver.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

In that context, does my hon. Friend also think that a general review of the concept of recycling is now long overdue? For too long, we have had an uncritical acceptance that it is somehow good. If we look at the totality of it, however—the energy cost, the cost of handling several times over, to say nothing of the processing involved to make sense of it—we may have reached the stage at which recycling, or certainly some of it, is counter-productive, not only in cost terms but even in environmental terms.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. In a previous incarnation, I debated with Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive and the end-of-life vehicles directive. Clearly, even now, we are collecting and recycling some forms of plastic bottles, for example, when the energy cost of that recycling exceeds the benefit. Even in purely environmental terms, perhaps ignoring the sometimes bogus signals that market pricing sends, not all recycling makes sense. My right hon. Friend will know, however, that whether or not it makes sense, we will be mandated to do a great deal more of it, not as a result of anything that this Government may decide but as a result of directives determined by unelected officials in Brussels.

I part company entirely with the hon. Gentleman on the provision in clause 2 in relation to the energy efficiency of appliances, which is far too wide. It refers not to the energy efficiency of plant and equipment installed in the building—lifts, boilers and so on—but to appliances, which could include washing machines, photocopiers and refrigerators. All of those are perfectly legitimate issues of concern—it is perfectly legitimate for us to consider ways of ensuring that appliances that are sold are energy-efficient. Clearly, however, building regulations are not the means through which we should address that issue—it must be addressed at the point of sale of those appliances.

Critically, clause 2 moves into stickier territory by moving the trigger for the application of building regulations from the existing criteria of material change of use or material alteration to the building to "persons in occupation"—not even a new tenant or a new owner. The scenario envisaged is genuinely frightening. A person who owns an old, energy-inefficient home, who is perhaps low in the housing pecking order, having reached the position at which they can sell that home and move up to the next rung on the ladder, would find that the sale that they contemplate triggers a requirement for that home to comply with the current building regulations—I cannot interpret the hon. Gentleman's intentions otherwise. A huge burden of cost would be imposed on that home, and the practical effect would be that the poorest, most vulnerable households would be trapped in that substandard accommodation for ever.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that mortgage companies consider such issues already in surveys, and have done so for many years? The provisions that he has described already exist in building regulations, and I know the cost that that involves as I had to get a roof supported.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

There is no doubt that building societies take account of such issues and include them in the calculation of the value of properties. The idea, however, that on transmission of a tenancy or a freehold, or even a change of occupancy, major work must be done to bring a property up to or approaching current standards is simply unacceptable. It is a step way too far. One or two provisions such as that undermine the credibility of the Bill. As the hon. Gentleman says, building societies already sometimes consider the energy efficiency of homes in their surveys, and the EU directive will ultimately require certification of buildings' energy characteristics at the point of sale. Buyers will therefore be aware of what they are buying, but they will not be required to stick their hand in their pocket and spend perhaps tens of thousands of pounds on remedial work at a point when most people can least afford it—when they have just stretched themselves to buy a house.

During the debate it has become clear to me that there is a distinction between a wholesale requirement to bring aspects of a property up to date with current regulations when a new occupier arrives, and something very different which was raised by the hon. Member for Eccles. He said that when the owner of a building decides to make an improvement—not because he is required to do so by regulation, but of his own volition—that improvement should be made to the latest and most effective standards. In some instances that will not be possible: in a listed building or a building in a conservation area, it may not be possible to use the latest double-glazing technology. Moreover, it is one thing to say that a person replacing windows in his property should employ the latest standards in order to improve energy efficiency; it is quite another thing to say that a new tenant or buyer must ensure that the building is updated according to the standards in the most recent building regulations. Such a regime would intrude on the lives of ordinary home owners and other householders, and would involve a massive extension of the regulatory regime and a huge burden of cost.

I must confess to being baffled by the wording of clause 2(7), which relates to the extension or limiting of the effect of Crown immunity. There are some drafting issues, particularly the use of square brackets. I am not sure whether that implies that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove intends to remove the words involved. I assume, however, that the intention is simply to apply whatever regime is applied to the Crown. I am entirely in favour of regulations imposed on the citizen being imposed on the state as well. The state might then be a bit more careful about the extent of the burden that it places on citizens.

Clause 3 extends "continuing requirements"—that is, inspection regimes. The hon. Gentleman rightly corrected me earlier: nothing in the existing regulation regimes providing for continuing requirements, which I think are dealt with in schedule 1 of the Act, limits that to non-domestic properties. In fact, most requirements for ongoing inspections, if not all, apply to either commercial buildings or multiple dwellings. In tall blocks of flats lifts and fire escapes must be inspected, and the disproportionate-collapse regime must be applied continuously.

What the hon. Gentleman has said, and the drafting of clause 3, suggest that he expects the regime to be extended—for example, to ensure that those in new homes with intruder alarms fitted, by virtue of his proposals in clause 1, are also required by a continuing regulatory obligation to have them inspected and to maintain them in working order. While that may be desirable, Conservative Members do not feel that it could reasonably be imposed by regulation. That would impose too great a burden on the householder.

Even the overall costs and benefits of the hon. Gentleman's proposals are not clear to me. The hon. Gentleman is very concerned about the environment, but an inspector or maintenance engineer who comes to look at an intruder alarm probably will not arrive on a pushbike. At least that has been my experience when people come to maintain my intruder alarm.

Clause 3 proposes that the regime should be retrospective. It is not just about building regulations; we are talking about the creation of a wholly new, intrusive and expensive regime of Government-dictated inspection of people's private homes. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst—he will doubtless return to his place in a few moments—would find that unacceptable. I suspect that most Conservative Members—and perhaps many Labour Members— would also view that as a step too far.

I can be more congratulatory about clause 4. It is a wholly sensible provision. I do not claim to be an expert on how it will work in practice, but the principle that statutory undertakers and school buildings must not be excluded from building regulations is surely right. The Minister and I sat through a lengthy debate on Monday, in which the issue of having mandatory sprinkler systems in schools was discussed. It was confidently assumed by all hon. Members that that matter would be most appropriately dealt with by amendments to the building regulations. I confess that I had no idea during Monday's debate that the building regulations excluded school buildings from their purview. It is surely acceptable to include such buildings.

On clause 5, I certainly welcome subsections (4) to (7), which require reports on progress under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000—a landmark measure achieved by the efforts of a private Member, which proves how much can be done on a Friday morning. That measure largely gave rise to the Government's fuel poverty action programme and I would welcome the results of that programme being subjected to the sort of scrutiny that subsections (4) to (7) envisage.

I am not entirely sure of the point of having reports on building stock, as envisaged in the earlier subsections. If the hon. Member for Hazel Grove believes that the Bill will have a significant impact retrospectively, he has gone a step too far for the House. That is certainly my impression from the comments expressed so far in the House and from Conservative Members' views. It is that aspect of the Bill that we believe is unworkable, and it will need to be watered down significantly if the Bill is to find favour with the House. If the Bill is to pass through the House, it must be shorn of its retrospective provisions. In those circumstances, there seems little point in asking the Secretary of State to undertake the huge costs that would be involved in reporting on the condition of the stock.

I return to subsection (3), which requires the Secretary of State to report on

"the number of buildings in England and Wales that are dwellings"— he can do that relatively simply—and

"the number of other buildings in England and Wales."

