Clause 4 - Removal of exemptions and repeals

Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:45 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:

Promoter's amendment No. 14.

Promoter's new clause 2—Registers of information and documents to be kept by local authorities.

Promoter's amendments Nos. 17 and 18.

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)

Amendments Nos. 6 and 14 are sort of Cox and Box amendments, taking something out of one place and putting it in another. The provision is in the Bill now, and will be there afterwards, but in a different place.

New clause 2 will require local authorities to keep hold of information that they already have and make it available for inspection. The benefit is that, over time, there will be an accessible record of what alterations have been made to a building to improve its sustainability. Those alterations may well not be visible. If one goes to a house built in, say, the 1960s, and asks whether it has cavity wall insulation, one has to take the answer on trust. In due course—not immediately, and the provision will not apply retrospectively—there will be a way of tracking how our building stock is changing and developing. The new clause provides the mechanism for that. It will make open and accessible the service record of buildings that come to the attention of the local authority. I could take the Committee through the details of the various subsections, but bearing in mind the time, I will simply respond to any questions.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning) 11:00, 3 Mawrth 2004

Given the time constraints, I shall ask my question straightforwardly.

This seems to be a good principle, but I am worried about the significant burden on local authorities. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the fact that no comprehensive register of local authority housing stock exists. Indeed, no central analysis of land use in Britain exists, which is extraordinary when one considers that that is such an important consideration in all kinds of ways. I am worried that by placing this burden on local authorities, he will create an intolerable extra expense. If the job were done properly, it would be a significant task that would require resources and perhaps reskilling and the employment of extra staff. This is a good principle, but has he made any assessment of the burden?

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 welcome the hon. Gentleman's broad support for the proposal. He will see from the way in which it is drafted that there will be further consultation and detailed regulation, so it is not a done deal. My intention is that the clause should introduce a provision with modest implications for local authorities, which currently receive the information, although nothing else happens to it after work has been completed.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Llafur, Bolton South East

I think that I am right in saying that in the discussions in the Housing Bill Standing Committee, the hon. Gentleman's party was against the principle of what I still call seller's packs, which are otherwise known as housing information packs. Would it not be simpler and less of a burden on local authorities for such information to be included in the HIPs? Has he considered that?

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 considered all sorts of things, but I do not want to go beyond the scope of this debate and reopen the debate on seller's packs. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my party does not resist the principle of seller's packs. The current proposal provides something that goes beyond domestic properties and would be available for a whole range of properties. In the context of alterations to the Building Act 1984, it is a worthwhile mechanism to ensure that the information collected by local authorities in pursuance of that Act is available for public inspection.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Llafur, Morley and Rothwell

Has the hon. Gentleman discussed this measure with the Local Government Association, and has the potential cost been assessed?

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 had discussions about this clause with the LGA, although I understand that it gives general assent to the proposals. The Minister may be able to respond to that, but I cannot do so, although I agree with the hon. Gentleman's underlying point. It is important that we do not impose uncosted burdens on local authorities. I feel that strongly with my own local authority background. I am a stern critic of Government unloading functions and expenses on to authorities and not providing the means to pay for them. Although I do not exactly ask him to take it on trust, I hope that he will understand that I am on his side with regard to not imposing burdens on local authorities.

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

First, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that this technical amendment would shift the provision in clause 4 to clause 10. That move is necessary to cater for repeals and revocations stemming from new clause 2 on local authority registers that do not depend on clause 4.

I welcome the power that would be provided under new clause 2. I say to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings and my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell that this is an enabling provision that has been drafted in flexible terms. Any proposed use of the new power would be subject to thorough consultation, regulatory impact analysis and the rules on new burdens for local authorities. However, I should say that the new clause and regulations made under it would not affect the numbers and descriptions of notices, certificates, and so on given to or by local authorities. As the hon. Member for Hazel Grove said, that is essentially information that a local authority collects.

The principle that the public should have easy access to a register of key information about building control process has been established in legislation since the Building Act 1984 took effect. Section 56 of that Act, in part II, provides for public registers for the

purposes of building control by private sector approved inspectors. The section does not provide for registers relating to local authorities' own building control activity. That may have been due to issues of scope, time constraints or an expectation that local authorities would keep user-friendly public registers of information about their own building control work on a voluntary basis.

As it is, people increasingly expect to be able to check whether work done to the property that they are buying or have bought was done in accordance with the correct building control processes. Conveyancers, for example, look increasingly for such documentation. People wishing to make alterations to a property that they have bought may want to look at plans of their property. The new registers would help to respond to those needs.

On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East, registers under the clause would be of value for the purposes of the home information packs provided for in the Housing Bill. We envisage that such packs would include copies of any certificate relating to the construction or alteration of the property issued under the 1984 Act.

This is an enabling power; there will be thorough consultation on the regulatory impact assessment, and particularly on the burdens to local authorities.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Llafur, Stafford

I spotted that registers already exist under section 56 of the 1984 Act, so I was not surprised to hear what the Minister said about that. However, he then said that the issue was about the local authorities' functions and that they would be added to the register as a result of the amendment.

Those comments set me thinking. Under building regulations, local authorities do not do all the inspections any more; many of them have been subcontracted to National House Building Council inspectors. I wonder whether the measure catches all the activity that he says that consumers will want.

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

I can assure my hon. Friend, who makes a good point, that there would be no exceptions for people carrying out those functions.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Llafur, Stafford

In that case, the worry that others have expressed about the burdens imposed by the clause have some validity. Will not the Minister have to say that he will be very cautious in consulting about the matter in the future?

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

This is an enabling power, and we think that it is right that people should have user-friendly access to information. However, the regulations need to be well drafted; there should be full consultation and a full impact assessment. The new burdens that might be imposed on private and public sector providers should be considered. All those things will happen, but the important thing is that the clause provides us with the powers to undertake those regulations in the future.

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 Minister has put many caveats around the clause, which is quite proper. However, as I said earlier, the Bill provides some enabling powers, but it does not prescribe exactly what should happen. There is a further consultative loop, a further

regulatory assessment and a further opportunity for the House to consider regulation. We are some way away from having something in place, and we need to consider the transparency of the information that is being collected.

I say to the hon. Member for Stafford that ultimately there may or may not be some additional cost. None the less, if the Bill is implemented in the way that I envisage, it will not result in the collection of more information. However, the information that is collected by the proper person under clause 6 will be more reliable and therefore more valuable for the purposes of subsequent inspection by prospective purchasers or building owners as a track record of what has been done. I hope that the Committee will feel that, on balance, the amendment is a valuable addition to the Bill and that it will support it.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.