Clause 1 - Purposes of building regulations

Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:30 am ar 3 Mawrth 2004.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Llafur, Braintree

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 24, in

clause 1, page 1, line 20, at end add—

'( ) The National Assembly for Wales may insert further subsections for matters in relation to Wales.'.

Amendment No. 25, in

clause 2, page 2, line 13, at end add—

'(xxiif) and any other matter that the National Assembly for Wales may decide as regards Wales.'.

Amendment No. 26, in

clause 2, page 2, line 19, at end insert—

'( ) In Wales, the power under sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 8 shall be exercised by the National Assembly for Wales.'.

Amendment No. 27, in

clause 2, page 2, line 25, at beginning insert

'In Wales any further regulation will be made by the National Assembly for Wales unless already prescribed in this subsection.'.

Amendment No. 28, in

clause 2, page 2, line 2, at end insert—

'(c) The National Assembly for Wales has decided as such with regards to regulations affecting Wales.'.

Amendment No. 29, in

clause 3, page 3, line 39, at end insert

'And in respect of Wales, any other requirement that the National Assembly for Wales decides.'.

Amendment No. 31, in

clause 5, page 5, line 21, leave out from 'England' to end of line.

Amendment No. 32, in

clause 5, page 5, line 30, leave out from 'England' to end of line.

Amendment No. 33, in

clause 5, page 6, line 1, leave out 'and Wales'.

Amendment No. 34, in

clause 5, page 6, line 2, leave out 'and Wales'.

Amendment No. 35, in

clause 5, page 6, line 22, at end insert—

'(8) In Wales, the power under this section may be exercised by the National Assembly for Wales.'.

Amendment No. 36, in

clause 7, page 7, line 2, after 'authorities', insert 'in England'.

Amendment No. 37, in

clause 7, page 7, line 4, at end insert—

'( ) Planning authorities in Wales may be required by the National Assembly for Wales to set targets in their development plans in respect of the proportion of the buildings' energy requirements on a building site to be supplied by renewable sources.'.

New clause 3—Building regulations in relation to older dwellings—

'In section 3 of the Buildings Act 1984 (c.55), after subsection (3) there is inserted—

''(1A) In Wales, the power under subsection (1) will be exercised by the National Assembly for Wales.''.'.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

May I say at the outset that I am delighted to sit on this Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Hurst? I look forward to the Bill going through Committee, amended if necessary, but not so that its purposes are hindered. I look forward to its taking a shape that the Government find acceptable, and so becoming part of the legislation of the United Kingdom.

As you said, Mr. Hurst, it is convenient for the amendments to be grouped together, as they all relate to devolution, although not necessarily to clause 1. I hope that you will allow a short stand part debate on the principles of the clause, but first I shall focus on the amendments.

The background to the amendments is the devolution settlement, and the way in which Bills such as this, which go through the House, have to relate to the National Assembly for Wales. Much of what we will talk about in the framework of the Bill—but not everything—will be devolved to the Assembly in its administrative and regulatory functions. It is important that we take a little time to consider how the Bill will work with the Assembly's aims and objectives on energy efficiency and sustainable development.

The context is that the Assembly is the only Executive in the United Kingdom that has written into law the aims of sustainable objectives per se and sustainable development in particular. I welcome the fact that sustainable development is written into clause 1 of this Bill, too. The Assembly has a statutory duty under primary legislation to achieve sustainable development. We must ask ourselves how a Bill with the aim of sustainable development written into it, going through this House, marries in and matches up with the Assembly's sustainable development strategy, which is called ''Living Differently?''

There are two principles behind the amendments. Some deal directly with ensuring that the Bill fits into the current devolution settlement. That is to say, when we talk about the Secretary of State's powers to make regulations, and those regulations' aims of achieving sustainable development and energy efficiency, we must bear in mind that de facto—and de jure, indeed—it is the Assembly that does that in Wales.