To the best of my knowledge, that figure simply does not exist. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove prayed in aid the national non-domestic rating valuation system, but, as I explained in an earlier intervention, that system is based on hereditaments, not on buildings, and a hereditament may be a floor or other part of a building. As far as I am aware, no register is currently maintained of buildings other than dwellings. It would amount to a requirement to create a latter-day Domesday Book—a physical count of the building stock in the country. The suggestion that that could be done for £50,000 or £100,000 is quite extraordinary. It could perhaps be done for £100,000 per local authority, but that would represent a substantial cost burden to the Treasury.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, and I would be happy to listen if he wants to intervene. No doubt he will comment when he winds up later.

Clause 6 sets out a certification regime, which draws attention to the suggested hugely bureaucratic elements and costs to the householder. I am not at all convinced that there is a need for a nominated person under building regulations. Of course there is a requirement to ensure that building regulations—and, indeed, planning regulations—are complied with. A nominated person for a development or alteration to a home—in that case, it would presumably be the householder—will not improve the situation. The system for new buildings is largely self-policed because new commercial buildings are generally built for sale to an investor and new dwellings are generally built for sale to a home buyer. In both cases, legal advisers will want to ensure as part of their pre-contract due diligence that the planning and building regulations requirements have been complied with and that certificates have been issued by the appropriate bodies. The hon. Gentleman is addressing a problem that does not exist. Clause 6 would create a bureaucratic regime to issue certificates for the retrospective work that he envisages under the Bill.

Clause 7 deals with renewable energy and allows planning authorities to set quotas for

"the proportion of the buildings' energy requirements on a building site to be supplied by renewable sources."

I imagine that the hon. Gentleman is referring not to the building site itself but to the finished buildings. However, he has slightly misled himself. He appeared to be thinking about on-site renewable energy generation, but the Bill addresses the percentage of energy requirements supplied by renewable sources.

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in renewable energy. I first encountered him in 1997, shortly after we were both elected, in a debate on renewable energy—it was probably one of the first occasions on which he spoke in the House and certainly one of the first occasions on which I spoke. He knows that large-scale, predominantly offshore wind generation is the most likely way to meet the Government agenda to secure a substantial proportion of energy generation from cost-effective, renewable sources. He knows that renewable energy generation can make a large contribution to addressing the sustainability agenda, but it would be disingenuous to create a regime that mandated a proportion of probably expensive and perhaps inefficient on-site renewable generation, which would displace current moves towards very nearly market cost-effective offshore energy generation.

Renewable energy generation is not reliable and there must always be a back-up. It is no good having solar panels and a wind turbine in the back garden because a connection to the grid will still be necessary—there will be days when it is dark and no wind is blowing. Exactly the same gas-fired, coal-fired, nuclear-fired or oil-fired power capacity as there is today must be at the other end of the connection to the grid. The provision would build huge redundancy into the central generating system, which would impose a huge cost. We would have to maintain a 100 per cent. delivery capacity from conventional means within the generating system to deal with those occasions when the renewable system could not generate any power.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

The hon. Gentleman implies that there is one single renewable source rather than a diversity of renewable sources. The answer to his point is that 100 per cent. back-up will not be necessary because there will be a multitude of renewable sources of energy such as biofuels, wind farms and solar panels.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

In his opening speech, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove pointed out the need to reduce carbon emissions from dwellings and thus, by implication, from the sources that supply dwellings with energy. Brian White referred to biofuels, but they will not help us hugely in reducing carbon emissions. In respect of genuine renewables—non-carbon-producing renewables such as wind and solar energy—the hon. Gentleman may be happy to live in a home that relies either on the sun shining or the wind blowing, but I certainly would not be. I should want to be sure that a reasonable back-up system was available.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

May I commend to the hon. Gentleman BedZED—the Beddington zero energy development in Carshalton, the constituency of my hon. Friend Tom Brake? That development is fuelled entirely by wood chips produced from gardening in the adjacent borough—a renewable source with 24-hour availability.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

Of course, wood chips are a renewable source but presumably their combustion produces combustion gases—[Interruption.] Of course, the tree is a renewable source; the process does not consume non-renewable energy sources but it produces greenhouse gases.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his argument does not take into consideration the future development of some of those renewable sources?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I shall be happy to debate that point with the hon. Gentleman and others once we have reached that technological horizon, but we should be careful not to get ahead of ourselves. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Hazel Grove was inspired to include the provision by the reported attempt of the Mayor of London to impose solar panels on all new development in London, but we must take care not to impose things that make no sense, in either financial or environmental cost-benefit terms.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I want to make some progress, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me. Although this is a relatively small part of the Bill, I still have two more points to make about it.

Several Members have noted that the sustainable approach will bring improved visual amenities for communities. I suspect, however, that a quite few people might doubt whether a wind turbine in their neighbour's garden would constitute an improvement to their visual amenity. Some serious issues could arise.

If the provision has any place at all, it should be moved as an amendment to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill that is currently wending its way through the other place. If the hon. Member for Hazel Grove thinks the matter worth taking further, may I suggest that he talk to his noble friends about tabling such an amendment?

The same point applies to clause 8, which imposes yet another burden on houses in multiple occupation. The provisions are way over the top and would be far better considered as an amendment to the Housing Bill, which is currently in Committee. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman talks to the hon. Member for Ludlow, his party's Front-Bench spokesman on the Committee, he will find his hon. Friend only too willing to debate that point in the context of the Committee.

We must not forget that the clause applies to the housing sector that often serves the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. Everybody understands the instinct to protect the most vulnerable, for example, by ensuring that the properties are properly fire-protected and as energy efficient as possible, but we cannot ignore the fact that we would be imposing a substantial cost burden on that housing. Unless the hon. Member for Hazel Grove is suggesting a Government-financed regime to bring HMOs up to standard, in insulation and other aspects, we would have to envisage a substantial increase in the rents paid by some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our communities. I cannot believe that the people who live in those houses would thank us for deliberating day after day, week after week, on how we can improve the standard of their homes at a financial cost to them that might, in some cases, put their homes beyond affordability. We need to be extremely careful about that.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

As a serving member of the Standing Committee that is considering the Housing Bill, the hon. Gentleman might want to be made aware that his Front-Bench colleague—Mr. Hayes—has broadly accepted the licensing arrangements in the Bill, but the hon. Gentleman now appears to suggest that they should not be included on cost grounds. Perhaps those on the Conservative Front Bench ought to make sure that they are talking from the same book.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

For the sake of clarity, I can assure the House that I am not a member of that Committee. I spoke to my hon. Friend at length last night in preparing for this debate today. Of course the distinction is that we are now talking about imposing a further precondition for the licensing of HMOs that would involve substantial costs. There is no doubt about the fact—this is not speculation—that bringing HMOs up to the latest standards of energy efficiency under the building regulations would involve very substantial capital investments, and no hon. Member has yet indicated how that would be funded.

I am very anxious to ensure that other hon. Members have an opportunity to contribute to this interesting debate, so I should like to summarise my thoughts at this point. As I said at the outset, this is a very thought-provoking Bill. It certainly leads one off in many different directions, thinking about some of the very big issues that confront us. I hope that, if we allow ourselves to be drawn into the wider context, we shall readily understand that this narrow agenda cannot be tackled on its own; it must be considered as part of a much wider social and environmental agenda.

We would then be bound to recognise that other provisions in the Bill would impose a huge regulatory burden, are uncosted in financial and even environmental terms, and would have serious negative unintended consequences on other important parts of the social and environmental agenda. That is not to say that some provisions do not represent a sensible approach to moving that agenda forward. If we can separate the two, we can create a workable measure, but that must involve the removal of the wholesale retrospective application of building regulations triggered by a change in occupant, as proposed by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove. That is a step far too far and totally unacceptable.

