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9 May 2008 : Column 980

Mr. Fallon: I have made it clear throughout the Bill’s passage—the current drafting reflects this—that I am prepared to consider any suggestion to improve it, but I am advised that using the phrase “development” covers all development. Public facilities are a very good example. With a new swimming pool, for example, we would want to be careful to ensure that a proportion of the energy should be generated locally, if possible, particularly in view of the amount of energy that such a facility uses. A local library is another example. I am sure that we could think of a number of developments that were neither residential nor strictly commercial. Let me reassure the House that the current drafting, using the broad term “development”, covers all development, whether domestic or commercial.

Chris Mole: Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, does he agree that the new clause, in distinguishing between domestic and commercial, has interesting implications for the new breed of construction, which I call mixed-use development or the live/workspace type of development. Sometimes it is viewed as domestic, other times commercial, because people can live and work in the same space. That would potentially fall outside either of the individual classifications suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), and would require yet another classification. Is it not ironic that one of the best examples of such projects is BedZED—the Beddington zero energy development—in Merton, a borough that has been referred to several times already?

11 am

Mr. Fallon: Yes, I think that is the danger of introducing more categories into the Bill—and that danger would be amplified when matters come to appeal, for example through the planning process. The more categories we devise, the more developers can find ways around them when their schemes do not satisfy the planners at the initial stage.

The hon. Member for Hendon is right to ask about the inclusion of insulation standards, and he is entitled to probe the distinction between domestic and commercial. I want to reassure him on both counts, and I hope that, on reflection, he will agree that neither amendment No. 11 nor new clause 1 strengthens the measures, and that it is therefore unnecessary to add either of them to the Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): I congratulate all hon. Members who have so far contributed to the debate: my hon. Friends the Members for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound), for Battersea (Martin Linton) and for Ipswich (Chris Mole), and particularly the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon). He has just made a point on development that I entirely agree with: the terms “domestic” and “commercial” as used in the new clause proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon would not—to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North—cover Craven Cottage football ground, whereas the generic term of “development” is far more likely to do so.

It is important at the outset to thank the hon. Member for Sevenoaks for the work he has done to bring the Bill to this stage, and we believe that his
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amendments that were agreed in Committee have turned it into a workable piece of potential legislation without compromising its original aims. The Bill is coherent and clear in its application, and it deserves to be supported as it currently stands.

On Second Reading, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), who has responsibility for housing, said we were not initially convinced that the Bill was necessary. I want to make it clear that we are happy to support the Bill as amended. We recognise the positives that can be taken from placing such a power in primary legislation. The technical amendments debated and agreed in Committee were necessary to ensure that the Bill achieves its intended purpose.

The Bill will sit within the wider package of initiatives that we are taking to tackle the impact of climate change. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing said in Committee, we are introducing a raft of measures that reinforce our commitment to cut carbon emissions.

The Climate Change Bill, the Energy Bill and the Planning Bill all take steps to help us to meet our objectives. The Planning Bill—I was fortunate enough to serve on the Committee—will take action on climate change in the preparation of local plans. Local planning authorities will need to include in their development plans documents and policies designed to ensure that development and use of land in their area contributes to mitigating, and adapting to, climate change. That duty was welcomed by all Committee members.

Our Climate Change Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament, sets out our plans to tackle climate change over not only the next few years, but the next 50 years. It demonstrates to the world that we are determined to grasp the challenge of climate change.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. As we are not yet on Third Reading, but are referring to new clause 1, will the Minister confine his remarks to the new clause and the amendment under discussion?

Mr. Dhanda: I am very happy to do that. I was about to come on to new clause 1, but before I do so I would like to respond to some of the comments made in the debate so far.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon talked in some depth about the importance of insulation, and he congratulated the Warm Front grants campaign, which has been very effective in many constituencies throughout the land, including my own. I should also thank the Eaga Partnership Charitable Trust for the work it has done, and mention the good progress made—my hon. Friend mentioned this—in respect of registered social landlords.

Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): The Minister’s reference to the Warm Front scheme tempts me to rise to my feet. In many rural constituencies that are off the gas grid, that is not just free money, because people are asked to make a significant supplementary payment to ensure that they can have energy-efficient measures installed. It is more difficult for such people to see some of the benefits that the hon. Gentleman and the Minister describe.

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Mr. Dhanda: I thank the hon. Lady for making her point, although I do not think she is making a commitment now in the Chamber for additional subsidy. I think that Members of all parties agree that the Warm Front grants scheme is effective and good, and that we all welcome it.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for introducing new clause 1 and consequential amendment No. 11 as it has given us an opportunity to flesh out some of the issues behind those amendments. He wants to introduce absolute clarity that local policies can cover insulation standards in buildings as opposed to other aspects of energy efficiency, such as the efficiency of appliances. I can also see that the new clause and amendment No. 11 logically fit within the structure of the Bill, but, as the hon. Member for Sevenoaks said, they are unnecessary. The existing clause 1(1)(c) does what my hon. Friend wants, because energy efficiency standards would cover insulation standards as well. It is common sense that any energy efficiency standard in relation to development would be taken to include standards of insulation. Clause 1(1)(c) as currently drafted makes it clear that energy efficiency standards may

The energy requirements of building regulations are defined in clause 1(2), which states that they encompass both “energy performance” and the

The relevant section of the building regulations which deal with the conservation of fuel and power—part L—covers insulation by imposing requirements to make reasonable provision to limit heat losses and gains through thermal elements and other parts of the building fabric. Technical details of what would constitute reasonable provision to limit heat losses is given in approved document L. Approved documents are guidance given by the Secretary of State as to how the requirements of the building regulations can be complied with. The approved document includes references to design standards and relevant technical parameters that relate to thermal efficiency and, hence, insulation. Similarly, section 1 of the code for sustainable homes, again supported by the technical guidance, sets out that one of the parameters for achieving the energy performance standards relates to limiting heat loss.

