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1.4 pm

Matthew Green (Ludlow) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) on securing first place in the ballot for private Member's Bills and on introducing a measure that promises much and could be a huge step forward. However, it would do that modestly by enabling the Government to change building regulations. I shall not speak for longer than a couple of minutes because some people spoke for too long, but I want to make a few points.

The Bill would allow two-way metering, if the Government choose to introduce that useful power. Micro-combined heat and power may mean that we need two-way metering in a few years. The crime prevention provisions are vital and I am sure that they have Government support. Enforcement of building regulations has not been especially effective until now, and these welcome provisions would help with that. Provisions to remove the exemption for schools and public utilities buildings and bring them back into line with other buildings are also very acceptable. The enhanced Government accountability for which the measure provides is welcome, too.

Much has been said about cost by people who know very little about the cost of building eco homes. Build cost, not land price, is approximately £78,000, compared with £75,000 for a conventional home. An eco standard home is therefore only about £3,000 more than a conventional home.

Mr. Dismore: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Matthew Green: No, I am not taking interventions. The figures are based on Shropshire prices; they would be higher in London and the south-east. Many comments on cost have been utter tosh.

I welcome the Bill and I hope that it receives a Second Reading, as it deserves to do. Committee proceedings could deal with any difficulties that have been highlighted and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove would be happy to consider them, too.

1.7 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Phil Hope): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) on securing the No. 1 slot in the private Member's Bill ballot. As the Minister with responsibility for building

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regulations, I am especially pleased that he has chosen a measure that will amend them under the Building Act 1984. On the whole, the measure will help to support Government policies and aspirations on sustainable development. We have a few reservations, which I shall outline shortly, but I hope that we can generally support the Bill.

The measure has triggered a full debate. My hon. Friends the Members for Eccles (Ian Stewart) and for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), and the hon. Members for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) and for Ludlow (Matthew Green) made considerable contributions and detailed points, many of which we will tackle in Committee rather than this afternoon. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove took many interventions in his introductory remarks, and tried to deal fairly and fully with many points.

I had hoped to speak at greater length about the general context and explain that the Bill is only part of a wider strategy to promote sustainable development and security. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge cannot be with us for the end of the debate. He made the point that there is a variety of other levers, mechanisms, incentives, encouragements and so on that we use to try to promote sustainable development and security. The Government have promoted many of those in different ways, for example, through grants, to make change happen. So the Bill is part of a wider package of important measures to promote those issues.

In the time available to me, I should like to examine each of the clauses from the Government's point of view. Clause 1 deals with the "Purposes of building regulations". We currently make regulations to deal with the conservation of fuel and power and to prevent the waste and misuse of water. We have also used the existing powers to make regulations to require fittings such as boilers and windows to be more energy efficient. They do not, however, allow us fully to address environmental protection and sustainable development issues, such as controlling greenhouse emissions from buildings or recycling building materials. The new powers in the Bill would allow us to do so.

Nor do the current powers allow us to address crime prevention and security issues through building regulations—that comes as quite a surprise to most people—even though we have powers relating to fire safety, and part B of the building regulations deals with many similar areas. On Monday, we debated the Fire and Rescue Services Bill and discussed water sprinklers and many other issues, but, under the Building Act 1984, we do not have the powers that I have just described. This Bill would give us those powers, so that simple items, such as better locks on doors and windows, could be required through building regulations. Clause 1 also extends the matters about which regulations could be made to include demolition, a subject that several hon. Members have mentioned today. That is necessary if we wish to ensure that material is collected for recycling and reuse. I am therefore pleased to say that the Government fully support clause 1.

Clause 2 deals with the "Contents of building regulations". Subsections (1) to (4) add to the list in paragraph (7) to schedule 1 of the Building Act 1984 of matters that regulations may cover within the general

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purposes in section 1. We are not convinced that all the items in clause 2(4) are necessary, as they are already covered in section 1 of the Building Act, as I think the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge pointed out. The hon. Member for Ludlow voiced his concern about two-way electricity meters. At this stage, we would like to consider these issues further and to clarify in Committee some of the detailed points that have been triggered by the Bill and raised today.

The second part of clause 2 extends the powers to make regulations to deal with existing buildings. It is a general principle of building regulations that they are not retrospective. That means that buildings need comply only with the requirements in force at the time that they were built or altered. There are some exceptions, however. They would apply, for example, when a building, or part of it, is altered, when there is a change of use, or when certain replacement services, fittings or equipment are installed.

Clause 2(5) and (6) would add to those exceptions and allow regulations to apply to existing buildings in circumstances involving demolition, the use of recycled materials—that is very important—the conservation of fuel and power, the reduction of emissions, a change of occupancy of all or part of a building, or planned work on the building. We have heard a great deal of discussion today about retrospective application. The Government consider that the additions are both sensible and necessary if we are fully to address the issues of the recycling of building materials, the conservation of fuel and power, and the reduction of emissions.

I note a technical amendment to section 44 of the Building Act 1984 to ensure that the substantive changes made in respect of other buildings could apply also to Crown buildings, and I am pleased that there appears to be consensus on that proposal on both sides of the House. The Government can support clause 2, with the one reservation that I mentioned, on which we shall seek further clarification in Committee.

Clause 3 has exercised hon. Members today more than any other. It deals with "Continuing requirements of building regulations" and would allow regulations to impose continuing requirements on the owners and occupiers of buildings, when such requirements are needed for the purposes of conserving fuel and power or reducing emissions. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who currently occupies the Opposition Front Bench, asked what we were talking about in that regard. Nitrous oxide is one example, and carbon dioxide is another. A variety of vapours and gases are incorporated into that—I am not sure whether that covers the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon.

The requirements that could be imposed for those purposes are inspection and testing of the building or its services, fittings or equipment; implementation of measures in relation to the building or its services, fittings or equipment; keeping of appropriate records on those matters; and making reports to prescribed authorities on them. Again, I note a technical amendment to section 44 to allow the same duties to be imposed on Crown buildings as on other buildings. The Government consider that the clause would ensure that

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buildings were appropriately maintained and improved in respect of conservation of fuel and power and reduction of emissions.

Many Members have raised concerns about how we would use those powers. The point about the Bill is that it provides enabling powers, and it will become a matter of whether those powers are enacted through building regulations. Many of the points that have been made about costs and benefits will be matters for the detailed building regulations. I want to make it clear to the House that none of the powers in the Bill would come into effect, were it to become an Act of Parliament, until they became building regulations. It is an important point, about which many Members have been concerned. All proposed regulations will be subject to full public consultation to gauge technical practicality, competence of builders and installers to carry them out, and public acceptability. Of course, as has been mentioned, a full regulatory impact assessment would be needed to examine costs and benefits.

I shall not rehearse the full process through which building regulations must go before they are enacted as such, but it is extremely thorough. When new regulations are required, the Building Regulations Advisory Committee examines the proposals through working parties, draft regulatory impact assessments must be undertaken, which must be approved by Ministers as proposals, public consultation for a minimum of three months follows, the working party of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee must consider those responses, which triggers another revision to the regulatory impact assessment, and the advisory committee must consider the issues and advise Ministers on whether to proceed. Even then, a statutory instrument must be laid before Parliament, with a debate on a negative resolution if requested, and changes would normally only come into force six months after the statutory instrument was laid. A complex, fully open and transparent public process of accountability therefore takes place when drafting building regulations to ensure that many of the concerns that hon. Members have raised are taken fully into account.

In addition, when we examine the regulatory impact, the criteria we use include the following. Is regulation the only way of achieving the Bill's objectives? Are the requirements proportionate—a critical word—to the problem?

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