I am afraid that, in the hon. Gentleman's underlying agenda in relation to construction and in his approach to on-site renewable energy sources, he has shown little regard to the minimal savings that would be generated in comparison with the huge up-front costs. As I have said before and will no doubt say again if the Bill progresses further, it is impossible to quantify those measures in the absence of a regulatory impact assessment.

Some of the Bill's objectives would be better addressed in other legislative vehicles; others would be better dealt with through fiscal and financial incentives. However, I say again that some provisions in the Bill represent further sensible steps forward on progress already made, through steadily increasing requirements in the building regulations in order to move in the direction that the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, all hon. Members seek. In trying to achieve his objective in one bound, however, the hon. Gentleman has gone too far and significant provisions in the Bill would need to be amended or deleted in Committee to make the measure acceptable.

If the hon. Gentleman's intention is to get the issue on to the agenda and to draw the attention of the Government and the House to it, he has done the House a service this morning, but he should recognise that trade-offs have to be made. The challenge before us, as always, is about getting the balance right. If the House decides that the Bill should go forward into Standing Committee, it will be possible, by amendment and debate, to mould it into an acceptable measure that will be less ambitious than he proposes but that, none the less, will be able to contribute meaningfully to the sustainability agenda.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon 12:34 pm, 30th January 2004

I, too, congratulate Mr. Stunell on securing such a high place in the ballot and bringing forward the Bill. I shall probably pick up where Mr. Hammond left off.

As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I sit through many private Member's Bill debates on Fridays. For such a Bill to make real progress, it must be seen to be doing some good, not to be imposing significant costs on taxpayers or the public at large, and to be modest. Thought provoking though the Bill is—I support the aims of sustainability and security—I am worried that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove might have bitten off rather more than he can chew for a private Member's Bill. If he had focused on one or other of those aims, the Bill would have received much less criticism today and might have had a better chance of achieving one of them. It is laudable that the hon. Gentleman has put so much detail in the Bill because such enabling Bills usually contain little detail, and most of our debate is focused on what might be included in regulations that we would consider at a later stage. However, the natural consequence of that is that whole avenues of detailed scrutiny at this stage have been opened up.

My inclination, on balance, is that the Bill should receive its Second Reading, subject, of course, to what the hon. Gentleman says in response to the debate and the points that I put to him in my speech and interventions, and subject to what my hon. Friend the Minister says on behalf of the Government. However, unless significant changes are made to the Bill, the hon. Gentleman might find difficulties—certainly with me—getting it through Report and Third Reading. I hope that there will be significant changes to the Bill as it progresses.

At the heart of my objections, some of which I flagged earlier, is the question of cost and cost benefits. Conservative Members were right to identify that point, as I tried to do during one or two of my interventions. We cannot only compare capital costs with revenue savings because we must consider some of the people whom the Bill would be likely to affect. I think of a pensioner in Edgware in my constituency living in a big old three-bedroomed house from which her family has long since moved away. She might be thinking of downsizing to a granny flat or, perhaps, moving elsewhere. It would cost her a significant amount if she were expected either to take the hit on the house's capital sale value or to spend capital to bring the house up to the standards required by the Bill. We already know how hard pressed pensioners are in my constituency and more widely, so it would be too great a burden to impose such a capital cost on people who would see little, if any, of the revenue savings. Although I am sure that such a pensioner would like a more energy efficient home—the Government have introduced many important measures to assist with the cost of achieving that—imposing such an obligation would make her situation difficult.

When Labour ran Barnet borough council, the authority in which I live, I was pleased that it introduced measures to give pensioners financial assistance to make their homes secure. However, those measures were not available to every pensioner because they were dependent on income. I am worried that although a pensioner might wish to make improvements to fire precautions or to help crime prevention, a significant cost element would be involved. One cannot consider capital costs on the one hand and the money that would be saved over 20, 30, 40 or 50 years on the other, because we must also consider who would pay and who would benefit. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove must address those serious points.

There are serious practical considerations in relation to costs. The hon. Gentleman's costs were probed, but so far we have received very few satisfactory answers from him. He runs the risk of the Bill being added to the Prime Minister's list for Question Time on Wednesday when he exposes the dodgy accounting practices of the Liberal Democrats, who make promises without considering the costs involved. The hon. Gentleman should think carefully about what the costs of the Bill would be to the taxpayer or the public at large, if he does not want the Prime Minister to add it to his shopping list for debate at Question Time.

We need to deal with the physical practicalities of the Bill. Is it, in physical terms, practical or realistic to do some of the things the hon. Gentleman expects, particularly in relation to older buildings? I shall deal with that shortly. I question the practicality of and necessity for the reports that the Secretary of State would be expected to produce under the Bill. We are told in great detail what the reports must contain, but we are not told why they must be compiled. The cost of producing them once again involves dodgy accounting. The Liberal Democrat estimate is £100,000, the notes on clauses say £50,000 and the Opposition say it is probably £100,000 per local authority. Bearing in mind that we would have to create a second Domesday Book, I suspect the latter figure is correct, rather than £100,000 for the nation as a whole.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

Although it would be perfectly valid to discuss Liberal Democrat policy at another time, we are considering a private Member's Bill. Members' time is valuable, and it is wrong to make cheap political points in an all-party debate. Hon. Members are waiting to introduce other Bills.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

The hon. Lady may be aware that I have my own Bill on the Order Paper today, so her criticism is not fairly addressed to me. As a Member of the House, it is my job and, indeed, hers to make sure that any Bill that goes through its Second Reading is properly scrutinised. If, as a consequence of that, my own Bill unfortunately cannot make progress today, I have to take that risk, and so be it. If she suggests that I should be derelict in my duty to debate the present Bill in order to take my own Bill forward, that is another example of Liberal Democrat opportunism.

The hon. Lady is correct to say that on Fridays Bills are not whipped. The Government may well wish to see the Bill progress, but as the Bill is not whipped, that is not necessarily a view that I share, although I have indicated to the House that I am minded not to press it to a Division and to allow it to go through its Second Reading, subject to the response from my hon. Friend the Minister and from the hon. Member for Hazel Grove when he replies to the debate. Other Members may have their own views. The hon. Lady's intervention has, of course, taken up a considerable amount of my time and that of the House. I suggest that she bears that in mind, should she wish to make any further interventions.

The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge made an important point when he said we must see how the Bill is stripped down during its progress through the House. In Committee, we need to strip it down and see how many bits are left on the garage floor when we try to put it back together again, and whether, having left all those bits out, the Bill continues to run. The hon. Gentleman was wrong to say that the Bill had a narrow focus. If it did, we might be able to make more progress with it. One of the problems is that it is so broad in its scope.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the point. By focusing narrowly on the sustainability agenda—on improving the energy efficiency and crime resistance of homes—Mr. Stunell has ignored the impact of pursuing that agenda on the wider questions of affordability and trying to get everybody in this country into decent housing.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I agree. The hon. Gentleman also made a valid point on the issue of voluntarism, but in reply to him and in support of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, I would say that it is not necessarily an either/or.

We can use a carrot and stick approach. The very fact that to a degree the Bill is permissive and gives powers rather than forcing them on people is welcome, but the extent to which its provisions are mandatory militates against that welcome. Perhaps one way forward is for my hon. Friend the Minister to tell the building industry that, in respect of sustainability and security, it is drinking in the last-chance saloon; or, if the Bill is passed, for there to be a lengthy period before it comes into force, perhaps backed by a code of practice and, initially, light-touch regulations that might be ratcheted up if the industry does not get its act together. I am mindful of the fact that there is no regulatory impact assessment. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge made a telling point in that respect.

