9 May 2008 : Column 961

House of Commons

Friday 9 May 2008

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): I beg to move, That the House do sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (Motions to sit in private):—

The House proceeded to a Division.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.

The House having divided: Ayes 0, Noes 28.
Division No. 175]
[9.33 am


Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Christopher Chope and
Stephen Pound

Baldry, Tony
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Blackman, Liz
Burt, Alistair
Caton, Mr. Martin
Clark, Greg
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Field, Mr. Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Helen
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Mr. Tom
Hillier, Meg
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Hughes, rh Beverley
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
McFadden, Mr. Pat
Mole, Chris
Pope, Mr. Greg
Purnell, rh James
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruddock, Joan
Tellers for the Noes:

David Howarth and
Mr. William Cash

It appearing on the report of the Division that fewer than forty Members had taken part in the Division, Madam Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided.

Orders of the Day

Planning and Energy Bill

As amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

New Clause 1

Insulation standards

‘A local planning authority in England may in their development plan document, and a local planning authority in Wales may in their local development plan, include policies imposing reasonable requirements for insulation standards in domestic and commercial developments in their area that exceed the requirements of building regulations.’.— [Mr. Dismore.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.49 am

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 11, in clause 2, page 2, line 17, at end add—

‘(d) national policies relating to insulation, in the case of policies included by virtue of section [Insulation standards].’.

Mr. Dismore: I congratulate the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) on having got so far with his Bill so early in the parliamentary year; he has done a magnificent job. Although I have a few things to say, I assure him that my objective is not to prevent the Bill achieving its Third Reading, although I cannot speak for other hon. Members.

I want to highlight one or two gaps in the Bill. I have read the report of the Committee proceedings, where the original Bill was ditched and a new Bill was introduced with, I assume, the backing of the Government, which resulted in the replacement of the original clause 1. Beyond that, the Bill did not receive a great deal of scrutiny in Committee, which is regrettable because it has a fair wind behind it and has attracted a consensus on its objective. In such cases, people do not want to get bogged down in the detail, and the net result is that things are left out or not put right.

New clause 1 and amendment No. 11 address insulation, which is one of the most important issues relating to energy but which is missing from the Bill. New clause 1 would add an additional permissive power to allow local authorities to impose additional reasonable requirements on insulation in both domestic and commercial developments, which could go beyond existing building regulations.

As one might expect, amendment No. 11 refers to

Why should we focus on insulation? In 1998, my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) was the Minister with responsibility for construction, and he instituted a comprehensive review of energy-efficient provisions in the building regulations and set out proposed amendments to part L of the regulations, to which new clause 1 and amendment
No. 11 relate. The purposes of the amendments to part L were significantly to raise performance standards for insulation in building fabric after two years, to improve supply after six months and to tie those standards more firmly to, for example, the efficiency of boilers.

When my right hon. Friend announced those improvements, the objective was to cut heating bills for homes by one quarter, which would make a substantial contribution to Britain’s aim of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. If we are serious about meeting our Kyoto targets, cutting energy consumption and examining different forms of energy supply, we should consider how much energy we are using in the first place. If we want to introduce a green Bill such as this, it is an omission to consider only half the equation—where the energy comes from, but not how much of it we are using.

The new part L of the building regulations set most builders and building service engineers a challenge. The Government worked closely with the industry, and the view was that new part L would yield substantial benefits for occupiers of dwellings and other buildings through lower heating bills. The saving was up to 25 per cent. in the case of dwellings, and it also resulted in lower air conditioning bills—I do not suppose that many houses have air conditioning, but it certainly improves comfort and productivity in other settings. It has been estimated that in 2010 the measures in part L would contribute 1.4 million tonnes of carbon to the overall 23 per cent. cut in the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions as set out in the climate change programme, as it then was. The guidance in the new improved documents significantly raised the performance standards for building insulation, which is the subject of new clause 1. It is also important to recognise that part L of the regulations addresses summer performance as well as insulation against winter cold.

The provisions were not restricted to new buildings. Around half the carbon benefits mentioned would come from the application of the new requirements to work in existing buildings. For dwellings, for example, the new rules applied whenever windows, glazed doors, boilers and hot water vessels were replaced. For buildings other than dwellings, the same provisions would apply for windows and systems such as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, but that was qualified in that reasonable provision depended on the circumstances of the particular case. The sympathetic treatment of historic buildings was also considered to be necessary.

