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House of Commons

Wednesday 19 October 2005

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Building Regulations

1. Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): What factors were considered in the decision to limit the revised part L of the building regulations so that only extensions to a commercial building over 1,000 sq m require consequential work upon the original building in order to minimise its overall carbon footprint. [19109]

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): Part L of the building regulations covers improvements to new buildings. It will lead to savings of 1 million tonnes of carbon and also includes the measure from the European directive on buildings above 1,000 sq m. Existing buildings will be covered by the new review we have set up, which will consult stakeholders next year.

Sir Robert Smith: I thank the Minister for her answer, but what she has not told us is why the Government chose to water down the proposals that they originally put out for consultation, under which the savings would clearly have been far greater. Will she explain why the proposals were watered down and why the announcement was made in the middle of the recess and not while the House was sitting, so that questions could be asked at the time? If the Government do not address the issue of existing housing stock, we shall not be able to reach our targets of tackling global warming through carbon emissions.

Yvette Cooper: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest in climate change. I notice that his entry in the Register of Members' Interests includes Shell, Texaco and Rio Tinto. He raised an important point about the timing of the announcement. I wrote to the Chair of the Select Committee to apologise for making the announcement over the summer, but we thought it important to introduce the details about the part L regulations because the building industry has to implement them from April of next year and needs time to prepare.
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The hon. Gentleman made a wider point about the impact on existing buildings and about other measures. The overall impact of the changes is a 40 per cent. improvement in the energy efficiency of new buildings, which is equivalent to emission savings on about 1 million semi-detached homes. That is a big impact and it should be welcomed. It is right that we should go further and we are looking into a wider review of existing buildings as a whole range of measures need to be taken into account—not just regulations, but incentives and issues such as home information packs.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister will recall that I wrote to her on behalf of the British Flue and Chimney Manufacturers Association and a member firm in my constituency about the proposed part L building regulations, as they are based on a house model with neither flue nor chimney. Does she agree that there will be health, aesthetic and economic problems if we do not amend the regulations and that we risk seeing the slow death of the British chimney and the hundreds of jobs that are based on it in constituencies such as mine?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend has written to me and I have looked into the issues he raised and written back to him extensively. He will know that the building regulations do not make it impossible to have chimneys in buildings, but they set stretching standards. We must recognise both the impact of households on energy emissions and our responsibility to future generations to make improvements in that area. I hope that the chimney industry will respond to that challenge.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Does the Minister agree that as a nation we should be trying to move towards zero emissions from new build? Given the hundreds of thousands of new houses planned by her Department, tens of thousands of which will be in the Kettering constituency, is not the issue even more important than it was before the general election?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to make improvements, and those that we have set in train with the part L revisions are substantial and stretching. We shall also be introducing a new code for sustainable development, which will be published before the end of the year. He may be interested to know that, as a result of those improvements, current plans for 1.1 million new homes across the wider south-east, as part of the sustainable communities plan, can actually be introduced with 23 per cent. fewer emissions than the previous Government's plan for 900,000 new homes.

"Improving Services, Improving Lives"

2. Mr. Shahid Malik (Dewsbury) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the social exclusion unit's interim report "Improving Services, Improving Lives". [19110]

The Minister of Communities and Local Government (Mr. David Miliband): The interim report from the social exclusion unit explores public service provision for disadvantaged people. It is the first of an important
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series of SEU reports looking at how to ensure that public services, and public service reform, benefit everyone and promote social justice.

Mr. Malik: May I take this opportunity to congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister, his ministerial team and the social exclusion unit on an excellent report? Does the Minister agree that as Departments have seen record investment, that no longer remains the main challenge? Departments are still perceived as working in silos, so what reassurance can my right hon. Friend offer me that the concept of cross-departmental or joined-up working is being implemented on the ground to maximise impact in the fight against poverty and disadvantage?

Mr. Miliband: My hon. Friend makes a good point. To build on the 2 million more people in work, the 700,000 children taken out of poverty and the 75 per cent. cut in the number of rough sleepers, it is right that we look at the way government works. As it happens, I have an example from my hon. Friend's constituency, which I am sure will be of interest to the whole House because of its implications for national policy The Ravensthorpe neighbourhood management initiative brings together police, probation, the Court Service and business to help tackle drug and related problems.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Is it not somewhat hollow for the Minister to talk about social inclusion while his Department is cutting the supporting people budget? I hope that he has read the Audit Commission's report, which, at best, shows that for every two steps forward the Government are taking three steps back. People in Oxfordshire find that reference to social inclusion really hollow when, in practical terms, that budget is being slashed and there are cuts in their services and those for people with mental health problems and learning difficulties.

Mr. Miliband: What does ring hollow is the Conservative party, which went into the last election pledging to slash the budgets for such initiatives—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) will contain himself, I will answer the question. My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government met Oxfordshire MPs recently to discuss that issue. The hon. Gentleman will also know that the Audit Commission report congratulates the Government on the success of the supporting people programme. I hope that he will bear that in mind when rendering the House with the benefit of his views.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Social exclusion concerns us all. If the Government's good intentions were translated into their statistics, it would presumably no longer exist. However, as the Government's rather aggressive "respect" agenda identifies, social problems are still deeply rooted in our most disadvantaged communities and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen in Labour Britain. Why does the Minister think that is so? Is he worried about it?
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Mr. Miliband: As a matter of fact, the growth of income inequality has been arrested in this country over the past eight years, in contrast to every other advanced western industrialised country—[Interruption.] I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman to give him the statistics on income inequality. As for the position in our most disadvantaged areas—I know that he has taken a long-standing interest in this—I think that he will agree that we should both be pleased about the fact that employment and education have improved faster than the national average in the 88 most deprived parts of the country.

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