There is little in clause 1 to which one can object. I put my concern about subsection (1)(f) to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove in an intervention: the Bill makes no reference to fire prevention. It seems to me—perhaps this contradicts my previous argument—that we should not consider these matters in isolation. When one requires, rather than advises, crime prevention measures to be implemented, there may be a conflict with other regulations on fire precautions. There is a tension between making one's house secure against burglars while allowing it to be sufficiently porous to enable one to get out quickly in the event of a fire. Window locks, for example, could have two opposing effects. I would have preferred the Bill to propose that building regulations take a combined approach to fire and crime prevention to ensure that the regulations do not conflict, and that the police and fire service put their heads together to produce a common approach that satisfies the requirements of both. That would be an important improvement to the Bill.

Subsection (3) refers to demolition, which is important to consider when building new properties. I assume that the provision is not retrospective in the sense that it applies also to existing buildings—it cannot be, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will clarify that point. The problems now with the disposal and/or recycling of building materials may be very different from the problems that will face us in 100 years' time. Materials that are in short supply today may be plentiful in 100 years, and vice versa. Take the example of oil: if people building houses or using oil 100 years ago had been told that oil would be a scarce natural resource in 100 years' time, they would have laughed, but we now know that to be the case. Perhaps we are expecting a degree of foresight that will be extremely difficult to achieve.

My particular concern about demolition is not dealt with in the Bill. Fly-tipping is the bane of my constituency and many others, and if anything can be done through the Bill to reduce its incidence, that would be of great benefit to all concerned.

Clause 2 has a lot to recommend it, but I am concerned about the generic reference to "buildings". Introducing his Bill, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove seemed to switch between domestic buildings and buildings used for business purposes as it suited his argument, but the Bill does not make that distinction and therefore does not allow him to do that. It may well be feasible to expect a commercial operator—for example, a bank with enormous resources behind it—to implement security measures, which are probably already in situ, or, more important, sustainability measures, which are probably not, when it occupies a new building or moves on—

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

In a moment.

However, it may not be appropriate to expect small shopkeepers or house owners to do that. I hope that when the hon. Gentleman replies to the debate—this may be the thrust of his intervention—or in Committee, he will try to clarify whether a distinction will be drawn between domestic and commercial property in the Bill or in the regulations.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

At the severe risk of delaying the hon. Gentleman, which I am most anxious not to do, I simply say that the whole point is that this is an enabling power, and it will be for his Government and his Minister to decide which parts will be applicable to which sectors. I can assure him that the assurance he seeks is in the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

The hon. Gentleman gives me the assurance now, but it is not in the Bill, and that is the point that I am making. I am sure that the Minister will also be able to give an assurance on behalf of this Government, but who knows what future Governments may or may not legislate for? Bearing in mind how much detail is in the Bill, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not dealt specifically with this point.

The hon. Gentleman refers to gases and vapours, and I hope that that also includes all forms of nasty smell. For example, I am plagued by my neighbours' extractor fan, which squirts foul, noxious fried onion smells from their kitchen into my bedroom. I am not sure whether that is gas or vapour, but it is certainly a noxious smell. If the Bill is to be retrospective, that is one measure that I would support.

Questions also arise with regard to the installation and inspection of security systems. For example, I am surprised that there is no reference to the need to service those systems. The hon. Gentleman may assume that that is included, but it is not in the Bill.

On crime prevention, I agree that the present approach leaves out the building trade. I remember sitting through many sessions on the Crime and Disorder Bill in 1997 and 1998, when, for the first time, we imposed an obligation not only on the police to prevent crime, but on the police and local authorities to work together in partnership and with other agencies to reduce crime through crime reduction partnerships. If, as a consequence of this Bill, we could involve others in those partnerships—for example, the building trade locally—that would be very much a force for good. To go back to the hon. Gentleman's voluntarist approach, that is perhaps something that we should encourage, irrespective of whether the Bill becomes law. We should ensure that those people are brought into the loop.

The inclusion of recycling and composting facilities is, again, a laudable aim. Obviously, a lot more can be done and said about that, but I shall not go into detail, save to say that whatever is imposed in relation to recycling and composting facilities on the domestic or business occupier must be matched by the local authorities' services. There is little point in imposing those facilities if the local authority cannot service the outcome.

As the hon. Gentleman may be aware from one of my interventions, one of my main concerns about the Bill is its retrospective nature—the way in which it applies to old and existing buildings. There is a strong argument for the Bill covering new buildings. The costs in relation to security and sustainability can probably be absorbed in the building costs. When one is spending tens of thousands of pounds or more on a new building, a few hundred pounds extra does not amount to a great deal and could probably be absorbed without being noticed. However, that cannot be said in relation to old buildings, for two reasons. First, that is an up-front cost that will not be absorbed by a wider scheme of things, and secondly, it is an up-front cost that has to be absorbed by the owner or occupier of the building.

I put to the hon. Gentleman my concerns about clause 2(5), which refers to changes consequent not just upon sale, but upon letting or re-letting. If a building is sold, perhaps one could absorb the cost in the sale—subject to the reservations that I entered earlier about the problems of people who are of restricted means—but to impose that duty every time that a building is let or re-let would be serious. It might be different for buildings let or re-let on a long lease. I suppose that that would be equivalent to a sale, but the Bill does not say that. I am concerned about buildings that might be let on a tenanted basis for six months under a shorthold tenancy, or on an even shorter let to people in temporary accommodation who are in housing need. Each time that the building is re-let, when such tenants move on, the provisions of the Bill must be looked at afresh. That would impose a very heavy burden on, I assume, the freeholder or long leaseholder. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to assure me that that is not his intention, and that he wants to take a more common-sense approach. I hope that he will table amendments in Committee to achieve that important objective.

There is also the question of flat conversions, modernisation of buildings and change of use. The use of a building may not change in accordance with the requirements of clause 2(5). Ownership may remain the same, yet the use to which the building is put might be very different. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not dealt with that in clause 2(5).

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I am grateful for that reassurance. If the hon. Gentleman is telling me that existing requirements on security measures and sustainability are sufficient to deal with change of use, as mirrored in the Bill, I would be very happy, but I suspect that he may not be quite correct. I think that the demands would be increased. No doubt we can explore that matter in Committee. If the hon. Gentleman is right, I would have to return to the subject on Report.

The proposals affecting modernisation of buildings and flat conversions could also be very expensive for the freeholder. Let us consider my flat in Westminster, for example. That is a flat conversion; originally, it was a house in multiple occupation. Indeed, when we moved in there were still environmental health notices pinned up. The building was converted into four flats. Converting one building may not be too much of a financial burden, but creating four separate flats may be a huge burden.

In one of my interventions on the hon. Gentleman I raised the question of the enforcement process and how the measures would be policed. He said that he would address that later in his speech. Unfortunately, he failed to do so, and I am none the wiser as to how the legislation will be enforced. I asked him what the penalties would be for breach of the legislation, but I am afraid that he did not know and promised to look into it.

