The Building Research Establishment...assessors do not know whether a 2016 carbon neutral home is carbon neutral for the whole house or is it just for the energy and lighting in the house. If the BRE assessors dont know, how are the housebuilders supposed to know?
The Red Book does include a commitmentin the Treasurys usual and modestly named utopia-regular fontthat a definition of a zero-carbon home for the purposes of the 2016 ambition will be forthcoming at the end of the year following further consultation. But that being so, I see no reason why the Government will not accept amendment No. 20, which would commit them to laying regulations on the long-term definition before the House by the end of December.
This policy and its associated definitional problems have now had a very long gestation period and things are still changing in fits and starts. In its first six months of operation, the stamp duty exemption has been used a mere handful of times. Nevertheless, it has already been the subject of one backdated statutory instrument, in December, and now another backdated clause in this Bill to extend its remit. We have now debated it several times and come at it from so many angles that I am beginning to feel as though this is groundhog day.
Every month that goes by without certainty is a month in which the confidence of the building sector and the general public in this policy will be further eroded. This policy is becoming the very definition of spin over substance. The time has surely now come to make a commitment in the Bill to get the long-term definition right once and for all, and I welcome our amendment to that effect.
The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle): We have had an interesting debate. I have been struck by the good will on both sides of the Committee towards making progress to achieve the desired outcomethe existence of zero-carbon homes, whatever the definitionand to ensuring, by 2016, that all new house building is zero-carbon. That is very positive.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) made a point about the turnover of housing stock being much slower than the turnover in, say, transport. That has a direct bearing on the carbon savings calculated from the existence of zero-carbon houses. By definition, those savings start slowly and increase as zero-carbon and low-carbon homes, which are not the same thing, are built and have an increased presence in the housing stock. The benefits in carbon savings from the existence and development of such homes will start off as minuscule and rise slowly. If the process is successful, the carbon savings will be much greater at the end than at the beginning. Clearly, they will have to be much greater by 2050 if we are to reach the 60 per cent. or 80 per cent. savings that the Stern report demonstrated were necessary to achieve climate stabilisation. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that point to the Committees attention.
The other point that needs to be borne in mind before I get into the detail of the debate was made during a
very good speech by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). He said, to quote him, that carbon accounting is a very rudimentary science at the moment. That is true, and it will evolve and develop as we go along. We cannot expect to have the same level of sophistication in how we do something this new and novel, even though it is important, as we can in other accounting methods.
Hon. Members in all parts of the Committee will have to be patient as we develop our measurements and standardise them for reporting back to the House. We also need to avoid the problems that we have had with the more ordinary accounting methods for companies, which were developed a couple of hundred years ago. They were developed all over the world on different bases and it has taken 200 years to standardise them.
We need not only to develop our standards of carbon accounting for our economy, but to do so in a way that can be standardised across the globe if we are to develop emissions trading systems and ways of measuring life-cycle carbon emissions. That is what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West was talking about in his speech. Although it is an aspiration for us all, and although these are important tools, we cannot pretend that we have all the answers now. If the Government are to be criticised for keeping coming back to definitions and for making minor savings in carbon emissions at the beginning of an important but long-term process, as a Minister I will have to put my hands up to that.
Hon. Members from all parties need to understand, as some have made clear they do in their comments today, that the situation is evolving. Standards have not yet been set and they need to evolve. Global standardisation also needs to evolve. Carbon accounting is a rudimentary science that needs to become much more sophisticated very quickly if we are to be effective. I hope that hon. Members will bear those issues in mind as we deal with the detail on the amendments, as well as with the new clause.
Before I deal with the amendments in more detail, let me say that much fun has been had with the number of zero-carbon homes that are in existence, and people have said that the carbon savings are so minuscule that they will make no difference. The stamp duty exemptions that we are debating under clause 90 and the amendments to it are important, but they are only one part of the work that the Government are doing.
By definition, since the exemptions are attempting to create a different standard for the emissions of a house over its general life, such houses will form a tiny part of the housing stock and will have to be in the new-build areas. Hon. Members should not forget that the Government have a raft of other policies that deal with existing housing stock and make it more energy efficient. Those policies include the carbon emissions reduction target regulations and Warm Front regulations, which are doing so much on energy efficiency. We have a whole range of retro-fitting activity, if I can lump it all in that phrase, that attempts to deal with our existing housing stock.