The second principle behind the amendments relates to functions to do with building regulations that have not yet been devolved to the Assembly. I want to explain my feelings about why that has not happened. I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that there is a real reason for trying to achieve that devolution through the Bill. Last year, I served on the Committee considering the Municipal Waste Recycling Bill, promoted by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). A similar case arose with that Bill. When it came to Committee, it very much focused on England and could not really work in Wales because the right parts were not there for devolving it. We had a similar debate in that Committee on household recycling targets in Wales and England, and on how they might work. The Bill left Committee, and by Report, the Wales clauses were included. That was done in agreement between the Government and the promoter of the Bill, which worked well for England and Wales. I hope that that will happen as a result of this debate and these amendments. I do not seek to trammel up this Bill.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) will, at least in principle, support devolution in respect of the Bill, because he has always been a strong supporter of devolution in practice. My purpose is to see how the Minister will respond to these ideas and ensure that when the Bill is enacted it addresses the real needs and abilities of the National Assembly, allowing it to deliver some of the objectives in Wales.

Some parts of the building regulations were not transferred to the National Assembly at the time of the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the transfer of powers order. There is an interesting little story behind that, which explains how it happened, although I do not know whether it is true. A couple of years ago, I introduced my own private Member's Bill, the Housing (Wales) Bill, which got nowhere at all, other than a bare Second Reading that was deferred. However, I am pleased that the Government have taken up several issues in the current Housing Bill that were contained in my Bill, such as the licensing of houses in multiple occupation, and so forth. My Bill also contained an element about building regulations, and I am trying to put that into this Bill, which has a wonderful long title—

''To make provision in relation to matters connected with buildings''—

that is amendable from all sorts of perspectives.

The story is as follows. I took on a piece of work for my party and considered housing and housing needs in Wales. I produced a report about three years ago and came across a problem with building regulations. This was in the early days of the National Assembly, and many people were telling us that it could do everything with buildings, including planning, council tax and council housing functions, setting the cost floor and dealing with home renovation grants. In fact, they were saying that it had everything to do with sustainable building except building regulations in many respects. We asked the following question: ''Since building regulations are, as the name suggests, secondary legislation, you would

expect the National Assembly to have powers over that, so why did that not happen?''.

The story emerged that the Welsh Office had once had responsibility for building regulations. In the 1970s, a civil servant in Cathays Park in Cardiff had responsibility for them. Nobody knew about that then, because it was rather more hidden. There was a Secretary of State for Wales and building regulations were de facto undertaken by the Welsh civil service. However, that civil servant, whose name is no longer available to us, retired, and is now, I am sure, living in happy retirement in Pembrokeshire, or somewhere else. Perhaps that happened in a time of cost-cutting, when the then Secretary of State, whoever that was at the time—because who knows what Government was in power—said, ''Building regulations don't need to be administered in Cardiff. It's easy enough to do it from Whitehall. It can go back. Nobody will notice. There's no problem. I can talk to my colleagues about building regulations.'' When it came to the transfer of powers order and considering all the administrative functions being carried out in Wales—and transferring the powers to the National Assembly as a matter of course—the building regulations were not included and were not transferred, because they were not dealt with by the Welsh Office, as it then was.

I hope that hon. Members will see that, as all other parts of housing policy have been devolved to the National Assembly, it is not logical for that little bit of housing policy not to be devolved. I raised that with the Richard commission, which will report at the end of March, and we have encouraging signs that it will recommend not only that these powers be devolved, but the National Assembly have primary legislative powers. We are discussing a Bill that deals directly with building regulations, sustainable development and energy efficiency and therefore deals directly with a core strategy function of the National Assembly.

I hope that we will not wait for further devolution but will use the opportunity provided by the Bill to ensure that the National Assembly is properly empowered to carry out its objectives. That is a straightforward and simple thing to do, as it does not interfere with the devolution settlement. I hope that Committee members, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove and the Minister will consider the amendments in that light. The ones that deal with building regulations would extend the powers of the Assembly, but would do so correctly and within in the ambit of the Bill. The others, although they may be faulty in drafting, would ensure that the Bill works, and matches and marries with what the National Assembly does.