When the House is asked to agree new laws, it must be sure that they can be enforced. There is far too much criticism that Bills on which we are happy to legislate bring Parliament into disrepute because there is nobody to enforce them. That is a valid criticism of this Bill—unless and until I get some assurances from the hon. Gentleman on the following. How would the Act be policed? Would the policing operation be a burden on the taxpayer? Who would pay for inspectors to check every time somebody moved house? Where would the financial burden of that inspectorate lie? What powers would the inspectors have? Would inspectors have, for example, the power to force entry if the owner of the property refused to allow them in? That might be a good way of testing the security measures in the Bill. What sort of police force does the hon. Gentleman think would enforce these new measures, and what would be the penalties on the property owner who fails to comply with them?

I have already spoken about clause 5, which deals with the reports that the Secretary of State is expected to produce. With the best will in the world, I cannot see what the hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve—he seems to be trying to create the Domesday Book mark 2. If he wants the Secretary of State to make a general policy statement on whether our standards for social housing are sufficient to eradicate fuel poverty, of course the Secretary of State will say that they are. That would be a rather self-serving requirement. Nevertheless, I would have no objection to expecting him to make a policy statement on this or on any other matter in the Bill, because that costs no more than the civil servants' time in drafting it and the Minister's time in approving it.

However, the Bill goes far beyond that because it requires the compilation of detailed statistics. That prompts the question not only of who is to do the compiling, how many people will be required and what it will cost, but, more importantly, of the purpose of the statistics and what they will achieve. Will they be yet another Government report gathering dust on shelves around the country, never read or reported in the newspapers because they are so dry and provide little information? Clause 5(3) refers to

"the number of buildings in England and Wales"— that is, not only the dwellings, but the total number. That would include my garden shed. The hon. Gentleman must be more specific and realistic about his requirements for reporting on building stock. We should either remove these provisions or replace them with the requirement for a general policy statement on how the Secretary of State envisages policy developing in that area.

Under clause 7, planning authorities may be empowered to set targets. Although that is a laudable aim, I am concerned that different approaches to it could distort the housing market. If planning authorities were to include in their development plans targets on a building's energy requirements, the building industry might start to take such matters more seriously. However, as the Bill stands the targets are voluntary, so we are still left with the question of how they are to be monitored and enforced and the amount of council tax payers' resources that will be devoted to achieving them.

Energy efficiency in houses in multiple occupation is an important issue. Over the years, the House has neglected the needs of people living in HMOs. When I started in politics as a local government councillor in the City of Westminster, we constantly came across the problems faced by people living in substandard accommodation in HMOs. When we went out knocking on doors, we often found that people living in such accommodation were the most socially aware and involved; they, of all people, would most welcome help with improvements to their energy efficiency.

I want the Bill to make progress and very much support its aims and objectives, although it remains to be seen on Report what improvements have been made. I should have liked to say a lot more about its good aspects, such as the provisions on sustainability and hardening homes against burglaries, but I hope that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove and other hon. Members will take those comments as read so that my criticisms are seen in the context of my overall support for the Bill. I hope that those concerns will be addressed in order to enable it ultimately to progress, albeit in a very modified form, on to the statute book.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities 1:04 pm, 30th January 2004

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Stunell on securing first place in the ballot for private Member's Bills and on introducing a measure that promises much and could be a huge step forward. However, it would do that modestly by enabling the Government to change building regulations. I shall not speak for longer than a couple of minutes because some people spoke for too long, but I want to make a few points.

The Bill would allow two-way metering, if the Government choose to introduce that useful power. Micro-combined heat and power may mean that we need two-way metering in a few years. The crime prevention provisions are vital and I am sure that they have Government support. Enforcement of building regulations has not been especially effective until now, and these welcome provisions would help with that. Provisions to remove the exemption for schools and public utilities buildings and bring them back into line with other buildings are also very acceptable. The enhanced Government accountability for which the measure provides is welcome, too.

Much has been said about cost by people who know very little about the cost of building eco homes. Build cost, not land price, is approximately £78,000, compared with £75,000 for a conventional home. An eco standard home is therefore only about £3,000 more than a conventional home.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

No, I am not taking interventions. The figures are based on Shropshire prices; they would be higher in London and the south-east. Many comments on cost have been utter tosh.

I welcome the Bill and I hope that it receives a Second Reading, as it deserves to do. Committee proceedings could deal with any difficulties that have been highlighted and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove would be happy to consider them, too.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 1:07 pm, 30th January 2004

I congratulate Mr. Stunell on securing the No. 1 slot in the private Member's Bill ballot. As the Minister with responsibility for building regulations, I am especially pleased that he has chosen a measure that will amend them under the Building Act 1984. On the whole, the measure will help to support Government policies and aspirations on sustainable development. We have a few reservations, which I shall outline shortly, but I hope that we can generally support the Bill.

The measure has triggered a full debate. My hon. Friends the Members for Eccles (Ian Stewart) and for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), and the hon. Members for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) and for Ludlow (Matthew Green) made considerable contributions and detailed points, many of which we will tackle in Committee rather than this afternoon. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove took many interventions in his introductory remarks, and tried to deal fairly and fully with many points.

I had hoped to speak at greater length about the general context and explain that the Bill is only part of a wider strategy to promote sustainable development and security. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge cannot be with us for the end of the debate. He made the point that there is a variety of other levers, mechanisms, incentives, encouragements and so on that we use to try to promote sustainable development and security. The Government have promoted many of those in different ways, for example, through grants, to make change happen. So the Bill is part of a wider package of important measures to promote those issues.

In the time available to me, I should like to examine each of the clauses from the Government's point of view. Clause 1 deals with the "Purposes of building regulations". We currently make regulations to deal with the conservation of fuel and power and to prevent the waste and misuse of water. We have also used the existing powers to make regulations to require fittings such as boilers and windows to be more energy efficient. They do not, however, allow us fully to address environmental protection and sustainable development issues, such as controlling greenhouse emissions from buildings or recycling building materials. The new powers in the Bill would allow us to do so.

Nor do the current powers allow us to address crime prevention and security issues through building regulations—that comes as quite a surprise to most people—even though we have powers relating to fire safety, and part B of the building regulations deals with many similar areas. On Monday, we debated the Fire and Rescue Services Bill and discussed water sprinklers and many other issues, but, under the Building Act 1984, we do not have the powers that I have just described. This Bill would give us those powers, so that simple items, such as better locks on doors and windows, could be required through building regulations. Clause 1 also extends the matters about which regulations could be made to include demolition, a subject that several hon. Members have mentioned today. That is necessary if we wish to ensure that material is collected for recycling and reuse. I am therefore pleased to say that the Government fully support clause 1.

Clause 2 deals with the "Contents of building regulations". Subsections (1) to (4) add to the list in paragraph (7) to schedule 1 of the Building Act 1984 of matters that regulations may cover within the general purposes in section 1. We are not convinced that all the items in clause 2(4) are necessary, as they are already covered in section 1 of the Building Act, as I think the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge pointed out. The hon. Member for Ludlow voiced his concern about two-way electricity meters. At this stage, we would like to consider these issues further and to clarify in Committee some of the detailed points that have been triggered by the Bill and raised today.

The second part of clause 2 extends the powers to make regulations to deal with existing buildings. It is a general principle of building regulations that they are not retrospective. That means that buildings need comply only with the requirements in force at the time that they were built or altered. There are some exceptions, however. They would apply, for example, when a building, or part of it, is altered, when there is a change of use, or when certain replacement services, fittings or equipment are installed.

Clause 2(5) and (6) would add to those exceptions and allow regulations to apply to existing buildings in circumstances involving demolition, the use of recycled materials—that is very important—the conservation of fuel and power, the reduction of emissions, a change of occupancy of all or part of a building, or planned work on the building. We have heard a great deal of discussion today about retrospective application. The Government consider that the additions are both sensible and necessary if we are fully to address the issues of the recycling of building materials, the conservation of fuel and power, and the reduction of emissions.