It is true that we need to go for housing with low carbon emissions and to try to retro-fit some of our stock in order to bring that about, but the strict definition of zero-carbon would require most existing houses virtually to be demolished and rebuilt for them
to reach code 6. When we consider the work that the Government are doing, we should distinguish between new build and how important it is to have radically more energy efficient, very new buildings that people can live in, of which I know there are only 10, although I hope that there will be very many more soon. However, it is not surprising that the process has taken this long, when we did not start with definitions that people agreed on and when a lot of this work is new and being done for the first time. Therefore, I crave the indulgence of the House in saying that such work is front-end loaded and that the results are back-end loaded. I hope that people will accept that, by definition, that must be the case.
Clause 90 has two purposes, the first of which is to ensure that the relief from stamp duty land tax for new zero-carbon homes is extended to cover new flats. I perceive that that has a general welcome around the House. The relief will apply to any new flat that meets the stamp duty land tax zero-carbon standard that is purchased from 1 October 2007, which is the date on which the existing relief was introduced. We do not want to exclude any zero-carbon home, whether a flat or house, that comes on to the market.
Justine Greening: The original explanatory memorandum to the statutory instrument excluded flats and maisonettes. So will the Exchequer Secretary confirm that, when she talks about flats, she means that flats and maisonettes are now included?
Angela Eagle: Yes, that is my understanding. Clearly, the delay was caused by checking how common parts and other issues could be dealt with to maintain a definition of zero carbon that was robust enough to qualify for the relief. Again, that was done to ensure that silly mistakes are not made in new areas. The hon. Lady had fun criticising the Government for not including such provision originally, but the work had to be done to find out whether it was doable in principle, and I think that she welcomed the extension to flats under the clause.
The clause will also create the power to introduce regulations that permit Departments that are carrying out assessments of whether homes meet zero-carbon standards to charge reasonable fees for providing such a service. Regulations that provide for fees will be made immediately after Royal Assent has been granted to the Bill. The clause will amend sections 58B and 58C of the Finance Act 2003 to ensure that the relief from stamp duty land tax for new zero-carbon homes introduced in October 2007 is extended. The relief will apply to any new flat that meets the stamp duty land tax zero-carbon standard that is bought from 1 October. Therefore, if any new zero-carbon flats have been built since the introduction of the relief, they will be included.
As with new zero-carbon houses, the relief will provide for the complete removal of stamp duty land tax liabilities on all new zero-carbon flats up to a purchase price of £500,000. If the purchase price of a flat is in excess of £500,000, the stamp duty land tax liability will be reduced by £15,000. The relief will help us meet our 2050 climate change targets by encouraging house builders
to build homes that are more energy efficient and that maximise renewable technology. The stamp duty land tax incentive is designed to help to kick-start the market for new methods and to support the 2016 ambition of all new homes being built to a zero-carbon standard.
The hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) was under the impression that there were two definitions of zero carbon. In fact, there is only one Government definition. The Treasury definition and the code for sustainable homes definition are the same. The Department for Communities and Local Government will consult in the summer on the 2016 definition of zero carbon, but we believe that larger developments can meet the current definition and that it is harder for small city infill developments to meet it. Clearly, when practical issues to do with the definition come to our attention, it is important that we are flexible in how we respond, so that we do not disadvantage particular areas.
Justine Greening: Is the Minister saying that in 2016 people who think that they have bought a zero-carbon home will discover that they did not do sothey just bought a zero-carbon home as defined in 2008?
Angela Eagle: No. The stamp duty land tax relief applies to the first sale of a house. The emissions-related benefits of that house are then thought to be important enough in themselves to be worth having; I hope that all Members in the Committee agree. The stamp duty land tax exemption is important in making it more attractive for house builders to build new zero-carbon housesnew, more radical, energy-efficient housesand for buyers to purchase them. It is important to ensure that our existing housing stock becomes zero-carbon over time.
I said earlier that although it is important to be certain about the definition of zero-carbon homes as there is more sophistication in terms of what is available, how such homes can be produced and built, and what materials are used, it is important that we are flexible, and the hon. Member for Putney nodded. I hope that she will accept that point. It would be absurd if I were to say, We will define zero-carbon homes as we did in the regulations. The definition will not change in the next 20 years, no matter what new technologies, building methods or ways of measuring or defining zero-carbon come along; we must stick with the definition that we first made. I hope that she will realise that it is important for us to accept that the definitions could evolve. However, there is already a definition with which house builders know they can work; many are already doing so. I can tell the House that two developments are now being planned that will result in the building of 400 homes that meet the current definition of zero-carbon, so there are already signs that house builders are beginning to engage positively with the process.