The Assembly is the only devolved body with the aim of sustainable development. This Bill imposes sustainable development—although ''impose'' is not the right word: we should not impose it, but simply live it. The Bill seeks to encourage sustainable development in terms of energy efficiency. We need to ensure that, if we put those two together, they work in the context of Wales. I hope that the Minister can give us the assurances that we need, and that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove considers these issues too. I

hope that the amendments, in principle at least, find agreement in the Committee.

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

I am delighted to be serving under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr. Hurst. I hope that we make a thorough assessment of the Bill, proceed with good pace, and arrive at the conclusion that we want. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hazel Grove on getting the Bill into Committee. We had a good Second Reading debate at which many detailed points were raised about the value and importance of the Bill. I have a number of reservations and questions that we will deal with in time, but now I want to express a general welcome. I hope that we can proceed with alacrity.

The group of amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) covers a variety of points, although clearly and predictably they have a common theme. Some of the amendments would allow the National Assembly for Wales to extend the scope and purposes for which building regulations may be made in relation to Wales. They would also provide that, in Wales, the power to make various sorts of building regulation would be exercised by the Assembly. Other amendments in the group would restrict to England the scope of the biennial report to Parliament, which the Secretary of State has to make under clause 5. Finally, the Assembly would be enabled to require local planning authorities to set targets in their development plans relating to the use of renewable energy.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Ceredigion, and two key points should be made. First, under the devolution settlement enshrined in the Government of Wales Act 1998, the National Assembly for Wales exercises ministerial functions transferred to it by Orders in Council. However, the Assembly is not empowered to enact or modify primary legislation. It operates within primary legislation frameworks laid down by the Westminster Parliament.

Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 would allow the Assembly to amend the limitations on the power to make building regulations that are laid down in section 1 of the Building Act 1984. Amendment No. 25 would similarly allow the Assembly to amend the list in respect of which regulations may be made, which is set out in schedule 1 to the 1984 Act. Amendment No. 28 would allow the Assembly to disregard the constraints imposed by the Bill on the new scope for requirements to be triggered by a change of occupants of an existing building. Amendment No. 29 seems intended to allow the Assembly to exercise the new power to impose continuing requirements on owners and occupiers of existing buildings, and to do so without any of the restrictions imposed by new section 2A, to be introduced by clause 3.

Unfortunately, all those amendments conflict with the principle that the Assembly works within the framework of primary legislation settled by Parliament. Some of the amendments would negate

constraints provided for in the Bill on the increased scope for regulations to apply to existing buildings. On that fundamental point alone, I hope that the hon. Member for Ceredigion agrees not to press his amendments because they contradict the principle that the Assembly works within the framework of primary legislation.

The second key point is that the Government of Wales Act 1998 allows for the transfer to the Assembly of the function of making building regulations of all descriptions. Indeed, I am pleased to say that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has agreed to a request from the Welsh Assembly Government for a dialogue in due course on the question of a transfer. I cannot in any way prejudge the outcome of the discussions, but the correct mechanism for transferring the function to the Assembly would be an order under the Government of Wales Act after due consideration and consultation. However, amendments Nos. 26 and 27 and new clause 3 run counter to that basic principle, so I ask the hon. Gentleman not to press them.

Amendments Nos. 31 to 34 would confine to England the scope of the reports that the Secretary of State must make to Parliament under clause 5. Amendment No. 35 seems intended to make it clear that the Assembly could or should draw up a corresponding report relating to Wales. In this case, too, the correct approach would be for the function of making the reports to be transferred to the Assembly by an order under the Government of Wales Act if, at a future date, that seemed appropriate. The powers under that Act would be sufficient to allow for modification of the reporting requirement—for example, to replace the duty to lay reports before Parliament with an alternative provision. With that clarification of how the measures might apply, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press those amendments.

Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 relate to clause 7, and the hon. Gentleman will know that I have tabled an amendment to remove that clause. Planning authorities do not need powers to set targets relating to renewable energy in development plans: they already have scope to do so. I shall say more about this when we reach clause 7, but planning functions under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 are devolved to the Assembly. However, the principles of the devolution settlement are such that the framework of primary legislation should be the same for England and Wales.