I note a technical amendment to section 44 of the Building Act 1984 to ensure that the substantive changes made in respect of other buildings could apply also to Crown buildings, and I am pleased that there appears to be consensus on that proposal on both sides of the House. The Government can support clause 2, with the one reservation that I mentioned, on which we shall seek further clarification in Committee.

Clause 3 has exercised hon. Members today more than any other. It deals with "Continuing requirements of building regulations" and would allow regulations to impose continuing requirements on the owners and occupiers of buildings, when such requirements are needed for the purposes of conserving fuel and power or reducing emissions. Mr. Randall, who currently occupies the Opposition Front Bench, asked what we were talking about in that regard. Nitrous oxide is one example, and carbon dioxide is another. A variety of vapours and gases are incorporated into that—I am not sure whether that covers the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon.

The requirements that could be imposed for those purposes are inspection and testing of the building or its services, fittings or equipment; implementation of measures in relation to the building or its services, fittings or equipment; keeping of appropriate records on those matters; and making reports to prescribed authorities on them. Again, I note a technical amendment to section 44 to allow the same duties to be imposed on Crown buildings as on other buildings. The Government consider that the clause would ensure that buildings were appropriately maintained and improved in respect of conservation of fuel and power and reduction of emissions.

Many Members have raised concerns about how we would use those powers. The point about the Bill is that it provides enabling powers, and it will become a matter of whether those powers are enacted through building regulations. Many of the points that have been made about costs and benefits will be matters for the detailed building regulations. I want to make it clear to the House that none of the powers in the Bill would come into effect, were it to become an Act of Parliament, until they became building regulations. It is an important point, about which many Members have been concerned. All proposed regulations will be subject to full public consultation to gauge technical practicality, competence of builders and installers to carry them out, and public acceptability. Of course, as has been mentioned, a full regulatory impact assessment would be needed to examine costs and benefits.

I shall not rehearse the full process through which building regulations must go before they are enacted as such, but it is extremely thorough. When new regulations are required, the Building Regulations Advisory Committee examines the proposals through working parties, draft regulatory impact assessments must be undertaken, which must be approved by Ministers as proposals, public consultation for a minimum of three months follows, the working party of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee must consider those responses, which triggers another revision to the regulatory impact assessment, and the advisory committee must consider the issues and advise Ministers on whether to proceed. Even then, a statutory instrument must be laid before Parliament, with a debate on a negative resolution if requested, and changes would normally only come into force six months after the statutory instrument was laid. A complex, fully open and transparent public process of accountability therefore takes place when drafting building regulations to ensure that many of the concerns that hon. Members have raised are taken fully into account.

In addition, when we examine the regulatory impact, the criteria we use include the following. Is regulation the only way of achieving the Bill's objectives? Are the requirements proportionate—a critical word—to the problem?

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

During those discussions, best practice often comes forward, and a number of companies are leading the way in bringing forward such improvements ahead of building regulations. Can the Minister make sure that those are taken on board during the consultation process?

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend makes an important point: we need to consult widely when we undertake those discussions. We need to take into account a range of views of stakeholders, both experts and non-experts, in relation to the concerns and fears. We need to test rigorously the impact of such interventions to ensure that unintended consequences do not follow, and that checks and balances exist in the system. Certainly, we ensure that proposals avoid creating unnecessary technical risks. The point was made earlier that these are standards, with flexibility for designers and builders to apply the building regulations in a common-sense way that works, and that there is variety in the mechanisms for doing so. Finally, we must ensure that the benefits outweigh any additional costs. That is critical, and Members are right to raise those concerns.

As most of us would accept, the building regulations have been successful in that regard. They have been developed well, thought through and implemented sensitively, and longer time scales have often been provided for implementation when a burden is clearly being introduced for individuals and developers in the building sector. I want Members to understand that their concerns are being taken fully into account.

Clause 4 concerns the removal of exemptions. Section 4 of the Act currently exempts certain educational establishments and buildings of statutory undertakers, mainly utilities and transport undertakers, from compliance with building regulations. An operational railway station, for instance, is covered by the Act and by regulations.

The exemption for educational establishments can no longer apply owing to changes in education legislation made over the past few years. Its removal would therefore constitute a tidying-up exercise. We feel that the exemption for some buildings or statutory undertakers is now difficult to justify: we see no reason for them not to meet, and be seen to meet, the requirements of current and future regulations, especially those relating to sustainability. All the statutory undertakers are trying to meet the requirements, and many consult building control bodies on how to do so. Removal of the exemptions is unlikely to impose a significant additional burden on them, although we would consult each undertaker before removing an exemption as it applied to that undertaker specifically. We fully support the clause.

Clause 5 requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament biennially on progress towards sustainability of building stock. There has been great confusion over the cost of this measure, and I hope to clarify matters.

In general, the Government can support subsections (1) to (3), as we accept that Parliament and the public should be kept periodically informed of such progress. Among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon and the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge have suggested that that would create a massive new burden. A clear mechanism already applies to dwellings, but there is no simple registration system for other buildings. However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has questioned the rating-system statistics. It would like to build what it describes as a non-domestic stock model—a model, not a count. That would avoid the burdens to which hon. Members have referred, and would enable the Government to track reasonably accurately at national level. It is probably the most likely basis of any reporting system. The costs mentioned in the notes accompanying the Bill—£50,000 or so—are, therefore, correct.

I have some doubts about the requirement for the report to deal with "considerations of setting" targets for "specific building types" and "specific technologies". Building regulations set requirements, not targets. We shall need to consider that further, and an amendment may be needed in Committee.

That was the good news about clause 5; I am afraid there is also some bad news. We cannot support the requirement for a statutory report

"in connection with the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000".

We see no need for it, as the Act already requires reports on progress from time to time. I understand that DEFRA has undertaken to produce an annual report covering, at least to some degree, all the requirements of clause 5(5).

The clause is also defective in assuming that fuel poverty can be eradicated through energy efficiency measures alone. It relates just as much to the incomes of householders and to fuel prices, as was pointed out earlier. We do not think it would make sense to report on only one of those factors, and given that we have accepted the first three subsections, I hope that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove will agree to withdraw this part of the clause.

Clause 6, headed "Proper person", would amend schedule 1 and section 57 of the Building Act 1984. The amendment to the schedule would provide for a new sort of certificate to be given to the building control body by

"a person of a prescribed class or description".

In response to some earlier questions, the amendment is an enabling measure, leaving the detail to be set out in regulations after the usual processes of consultation and regulatory impact assessment. However, the new power might be used to create a new sort of certificate that would be given to the building control body by the builder or main contractor, stating that the project is complete and complies with the regulations.

Currently, the regulations require the person carrying out the work to give a completion notice to the local authority, where it is carrying out the building control function. There is no requirement for the notice to include a declaration of compliance. Where an approved inspector does the building control, there is no requirement for the builder to give a completion notice.

