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Mr. Forth: 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?

Ian Stewart: 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

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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

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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.

11.23 am

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (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

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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.

Ian Stewart: 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?

Mr. Hammond: 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—

Ian Stewart rose—

Mr. Hammond: 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.

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