Although I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be disappointed with that reply, I hope that he can appreciate why I have to ask him not to press the amendments. It is so that we remain true to the current legislation that applies to the relationship between England and the Westminster Parliament, and the Welsh Assembly.

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) 9:45, 3 Mawrth 2004

It is good to serve under your chairmanship for the second time in a week, Mr. Hurst. I very much appreciate the fact that hon. Members have turned out in force on this important topic. Like others, I hope that we can

proceed expeditiously, so I shall take only a few moments on the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Ceredigion—at least I can say it in English, if not in Welsh.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his general support for the Bill. I appreciate his wish for it to make progress, and I understand where he is coming from on the amendments. As he quite properly says, I and other Liberal Democrat Members are strongly in favour of the devolution project, although we do not share his view about separation. However, I must draw his attention to the fact that the Bill takes only a small step towards having sustainable buildings. As I said on Second Reading, it is not the answer to everything, even as far as sustainability goes, and it is certainly not intended to be the Updating Welsh Devolution Bill.

The hon. Gentleman drew attention to the long title of the Bill and said that it was about things to do with buildings. Well, of course it has to do with buildings, but it does not relate to whole countries. In the spirit of what I hope will be an amicable and fruitful debate, I suggest that the amendments are, frankly, somewhat out of place and I hope that he will not delay the progress of the remainder of the Bill, which I think he agrees is worthy of support, by pressing them.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and the Minister for taking the time to consider how the amendments would fit in the Bill. I am also pleased that the Minister agreed with me that there were two sets of amendments, some changing the current devolution settlement and others relating more to current workings. I was pleased to hear that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has now agreed to hold a dialogue with the National Assembly. A bit of the devolution settlement is missing, and although this may not be the appropriate vehicle for plugging that gap, I am pleased that the omission has been acknowledged in both the ODPM and the National Assembly. I have been banging on about this for three or four years now.

I am not sure why we cannot have a report on these matters that is specific to Wales. I should like to return to that on Report. Wales has its own sustainable development strategy and its own energy efficiency ideas. In addition to a report on England and Wales to Parliament, there should be a separate report on Welsh issues to the Assembly, reflecting what we do on recycling and renewable energy. There is nothing new in that idea, albeit this may not be the way to achieve it. I should like the Minister and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove to consider how we can improve accountability to the National Assembly in the Bill.

In the light of the constructive comments on at least some of the amendments, and because I want the Bill to take that step forward on the wider issues of energy efficiency, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Llafur, Stafford

I welcome the fact that sustainability is being put at the heart of the aims of building regulations. Hon. Members have recently received the Minister's regulatory impact assessment, which makes clear the Government's determination to use the powers in the Bill to raise environmental standards and to put sustainability at the heart of future building work. Can he confirm that that is his intention? Will he undertake to draw to the attention of his sustainable building task group the progress on the Bill so that it takes account of the powers that it will confer by the time it makes its recommendations?

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Llafur, Stoke-on-Trent North

I, too, welcome the opportunity to support the Bill in every way possible. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hazel Grove. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), I should like to ask the Minister to give an undertaking. Will the task group look carefully at the needs of people with disability and the way that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 applies here? When we look at new building regulations with adaptations for new house building, we must ensure that those houses are fully accessible to people with disability.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning)

May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hurst? I know that our proceedings will be as civilised as every other aspect of your parliamentary work.

We must put on record the importance of the Bill in highlighting significant issues in respect of the sustainability of buildings. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove has done the House a service in taking the Bill thus far and allowing us to explore important issues relating to sustainability and security and the impact of housing on a range of other matters, such as health and antisocial behaviour issues. I do not imagine that our deliberations will last long, so during the course of this short but important scrutiny of the Bill, I hope that we will have a brief opportunity to explore some of those specific areas, which are highlighted in clause 1, in terms of their impact on current legislation.

So that they can do the necessary research, which will benefit our consideration, I suggest that Committee members have a close look at the work of Professor Alice Coleman, who has done a great deal of work on the relationship between building design, sustainability and community issues, and in particular the relationship between housing and law and order, antisocial behaviour and security, all of which are dealt with in the Bill.

