Building (Amendment) Regulations 2002

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Christopher Leslie): What a fine exposition—a tour de force—of all the issues surrounding window building regulations we have had from the hon. Member for Cotswold. It was extremely impressive, and it is a great honour to follow his speech. I should also like to pay tribute to my predecessor, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, who was instrumental in the formulation of much of what we are discussing today. I warmly welcome the opportunity to debate the building regulations and the important new initiative of self-certification. I shall try my best to cover the many points raised.

I want first to say a little about what self-certification, as a principle, seeks to achieve—the point raised by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome. By allowing members of the schemes that are recognised under the regulations to self-certify their work, the Government are ensuring that we meet our Kyoto commitments to reduce carbon emissions, without imposing unbearable burdens on installers or local authorities. We are promoting competent firms, by deliberately rewarding good practice. We are reinforcing existing voluntary schemes and encouraging the creation of new ones that will ensure safe, quality workmanship and bring added customer protection. We are reducing the burden of inspection as much as possible from building control bodies, so that they can concentrate on high-risk installers and builders.

The Government's intention is to enhance the reputation of the industry and place responsibility where it best lies—with the installer. With that in mind, we embarked on the process of introducing self-certification into the building regulations. The current schemes cover not only the replacement of windows, but the replacement of oil and solid fuel fired combustion appliances, and plumbing. All that work has health and safety implications and is controlled by the building regulations.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister has fallen straight into my point of order. Will he now say categorically which Department is responsible for the Health and Safety Executive?

Mr. Leslie: When the transfer of functions orders are published, it is thought that health and safety matters will be transferred to the Department for Transport, although many issues are inter-related and there is great co-ordination between Government Departments as there always has been on health and safety regulations, building regulations, construction and other matters. All will be made clear, when the orders are published, as happens with any Government change.

I refer now to the largest and most recent scheme, the fenestration self-assessment scheme—Fensa. It allows registered window installers to self-certify that their work complies with the building regulations. The Government made replacement windows a controlled fitting as a result of changes that were made to part L of the building regulations that deal with the

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conservation of fuel and power. The total package of changes will ultimately prevent 1.4 million tonnes of carbon per annum from being discharged into the atmosphere by 2010. The changes are significant and will ensure that windows are installed in an energy efficient manner.

It soon became clear that the 1.2 million replacement window contracts undertaken each year could result in a cost burden on the industry having to go through normal building control, and on building control itself. To overcome that, we accepted a proposal from the Glass and Glazing Federation to develop a self-certification scheme. We made it clear that any such scheme must be open to all firms that met the eligibility criteria and that the group developing it must include key stakeholders. Among others, those invited to attend the steering group were the District Surveyors Association, the House Builders Federation, consumer organisations, the Trading Standards Institute, the Law Society, glazing industry representative bodies and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, as was.

Much of the debate has focused on consultation and on our attempt to address the history of that process. The draft scheme rules were launched at a major event at the Aston Villa conference centre on 4 December 2001, which was attended by about 650 people. That was the largest conference in the country to have been dedicated to glazing. A video was available for those who were unable to attend, but I do not have a copy of it to hand at present. In parallel with that, we consulted at all stages—from consideration of the initial options, through to the agreeing of the contents of the final scheme—with the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, which is a statutory advisory body.

In a short space of time, a workable fair and transparent scheme has been developed. There has been more than adequate consultation on it, which gave considerable opportunity for those not involved in the detail of its creation to be involved at a later date, and the door is still open for those who wish to contribute to the evolution of this policy.

The self-certification of replacement windows is helping us to meet our international environment commitments at a minimum cost, while also going some way to improve the reputation of the glazing industry. The Fensa scheme is an innovative and radical approach to complying with the building regulations in England and Wales, and it offers a model on which we can build in the future.

Fensa will operate a scheme that will be almost totally electronic. To address the point that the hon. Member for Cotswold was asking about, local authorities will be sent certificates in an electronic format, and they will be able to arrange for automatic storage on their databases without further work.

Mr. Heath: The Minister has glossed over the main thrust of the debate: why were the Federation of Master Builders and other representatives of small builders not consulted? Has he not asked the Building

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Regulations Advisory Committee why it did not undertake such consultations? Is he not curious as to why builders were not asked about building?

Mr. Leslie: The consultation history is worthy of close examination, and I have been trying my best to read the runes of what went on over the past few years. I wish to emphasise three key elements of the consultation process.

First, there was the principle of self-certification. There were two main consultations on that—the 1997 consultation document, which addressed proposals for reducing the administrative burden that also had the prospect of enhancing health and safety, and the document that we published in 1999 that took forward self-certification under the building regulations. Therefore, there was a significant consultation process with everyone concerned on the principle of self-certification—and that was open to the Federation of Master Builders.

Secondly, as the Committee is aware, there were significant changes to part L of the building regulations, and there was also a considerable consultation on those principles, which was published—I think—in 1998, and firmer proposals were published in April 2001. Therefore, there was a significant period during which representations could have been made on those aspects of the changes affecting windows and their low emissivity values.

Thirdly, the point that must be stressed about Fensa is that it was never intended to be a detail of our consultation. It was set up by the Glass and Glazing Federation, which was the body that undertook the bulk of the detailed consultation about the structure that it was setting up. I have mentioned the Aston villa conference in 2001, and that was part of that process. Therefore, there was considerable consultation on all parts of this legislation.

I turn to the electronic operations in the Fensa scheme. It is important that local authorities will be sent certificates in electronic form. They will then be able to search their own databases, or use the central Fensa database. The scheme has been designed to place the minimum burdens on local authorities and installers, while making the maximum use of the latest technology.

Fensa has already registered 4,000 firms that have agreed to offer an insurance-backed guarantee and have their work inspected regularly. The majority of the glazing industry—calculated by volume—has already been covered, and we expect Fensa to go from strength to strength. We are also aware that the other schemes that have been mentioned have had considerable interest from potential members, and we look forward to a significant increase in membership over the next year. Indeed, on current growth rates, by the end of the year Fensa could have 11,000 members, making it one of the largest registration schemes in the country.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister touches on a subject that has not yet been mentioned in the debate but which is important—Fensa's efficiency. Will the Minister give the Committee an undertaking that he

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and his Department and successors will continue to monitor Fensa's work and ensure that it deals with applications efficiently? What appeal mechanism will there be against its decisions? It is an overarching body, and if it starts to become unreasonable, a mechanism of appeal will be necessary.

Mr. Leslie: I can give the undertaking that the Department will keep a close watch on how things progress, especially as this is a pilot scheme in self-certification and developing the policy. The Fensa steering group will help oversee many of the nuts and bolts of the issues involved, and our mind is not closed on the operation of the scheme. If over time changes seem necessary, we shall be happy to consider them.

On an appeals mechanism, I would be worried about creating overly bureaucratic structures, but I shall consider the matter. However, as we are at such an embryonic stage, we should like to remain flexible.

It might help if I discuss some of the other schemes in the building regulations and the consultation that was held. We recognised at an early stage that it was a new venture—

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