The amendment would allow regulations to require certificates from builders stating that the completed work complied both where the local authority had the building control function and where an approved inspector acted as the building control body. We believe that that could have a salutary affect. It would serve to remind builders and main contractors that it is their responsibility to achieve compliance of completed building work with the technical requirements of the building regulations. They will not be able to shelter behind subcontractors or designers or building control bodies. Builders may have contractual avenues of redress if they have reasonably relied on specialist subcontractors, architects and so forth to reach the conclusion that the project as a whole complies. A requirement for a building certificate, however, could act as a strong incentive to builders to put in place contractual arrangements and quality control processes better calculated to deliver 100 per cent. compliant projects.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I presume that failure to comply properly will lead to the offence of having a false or misleading certificate, and that there is no defence of good faith in respect of the preparation of such a certificate. Is it intended that prosecution will follow only if the builder has deliberately or recklessly produced such a certificate? If the builder can demonstrate good faith, will it be a defence to a charge under the clause?

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend raises an important point, which we shall have to deal with in more detail in Committee. The penalties for failure to comply are fairly tough. On summary conviction there can be a fine up to the statutory maximum or up to six months in prison, or both. On conviction or indictment, there is the maximum fine again or up to two years in prison, or both. Those are pretty severe penalties, so my hon. Friend makes a good point about the circumstances under which conviction will arise, which we shall have to explore further in Committee.

The Government can support clause 6, but the detail of the wording could be improved. If the Bill receives its Second Reading today, we intend to table some technical amendments. For example, we believe that it would be helpful expressly to provide for the acceptance or rejection of the new-style certificates by the building control body. The regulations could provide for an accepted certificate as evidence of the compliance of the work, and the new-style certificates could be made a requirement wherever a building project is subject to building control. If so, that should mean that clients and other interested parties, such as prospective purchasers, could obtain copies of accepted builders' certificates or check for the existence of such certificates in respect of most regulated building projects. That would provide assurance that the finished project did, in fact, comply with the building regulations.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I am sorry to press my hon. Friend on this issue, but is it intended that such a certificate would add to the rights in civil law of those involved in the construction project, or is it solely for regulatory purposes? In other words, would it give rise to civil rights in itself, or be evidence to support a claim under existing civil laws?

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I hope that my description of how we would like to amend the clause provides some comfort to my hon. Friend, who is obviously concerned about how it will work in practice. My description of how we would like it to operate makes it clear that the measures that the nominated person must take—producing the certificate and developing proof of compliance—are reasonable and take into account the many variables that might affect that action. I understand my hon. Friend's concern and his detailed points about status in law. If we are given sufficient time today, we may consider those detailed points in Committee and see whether we can resolve his concerns.

Clause 7 concerns the energy requirements of buildings. This will sound harsh to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, but it serves no purpose. It is already possible for local planning authorities to include in development plans policies that would set an expectation for the percentage of total energy in new buildings to come from renewable sources—indeed, some local planning authorities already do so. As the clause is only permissive, it would add nothing to what is already being done. I must stress that the Government fully support the use of renewable energy sources, but for the reasons that I have mentioned we cannot support the clause, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdraw it.

Clause 8 concerns the energy efficiency of houses in multiple occupation, and again I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman. Hon. Members know that we propose to establish through the Housing Bill a system of licensing for houses in multiple occupation. Clause 8 seeks to make it a condition of a licence being granted that such houses must have reached a minimum of energy efficiency. The hon. Gentleman mentioned what happened when such measures were pursued in the past. The Government have not pursued the energy efficiency requirements for existing buildings in the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, because the housing health and safety rating system will achieve similar ends in a more proportionate manner—proportionality is a key idea in today's debate.

I regret to say that the Government find the clause totally unacceptable. We have already heard that many houses that would require a licence are rather old, and many of them could not reach a minimum standard even if it were set at a very low level. The minimum standard would have to be set so low for such buildings to meet it that it would be meaningless in terms of encouraging greater energy efficiency.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

Can the Minister indicate how long it would take to upgrade the housing stock by using that rating system?

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

We must try to address the fact that if we were to impose the clause upon the stock of houses in multiple occupation there would be a number of unintended consequences. There are questions about how long it would take to renew the housing stock, but such houses are typically tenanted by young people, many of whom are students. If a licence were refused for a house in multiple occupation on energy efficiency grounds, it would be necessary to remove the tenants. The moot point is: where would the tenants go?

I understand that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove wants to drive forward the energy efficiency arguments and I applaud his enthusiasm, but we must act proportionately and implement the provisions in a way that works. A proportion of the owners of houses in multiple occupation would not upgrade their buildings to meet minimum standards, and in some cases they could not afford to do so. Some of them would sell the building, while others would change its use so that it no longer fell within the category requiring licensing, which would mean no resulting gain in energy efficiency.

None the less, existing requirements in part L of the building regulations, particularly those in relation to replacement boilers, hot water storage systems and replacement windows and doors, and the powers in clauses 2 and 3, will enable improvements in energy efficiency to be made in houses in multiple occupation, as in other buildings, in appropriate circumstances. All is not lost, but for all those reasons the Government cannot support clause 8, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdraw it.

I have not said much yet about security and crime reduction, which has occupied much of the debate. We welcome the inclusion of a provision to enable building regulations to be made for the purposes of furthering the detection and prevention of crime. The Government are committed to creating sustainable communities, but we must recognise that sustainable communities are not only thriving, inclusive, well designed, attractive environments to live and work in, but places where freedom from crime and the fear of crime improves the quality of life. None of us wants to live in an area blighted by crime. Part of our commitment has been to put crime prevention at the heart of the planning system, through good urban design.

One of the concerns raised by several hon. Members was the possibility of a conflict between measures to improve fire safety and those to improve crime prevention. The Home Office, the Department for Transport and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister have worked with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, and the Planning Officers Society on new guidance for local authorities, planners, designers, builders and others that emphasises that designing out crime and designing in community safety should be central to the planning and delivery of new development.

Any regulations dealing with security, such as those in the Bill, would have to make fire protection no worse. When we introduce and consult on the regulations, we will need to take that into account.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

My hon. Friend will be aware that I pursued that issue in the debate. Who will be involved in the preparation of the draft regulations? Surely it would be sensible to consult the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association in the early stages, at the same time as ACPO. Otherwise, the fire precaution element has to be bolted on at the end, rather than being a seamless part of the whole. That could lead to arguments later.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. We have also established, within the new framework for promoting fire safety, both the practitioners forum and the community and business safety forum, so that experts can give us advice on how to proceed. It is sensible to involve organisations such as CACFOA and others with a real interest in the issue at an early stage as we develop the regulations, and my hon. Friend makes an important proposal in that respect. I have responsibility for fire safety as well as building regulations, so ultimately I will have to talk to myself to ensure that I have got things right.

Community safety must be central to what we do. It makes sense to ensure that not only is the environment planned—the Bill does not deal with the planning system, but we have talked about it before—in terms of layout, but that individual buildings, whether new or refurbished, have good basic security built in from the start. Some builders already do that, but regrettably others will not. This enabling legislation would pave the way for minimum security requirements to be introduced, after detailed consultation with all the appropriate bodies. What we will be looking for will not be onerous.

According to the 2002–03 British crime survey, some 974,000 domestic burglaries were committed in 2002–03. I am pleased to say that that is 25 per cent. fewer than in 1999, but it is still far too many. Evidence from the survey suggests that security measures are strongly associated with reduced risk of becoming a victim of burglary. Households with basic security measures in place, such as deadlocks on outside doors and locks that need keys to open them on all accessible windows, are at less risk of being burgled. That is why the Bill would have an important and valuable impact.

