Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Ian Stewart: 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.

Mr. Pound: 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.

Ian Stewart: My hon. Friend is correct, but all too often our constituents consider those facts only after

30 Jan 2004 : Column 451

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.

Mr. Hammond: 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 the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (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?

Ian Stewart: 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.

Mr. Forth: Oh, come on!

Ian Stewart: 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

30 Jan 2004 : Column 452

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.

Mr. Hammond: 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 the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (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. The hon. Member for Eccles (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?

Ian Stewart: 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.

30 Jan 2004 : Column 453

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.

Next Section

IndexHome Page