At this early juncture, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hazel Grove. It is a matter for discussion whether the Bill is the most appropriate vehicle for achieving some of his noble objectives or whether amending other legislation would be a more appropriate way of dealing with the issues. I am mindful that we have just debated the Housing Bill, which deals with these matters in detail, at considerable length. There is a new housing health and safety rating system, which is the combination of a consideration of the material condition of buildings

and the nature of their occupiers. It tackles some of the issues raised in this Bill but not all of them. However, it is the interface between the new system and what the hon. Gentleman proposes that raises the question whether there are other means of providing incentives for home owners and landlords to encourage a more sustainable approach in ways that do not require the heavy hand of regulation.

I do not say that regulation is unnecessary, but we have to decide when to regulate and when to encourage, and I am not sure that the Bill has got the balance right. We will be able to explore that in detail when we have discussed clause 1, which sets us on course to debate the rest of the proposals.

The Bill makes some important points about security and sustainability. I shall speak about issues related to vulnerability and poverty, which are at the heart of the Bill. The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), who is a great champion of matters associated with warm homes, will no doubt refer to his crusade against fuel poverty, in which I join him with enthusiasm, as he knows. I am delighted to be able to play a small part in that process, and I hope we will be able to explore the issues as we continue our discussions.

Photo of Ms Helen Clark Ms Helen Clark Llafur, Peterborough

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Hurst. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hazel Grove on bringing the Bill to its Committee stage and the WWF on its effective and punchy sustainable homes campaign. If everyone on the planet consumed natural resources and polluted the environment as we do in the United Kingdom, living up to the ''polluter pays'' principle, we would need three planets to support us.

I welcome the clause. There are many examples of best practice in sustainable housing and the best known is the BedZed housing development in Beddington, near Sutton. However, the problem is that when building new homes, the excellent examples are not the rule but the exception. Only through the changes to the building regulations proposed in the Bill can we ensure that when the significant amount of new housing that is needed is built, sustainability is adopted as best practice. That will ensure that it is not only best practice but common practice, too.

I welcome the clause, and the Bill.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 10:00, 3 Mawrth 2004

It is good that so many enthusiasts are present in the Committee, as the hon. Member for Hazel Grove said and as contributions to the debate have shown. The Government support clause 1, which had unanimous support on both sides of the House on Second Reading.

We can currently make regulations dealing with the conservation of fuel and power and preventing the waste and misuse of water. We have used those powers to make regulations that require buildings and fittings, such as boilers and windows, to be more energy efficient. However, they do not allow us fully to address environmental protection and sustainable

development by, for example, taking measures on controlling greenhouse gas emissions from buildings or the recycling of building materials. The new powers in the Bill will allow us to do so. I might add that current powers do not allow us to address crime prevention and security through building regulations. The Bill gives us that power, so that better locks on doors and windows could be required, for example.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford mentioned the regulatory impact assessment, which I hope all hon. Members have received. In response, I should point out that all the provisions relating to new powers to make building regulations provide enabling powers, which is why the RIA talks about only the cost of producing the biennial report. The Bill itself does not impose any new burdens on businesses, charities, voluntary organisations or the public, and it will not do so until regulations are made under its powers. As we may repeat later, it is not now but when we make regulations under the Bill that there will be a full regulatory impact assessment and consultation.

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

One concern about the enabling powers is that their use could take some time. Will the Minister give an assurance that the regulations will be brought forward as soon as reasonably possible?

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

I cannot give any time scales. My hon. Friend will understand that we will consider that matter in a later debate, assuming that the Bill is passed. I can say that we have considered the following options, as described in the regulatory impact assessment: option 1 is to do nothing; option 2 is broadly to follow voluntary guidance; and option 3 is to use the new powers to place statutory requirements on owners of buildings and so on. The Government's preferred option is option 3.