The Home Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the ODPM work with a range of bodies, including the police, local authorities, local crime and disorder reduction partnerships and both private and public sector housing providers, to increase awareness of the need for security measures. We have funded many programmes to install locks in the homes of some of the most vulnerable members of our community. However, too many people increase their security only after they have been victims of burglary. I must confess that that is what happened to me. We were burgled because we did not have locks on the windows. The day after, a copper came round and did his inspection and I went down to the shop, bought some locks and put them on. However, the horse had already bolted. It was a harsh lesson; we lost the video, the television and a computer. The thieves were stealing to order—or at least with a view to going down to the local pub and flogging the equipment.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Earlier, my hon. Friend was describing some extremely important elements, but does he agree that burglary also has human effects on the sufferers and their families? It is an extremely sensitive situation, because the sense of intrusion can be deep.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. It is distressing to wake up one morning, go down to the front room and find the contents of a handbag strewn around but the credit cards stolen or an empty space where the television used to be. I was in bed when the burglary took place; I did not know that anything was happening until I went downstairs, and there it was. Someone had broken into my house, stolen some things and gone away. It was very distressing.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister mentioned various people with whom he was holding discussions. Does he also have discussions with insurers? Insurance is important, and is something that people can do beforehand.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman raises a good point about insurance companies. Most insurers require homeowners to have good quality locks and to ensure that they are being used. We are working with the building and insurance industries on projects such as Secured by Design, which the hon. Member for Hazel Grove mentioned. It is a flagship initiative developed by the police, which supports some of the principles for designing out crime, and actively involves the building and insurance industries in developing new ways of working. It is supported and managed by ACPO and works with the trade across the board. Research undertaken by Huddersfield university showed that residents of Secured by Design developments are half as likely to be burgled, two and a half times less likely to suffer vehicle crime, and suffer 25 per cent. less criminal damage. That is just one example of good practice; there are many other design standards—such matters would be for the regulations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles mentioned the personal impact of burglary on individuals and the need for victim support. It is important that people know that there will be positive action to track the perpetrators of the crime against them and bring them to justice. I understand all too well the concerns that Members have raised.

I want to reduce the number of people who become victims and who have to experience such trauma and intrusion, and we are happy to support the Bill's proposals in that regard. Statistics on security measures from the trade show that only 41 per cent. of people who were burgled had window locks, compared with 71 per cent. of those who had not been burgled. We are much less likely to be burgled if window locks are fitted. There are similar statistics for doors. Furthermore, only 8 per cent. of those burgled had internal light timers and sensors, compared with 23 per cent.—

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Yes. Unfortunately, we cannot regulate to ensure that everyone has a dog—[Hon. Members: "Not yet."]

The Bill is much to be welcomed. We have had an excellent debate. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove has been put through quite a grilling today, and has come out of it well. The measure will help to support Government policies and aspirations for sustainable development and improving security. I have highlighted specific clauses and subsections that we want to clarify or amend in Committee, as well as specific provisions that are unacceptable, which I should like the hon. Gentleman to indicate his willingness to withdraw. With that reassurance, I hope that we can take the Bill to Committee, to take these excellent measures to the next stage in making them law, to improve people's lives and their environment.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 1:44 pm, 30th January 2004

The debate has been well-informed and penetrating. I very much appreciate the time that Members have given to make points and express their concerns. I hope that the House will not take it amiss if I begin by responding to some of the points made by the Minister, as I intend to come back to some of the other points later.

In fact, I can tell the House that, during the debate, I have been contacted again by Mr. Hodge, from Greater Manchester police, who tells me that the score so far on the second estate is two break-ins and that the defective patio window is still being installed, so that is a practical working example of one of the things that my Bill is designed to tackle.

I very much appreciate the Minister's words in regard to clauses 1, 2 and 3, and some of the things that he has said about the Government's acceptance of the reporting obligation that would be placed upon them. If I have sown any confusion about the cost of that measure as the result of some sloppy speech earlier, I certainly apologise to the House for so doing. We need to remember that building regulations have saved more lives than doctors have in the past 150 years. The requirements for sewerage, clean water, and dry and warm homes are far more effective than doctors at saving lives—if any doctor is in the House, I apologise. Building inspectors are useful and so are building regulations.

The Minister quite properly pointed out what I tried to point out not very adequately earlier: the need to produce some enabling powers. Of course that is why there is no regulatory impact assessment. Until we see what is being enabled or what is proposed to be enabled, there is nothing to assess. So the lack of such an assessment is not a defect in my proposal; it is intrinsic to a Bill that only introduces primary legislative enabling powers.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I have heard many hon. Members who sit on the Liberal Democrat and the Conservative Front Benches express great concern about enabling legislation when it is proposed by the Government. I wonder whether there has been a change of policy.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Fortunately, circumstances alter cases, do they not? Let me move on quickly. The important thing is to ensure that the powers are proportionate and appropriate and that the regulatory follow-through happens. The Minister has rightly emphasised the great length of time and care taken in that respect. Some hon. Members are frustrated that such things sometimes take so long, but the process will never even begin without such powers to start it, so I very much appreciate what the Minister has said on that point.

Not just the Minister, but a number of other hon. Members have pointed the evil finger at clauses 7 and 8 and some subsections in clause 5. I certainly give an undertaking to the Minister that, if the Bill gets to Committee, I will take very clearly into account what he has said about the acceptability of clauses 7 and 8. I wish to make it clear that I want at least half a loaf, not no bread at all, and I absolutely give him the undertaking that he sought in that regard. I shall certainly bear in mind what was said about the later provisions in clause 5, although I noticed that the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman seemed to be strongly in favour of them, so that may be a matter on which further discussion is required.

I hope to have some early discussions with officials, so that we can find out how some of the other points that the Minister drew to my attention might best be dealt with in the Bill. It is for the benefit of the Government and the House that the legislation should be as comprehensive as possible, and I hope that he and his officials will be open to considering how we can do that.

I wish to turn briefly to some of the points made by other hon. Members, but I do not intend to detain the House. I thank Ian Stewart very much indeed for his strongly supportive words. As he will have heard other hon. Members say, matters of detail remain to be worked out, and I am sure that we can do that. The hon. Gentleman said that regulations governing fire safety and crime safety should be built in, simultaneously, from the beginning. That is absolutely vital, but we cannot do so at the moment because there is no opportunity to produce matching regulations in relation to crime reduction. That opportunity exists for fire regulations, as Mr. Dismore said. I want to reassure the hon. Member for Eccles that that is exactly what I aim to do.

Mr. Hammond made a wide-ranging speech, but it would not be appropriate for me to pick up on all his points at this time. I want to draw attention to his hope that the insurance industry would come to the rescue when it came to the installation of otherwise unaffordable security equipment and devices. The current record of the insurance industry does not fill me with any real confidence that that would be the case. In fact, I had cause to draw to the attention of a Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry the impact on small businesses of rising insurance premiums, which affected my constituency. There is a clearly a big gap between what the insurance industry considers to be affordable and what those who need insurance believe to be affordable.

I have already dealt with the point made by the hon. Member for Hendon about fire regulations, but he made several other points. The Minister partly responded to them—I certainly attempted to do that—so I hope that he is much more reassured that we have addressed his concerns. If not, I look forward to seeing him in Committee. I thank my hon. Friend Matthew Green for his support for parts of the Bill, at least. I understand that he shares several worries that have been expressed by other hon. Members, but let us iron those things out in Committee rather than standing in the way of what is an essential and useful Bill.

When the debate started much earlier today, I said that the Bill was modest, and it is obviously going to be even more modest when it comes out of Committee. I am sorry about that, but it will nevertheless be important: important for crime reduction, important for sustainability, and important for holding the Government to account. It will prove to be proportionate and appropriate, so it should have the support of the House on Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Bills">Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).