Part L was important, particularly after it was changed again in April 2006, which resulted in even higher standards than those imposed in 2002. When building work is carried out on buildings with a floor area greater than 1,000 sq m, consequential improvements must also be made to the whole building, if they are practical and cost-effective, which includes improvements to increase energy efficiency.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Would it not be tidier not to include the provision in this Bill, and to introduce a requirement to consider building regulations to ensure that they meet the highest standards, which all hon. Members want these days?

Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. We may have to wait for further amendments to the building regulations, which have been significantly improved as time has gone by.

The Bill introduces an important concept, which is to permit local authorities to go beyond the existing national guidance and regulations in the context of, for example, local energy supply. That enables local authorities, which are often more flexible than central Government, to be one step ahead of central Government in a major nationwide reform. My concern is that a similar provision should be introduced for the insulation of buildings.

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for the positive way in which he is approaching this excellent Bill. New clause 1 would introduce a requirement to exceed building regulations—a Merton plus, plus model. In view of the work done by experts such as McBride and Healey, is it not the case that the building regulations will always be exceeded, regardless of what they are?

Mr. Dismore: That is my objective. Clause 1(1) allows local authorities to, for example, develop policies for their area that require compliance with energy efficiency standards that exceed the energy requirements of building regulations. I am not introducing a new concept in the context of this particular Bill, because clause 1 addresses energy from renewable sources, low-carbon energy and energy requirements in general. I want to square the circle by saying that we should consider not only where the energy comes from—progress on energy requirements is part of what I am trying to achieve—but the consumption of energy, which is where insulation becomes relevant.

In my view, the starting point for energy policy must be the reduction of consumption in the first place. The subsequent question is where the energy comes from, and further subordinate questions flow from that. The starting point is getting energy consumption down in the first place before we consider supply. It is important to recognise, as the Bill rightly does, that local authorities can sometimes be ahead of the game. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) has referred to the Merton example to illustrate that point, and other local authorities have conducted similar initiatives elsewhere.

When local authorities promote such initiatives, they often provide what are effectively de facto pilot schemes for the national Government. If it turns out that a local authority such as Merton has developed plans that go beyond the requirements of building regulations or central Government guidance or policy, and that those plans are working well, that can short-circuit the development of national guidelines and building and planning regulations because the pilot will have already been tested in the relevant context. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North has made an important point about one of the significant issues in the Bill. We have seen the importance of insulation from the efforts of the Government so far.

10 am

Before I took the two interventions, I was talking about what had been achieved through the April 2006 amendments to part L of the building regulations with regard to insulation. Importantly, those amendments
mean that when more than 25 per cent. of the surface area of a controlled element such as a wall elevation is renovated, the energy efficiency of the whole element has to be improved—in other words, there should be insulation. As part of the material change of use, any retained element or fitting whose thermal performance is worse than the defined threshold should be upgraded. That also involves insulation, although not of the building itself: it involves lagging around pipes, boilers and so forth. As part of a material alteration, any element that becomes part of the external envelope should be upgraded if its thermal performance is worse than the defined threshold. That is a significant change in emphasis towards insulation. That is why my amendment is important: it would bring the Bill much more in line with what the Government are trying to achieve overall on energy consumption.

Chris Mole (Ipswich) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making interesting points about the value of insulation in this whole strategy. I note that the third line of new clause 1 refers to

Has he considered what is reasonable in respect of cost-effective insulation? A couple of years ago, we used to put in 4 in of insulation; now we put in 6 in—if not 8 or 10 in. However, there is a law of diminishing returns on the amount of thermal retention gained by increasing the number of inches of insulation that we put into lofts, for example. Has my hon. Friend considered how far it is reasonable to go, before we stop getting anything reasonable in return for our investment?

Mr. Dismore: I have done that bit of homework. The Thermal Insulation Manufacturers and Suppliers Association has produced a handy set of notes and guidance on such issues. I was tempted to set some of the detail before the House, but I suspect that that might be going a little too far. I should just mention the association’s comments on issues relating to insulation for heating and hot water pipes: it refers to the outside diameter of the pipe, thermal conductivity and the relevant thickness of insulation. Perhaps I should give my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole) that worthy tome so that he can read it himself. If he has any comments or questions about it, I could take them as interventions later.

Stephen Pound: He could lag his pipes with it.

Mr. Dismore: Given the thickness of the document and paper’s lack of conductivity, that might not be a bad idea. However, the document is interesting, and I hope that it will help my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich to sleep at night.