I think that I am making it clear that we intend to proceed with that approach, but obviously, we will do so only following the widest consultation and assessment of its impact.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning)

There is an option missing from the regulatory impact assessment—for which, incidentally, we are grateful: the design aspects that have an impact on security. As I mentioned earlier, the work of a number of independent experts in this field, such as Professor Alice Coleman of King's college London, suggests that there are fundamental design issues that have an impact on security. Therefore, in guidance at least, the Government should take a decisive position on how they influence design. Once the buildings are built and an estate is established, it is often impossible to reverse some of the intrinsic design features that jeopardise the security of residents.

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

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point in support of the Bill in principle, and with some reservations that we will address later. I am pleased that he now wants the Government to issue guidance for designing out crime. Perhaps I should not say so in this context, but it is interesting that at a time when other parts of his party are asking for less regulation and guidance on letting positions, he offers to support further guidance on such matters. However, I will not go down that road. In the spirit of wishing to have

agreement across the Committee, let me say that I think that his suggestion deserves further attention.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) mentioned the particular needs of people with disabilities. She will know that part M of the building regulations deals with access and facilities for disabled people. The Bill allows the new sustainability provisions to be consistent and in parallel with those regulations.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning)

I apologise to the Minister for interrupting his exciting peroration, but I also want to focus on housing for people with special needs and particularly those with disabilities. He will know that there is a widespread view, at least among Opposition Members, that a register of accessible homes would be very helpful, as it would allow for a better match between people with special needs and available housing. The Government have so far resisted that proposal. Will he explain why and tell us what his alternative is? It is a question not of more or less guidance, but of good or bad guidance.

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

I do not want to stray too far from the purposes of the Bill. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove has made it clear that although this is an important Bill, it is narrowly prescribed; we are trying to amend the Building Act 1984 to allow us to set building regulations for matters regarding sustainability, crime prevention, the reuse and recycling of materials and demolition. If I strayed on to issues such as a register of homes and accessibility for disabled people, I fear not only that I would incur your wrath, Mr. Hurst, but that I would not find favour among other hon. Members. I will not be tempted down that route, but I log and appreciate the concerns of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes).

The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that he supports the principles of the Bill. I am grateful for that and I think that it will help this morning's sitting. He also mentioned the wide range of expertise of others in the field, including in design. I want to highlight the work of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, which is a Government body. I have met and well know those involved, who provide excellent support and advice in their own time, using their expertise. I put on record my grateful acknowledgment and thanks to those individuals, who provide Government with essential advice on building regulations.

Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Clark) mentioned the WWF's sustainable homes campaign. I was present at the launch of that campaign in the House. It is an ambitious campaign and I wish it well. We are doing our best in Government to respond, and I believe that the Bill will contribute in a major way to the success of that campaign.

In general, we are of one mind. There are details to work through and amendments to consider, including those tabled by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, but I hope that, given a fair wind and general support, we can make progress.

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)

Having heard the debate, I feel that I am among friends, but that is a dangerous thing to say. Clause 1 is the heart of the Bill's intention and those who have contributed accept that it is vital. There is a problem in relation to the sustainability and security of buildings, and the Bill provides some of the solution to it. I thank hon. Members who commented on both those aspects of what the Bill tackles.

It is important to underline a point that the Minister made—the Bill does not impose new requirements on construction, owners or buildings; it opens the door for those changes to be made in future. Those changes will be made in the same way as any other changes to the building regulations: there will be an extensive period of consultation with the industry, putative owners and organisations at the paying end of the equation, and the proposals will return to the House for consideration along with a regulatory impact assessment. There will be opportunities to discuss whether the proposals are proportionate and produce the required results, and whether those results cannot be achieved by other means.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings that regulation is not all that is needed. On Second Reading, I talked about possible financial and fiscal incentives, and a cultural change is also needed. Many of us in this Room may be tuned in to issues about recycling, reuse and the efficient running of homes, but sadly many people are not. Several elements must work together if sustainability is to make an impact. We must remember that 27 per cent. of the United Kingdom's carbon emissions come from homes, never mind the retail and commercial sector. There is a huge amount that could be done and clause 1 lays the foundations for tackling it.

Several interesting points have been made. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North mentioned the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. That is the sort of issue that will be picked up at the next stage, when regulations are considered and consulted on. One has to make sure that, in prescribing or advising that construction should produce one result, some other equally desirable function is not blocked.