Moving on to the amendments that we are debating, I detect that no matter what scepticism there may be, the extension of the zero-carbon homes provisions to flats and maisonettes is supported by Members in all parts of the Committee. The Government have considered the amendments to clause 90 that deal with extending stamp duty land tax relief. Amendment No. 4 would change the definition by replacing the word, occupied with the phrase acquired by a buyer. We believe that, in practice, a relief that is restricted to homes that have
not been previously occupied will have the same, or virtually the same, scope as a relief restricted to homes that have not been previously acquired by a buyer. The amendment is therefore unnecessary.
Amendment No. 13 would extend the relief to all acquisitions of a zero-carbon home, whether new or old, and regardless of whether the home has changed hands before. As I have said, the Government believe that the relief should be restricted to the first acquisition of a new zero-carbon home. That fits in with the key objective of the measure, which is to kick-start the building of zero-carbon homes by stimulating consumer demand. Once the homes are built, we expect the benefit in terms of energy savings to remain in the home for many years. We do not believe that it would provide any value to the taxpayer if the relief were extended to cover second and subsequent acquisitions of a home, as is envisaged under the Liberal Democrats amendment No. 13.
On the issue of existing homes, I hope that the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) will recognise the fact that the Government have a range of policies in place, including the carbon emissions reduction target and Warm Front, that provide for the retro-fitting of energy efficiency to existing homes. The standards associated with zero-carbon homes are designed to accelerate the provision of new energy-efficient technologies in new build, rather than to be applied to existing houses. New developments can meet the standards more cost-effectively, as it is possible to use special new building materials and techniques to reduce a homes energy consumption to close to zero, and to deploy larger-scale, development-wide generation technologies to fill the gap. That is not possible in the same way in a retro-fit scenario.
Amendment No. 14 would remove the sunset clause in the Finance Act 2007 that ensures that the relief will not apply on or after 1 October 2012. The Government do not accept the amendment because we estimate that by 2016 or 2017 the cost to the Exchequer of providing stamp duty land tax relief on all acquisitions of a zero-carbon home, whether old or new, and regardless of whether the home has changed hands before, would be well over £2 billion a year. We further estimate that the cumulative cost of the amendment to the Exchequer by 2016-17 could be as much as £6 billion. That reflects the fact that by 2016 it will be mandatory for all new homes to be built to a zero-carbon standard, and a significant number of zero-carbon homes will be starting to change hands for the second time. The amendment is unnecessary in any case, as the Treasury has the power to extend the end date of the relief by Treasury order if there is a case for extension when we reach that date.
Finally, let me turn to amendment No. 20, which has a number of parts. In the amendment, it is suggested that the Treasury should define a zero-carbon home through regulations by no later than 31 December 2008. It is also proposed that the regulations be subject to the affirmative procedure, and that when they come into effect, existing regulations defining a zero-carbon home should cease to have effect. The Government do not accept the amendment, because a zero-carbon home is already defined by regulations laid before Parliament in December 2007 under the vires in section 58B(4) of the Finance Act 2003. As has been said today, a draft of those regulations was approved through a resolution of the House last year. Furthermore, the Government
believe that that definition balances the requirement for a robust definition that delivers value for money to the taxpayer against the need for an achievable standard that will incentivise the development of the zero-carbon homes market.
The Government will conduct an interim review of the stamp duty land tax relief by 2010. That review will provide an opportunity for examining the effectiveness of the tax relief in stimulating the innovation that is necessary if we are to realise the ambition of all new homes being zero-carbon by 2016. I therefore propose that the amendment be withdrawn.
Justine Greening: I will not withdraw my amendment; I will press it to a Division. I do not feel that the Minister has addressed the issues behind my amendment sufficiently well to make me seek to withdraw it. Her response suggests that people who are in right-to-buy contracts with a developer, and who may occupy a zero-carbon home before eventually buying it, would not qualify for stamp duty land tax relief, which seems unfair. On that basis, and because of the uncertainty about the definition, I will press amendment No. 21 to a vote.