As part of the review, the Government made it clear that they wanted to work closely with local authorities on compliance with building regulations and how those regulations could be improved. Measures being implemented or under consideration included a simplified single approach to showing compliance and a substantial information and training campaign targeted at building control bodies—the local authorities, of course—and the industry.

That campaign ran into 2006 and included an e-learning pack, in what were the early days of that sort of thing. It also included simplified technical guidance and new approved documents, backed up by reference documents containing technical details. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich is reading those with avid interest. A number of new competent person self-certification schemes were also set up. That was a significant step forward.

In July 2006, the Department now called the Department for Communities and Local Government set out in a press notice some of the measures that it was introducing to make housing more sustainable. One of the key issues was the Warm Front grant scheme. Most Members have constituents who have benefited from that; in my constituency, several hundred households, particularly those of pensioners and people on low incomes, have benefited considerably from the scheme, which has enabled insulation to be installed. The local authority and the Greater London assembly, under the former London Mayor, have provided their own insulation arrangements in conjunction with the energy companies.

Stephen Pound: I am sure that the whole House would concur with my hon. Friend’s points about the Warm Front scheme. However, as far as I am aware, there is no separate money Bill that delineates the implications of new clause 1. Is my hon. Friend saying that any additional costs resulting from the local government requirements would be met solely by the householder? One of the great advantages of Warm Front is that it involves zero cost to the householder. Although I appreciate that in the long term these measures mean that the householder saves money and the planet may be saved, there would be an interim problem that affected many of my hon. Friend’s constituents and mine. How would that issue be resolved?

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend presages some of the points I was going to make on the second group of amendments, and I will not go through them now. I simply say that one thing generally missing from the Bill is a consideration of any costs involved. If my hon. Friend looks ahead, he will see that one of my new clauses in the second group of amendments raises the particular issue of the cost of a variety of matters and their implications for the provision of housing generally.

We know from research that the cost of insulation and energy efficiency measures generally can be disproportionate, given the payback time. Furthermore, the cost of adapting a house or, particularly, constructing a new one to meet energy efficiency standards can be significantly increased. However, I shall not go into those arguments now; I will save their detail until we get to the second group of amendments, assuming that we get that far this morning.

The DCLG also said that it proposed to extend support for energy companies to provide subsidised insulation for 250,000 installations to improve the energy efficiency of existing homes; that relates to the point that I just made. We are extending the landlords energy savings allowance to cover hot water system insulation and draught-proofing, to incentivise landlords in the private sector to improve energy efficiency. That is important, because if we consider the performance as opposed to the policy, we see that although there have
been significant improvements, the overall figures show that things are not as rosy as they might be.

In December 2006, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, South (Ian Pearson), then the Minister with responsibility for these issues, answered a parliamentary question by giving figures on insulation measures carried out, including cavity wall insulation, loft insulation and double glazing. In 2000, 211,000 homes in Great Britain installed cavity wall insulation, 415,000 installed loft insulation and 2,002,000 installed double glazing. In 2005, the figures on cavity wall insulation had gone up to 240,000, but those on loft insulation had gone down to 280,000 and those on double glazing to 1,340,000. There are two explanations for that. The first is that once the work is done, it is done pretty much for ever and, because of the progress in those five years, demand for such work was tailing off. The alternative explanation is that insulation was getting a little less fashionable and people were not doing as much as they should have.

As my hon. Friend also said in his answer, we should consider the general impact on households. Sixteen per cent. of all households in England, and in Britain as a whole, have full insulation, which means that there is 84 per cent. to go. That answers the question that I posed in relation to the 2005 figures. It is therefore an inevitable conclusion that something happened to stop people doing this sort of work, particularly double glazing and loft insulation, between 2000 and 2005.

The figures get more interesting when we look at the nature of tenure. Those for owner-occupiers are marginally better than those for the national average, with 17 per cent. fully insulated. What is very bad, however, is that for privately rented properties, at only 6 per cent. People in private rented accommodation tend to be socially excluded, and potentially from low-income households and at risk of fuel poverty, so they are at a double disadvantage in that they are probably living in less well-maintained accommodation to start with. We know from the figures that their level of insulation is very poor compared with the average overall: it is only 6 per cent., which means that 94 per cent. of that group do not have the necessary insulation. That means that their heating bills will go up even though they are probably on a far lower income than the population as a whole.

The position is slightly better for local authority households, at 10 per cent. It is also encouraging that registered social landlord—housing association—households are on 20 per cent., so they have made significant improvements above the national average as it then was. My new clause would be another incentive, via local authorities setting out requirements in planning regulations, to improve significantly on those woeful statistics.

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