On Second Reading, we talked about the potential conflict between security against crime and security against fire. The advantage of my Bill is that it would bring the regulation process into one comprehensive place; there would not be one set of people doing things about disability discrimination, another set doing things about fire and a third set concerned with security against crime. With different levels of enforceability, we will be able to bring those things together. I hope that that gives some reassurance to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning)

The cohesive approach for which the hon. Gentleman calls needs to be supported with a hierarchy of risk, as he implied but did not state. He is right; sometimes there are conflicting issues associated with design and planning that create different sorts of imperatives. However, that is already heralded. There is a hierarchy of risk in the Government's assessment of housing fitness—a more sophisticated assessment than we have ever had—so the principle of a cohesive

approach that is also hierarchical in the way in which it analyses risk is already embedded in Government thinking. It should not be too difficult to extend that as he proposes.

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 certainly hope that the hon. Gentleman is right. I have not made too many extravagant claims for my Bill. It is one piece of a jigsaw that must be completed by putting other pieces in place. Without my piece, the jigsaw will not be finished; without other pieces it will not be complete. I hope that we can bring all those things together.

The document to which the hon. Gentleman refers is about housing. All the issues that we have talked about—fire, disability and carbon emissions—are important in the commercial and retail sectors. The largest expansion in carbon emissions at the moment comes from the commercial sector rather than the domestic sector. I will not make a meal of it; I simply say that I believe that the Committee shares my view that clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Llafur, Bolton South East

I would like to make some brief comments on the clause that I also made during the discussions on energy and efficiency in respect of the Housing Bill. It is right to underline them here and to draw them to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister.

The Government have several instruments for improving our buildings. Improvements in building regulations have been made under this Government, and I congratulate them on that. The Bill helps tremendously in that respect, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Hazel Grove on winning pole position in the ballot on private Members' Bills.

The decent homes standard is another instrument that the Government use. We are leaving people behind in fuel poverty, despite the fact that we have improved houses up to the decent homes standard both in the private and the social housing sectors. That standard needs reviewing for energy efficiency purposes; it is leaving people behind in fuel poverty.

The other two main instruments are contained in the Housing Bill. One relates to houses in multiple occupation, which we will come to again in this Bill; I reserve my comments on those. The other instrument is the new standard for the inspection of unfit houses, which covers not only the health of people living in the houses, but their safety, which is extremely important.

There is a lack of consistency between the different instruments that the Government use in improving our homes, such as energy efficiency proposals and the targets put forward by various Acts of Parliament. I draw that to the Minister's attention, and I hope that the Government will examine that lack of consistency, particularly in respect of the decent homes strategy.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning) 10:15, 3 Mawrth 2004

I want to reinforce the point that the hon. Gentleman has made on other occasions. He describes the lack of consistency between different aspects of Government policy, but he understates it a little. I suspect that he means—and perhaps he will

intervene if I am wrong—that if the Government apply their standards in terms of warm homes, they will still leave a significant number of people in fuel poverty.

There is a mismatch between the Government's standards to achieve their targets and an assault on fuel poverty. That is a point that the hon. Gentleman has forcefully made elsewhere. Therefore, the issue is not simply a lack of consistency, but an unwillingness on the Government's part to drive through their intentions with a programme that will eliminate or at least minimise fuel poverty in the way that he and I seek. The Government will not simply miss their targets on fuel poverty; even if they achieve them, many people will still be disadvantaged.

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Llafur, Braintree

Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will redirect his comments back to the clause in its entirety.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning)

Of course, that is critical in our consideration of the clause, Mr. Hurst, as you have reminded this Committee and me.

The clause establishes a range of new considerations about building standards, and we must be mindful of the gaping hole that already exists in those standards in respect of the mismatch between warm home targets and fuel poverty. The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East alluded to that issue in his typically polite and understated way. Therefore, this is not a minor indictment against the Minister, but a serious charge. He must answer it for his Government because he does not want to be a Minister who, when he leaves office in a few months time, is remembered as the person who left countless thousands of vulnerable people in desperate fuel poverty.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.