Clearly, the highest level of energy efficiency standards and insulation standards are vital to ensuring that we reduce carbon emissions from homes. We have taken substantial steps on that over recent years. We most recently set out the energy performance standards—measured in terms of emissions of carbon dioxide from the use of the building—in the 2006 buildings regulations. The level set in the 2006 regulations is about 40 per cent. higher than the standard set before April 2002. As part of our policy to achieve zero-carbon new homes from 2016, we have announced that we will progressively tighten the energy efficiency standards in the building regulations over time. We will set a standard in 2010 that will represent a 25 per cent. improvement over 2006, which is the equivalent of the level 3 standard in the code for sustainable homes, and a standard in 2013 that will represent a 44 per cent. improvement, which is the equivalent of the code’s level 4.

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The achievement of those energy-efficiency standards is not purely about insulation; other aspects need to be tackled, such as lighting, and builders can also use renewable and low-carbon technologies to help achieve the standards. Clearly, however, effective insulation to prevent heat loss is crucial. The Department is working closely with industry stakeholders on the preparation of a consultation document on the detail of the 2010 changes—we plan to publish it for consultation early next year—including changes to the relevant technical standards that define thermal insulation.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon that we are driving forward a strong policy on improving the relevant standards. There is unfortunate ambiguity in the drafting of new clause 1, because by referring only to “domestic and commercial developments”, it could be construed that it does not cover other types of development—I presume that that is not his intention. That is why the Bill uses the general term “development” instead. For those reasons, we urge him to withdraw the motion and not to press the subsequent amendment No. 11 to a Division.

Stephen Pound: I am cheered to hear the Minister delineate the Government’s support for this undoubtedly excellent Bill. I entirely concur, and associate myself, with his comment that the work done—one might call it the polishing—in the Public Bill Committee has produced a better Bill.

A couple of points about the wording slightly concern me.

Mr. Dismore: This point comes back to one that I made at the start of my remarks. The problem with the Public Bill Committee was that it only removed the original clause 1 and inserted a new clause 1—no scrutiny was provided beyond that. Despite what my hon. Friend has just said, my concern is that, in fact, no detailed scrutiny was given beyond simply switching one clause for another.

Stephen Pound: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. Few Members of this House have delved deeper into the interstices of its procedures than he has, and I entirely take his point. I was not just being polite when I made those comments, because I think the Bill was improved in Committee. It could have been improved even more, but we are all capable of greater improvement.

Certain aspects of the Bill slightly confuse, and possibly concern, me. One is the issue of the permissive versus the mandatory. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) has deliberately included words such as “may” and “reasonable”. People whose will is good will react to those words in a positive way and will seek to match the requirements and aims of the Bill. In the same way, the Mayor of London wishes to have a no-alcohol policy on the tube that will be self-policing. One can rely on the good nature of human beings, but what concerns me is that there are people who will always seek ways around such measures.

I have mentioned former local government planning officers, who seem to work as consultants nowadays. Many of them will be as busy as Jimmy Bullard, as we
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say in west London, trying to find their way around words such as “reasonable” and around the permissive nature of “may”. I can understand that the hon. Gentleman is on the side of the angels. Nobody will ever argue for energy-inefficient buildings or against energy-efficient and locally-sourced materials—I sincerely hope that they would not do so. However, in a commercial world, there will always be people who seek to respond to the squeezing of margins by a reduction in standards. I am concerned that when an expression such as a “reasonable” standard is used, one opens the door to an unreasonable action by a commercial builder who understandably seeks to maximise profit. I see a terrible vision ahead; I see people in the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol sitting there day after day trying to analyse, much as medieval theologians calculated the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin, exactly how reasonable is “reasonable”.

11.15 am

Being, if I may say so, a reasonable person myself, I have looked beyond that point and tried to see how the provision could be more tightly detailed. The hon. Gentleman said that one cannot have a completely comprehensive list. That is where new clause 1 comes in, because it details the insulation implications and consequences. Amendment No. 11 implies that the insulation standards would be delineated, and if those provisions were accepted, the Bill would be considerably toughened up. If, by our accepting them, the Bill was not jerry-builder-proofed, we would have gone some way towards reducing any amount of conflict later.

The key point in new clause 1 is its emphasis on insulation. Making provision for energy use and energy efficiency in local plans is obviously the first step, and it is one that will be supported by the hon. Gentleman and the Government, and, I hope, by all men and women of good will. However, that is only half the battle, because even if there is energy-efficient construction, there will still be a need for insulation, and perhaps for additional insulation in areas that we have not even gone into before. Perhaps new materials will soon become available that will provide an even greater degree of energy efficiency through insulation, so we need to include the insulation component. Until recently, the fibres used in loft insulation were not only non-biodegradable, but appallingly sourced and of high energy cost. They may have saved heat loss, but they did so at an enormous cost in the production side of the equation.

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend has hit on an important point, because not so long ago asbestos was the main form of insulation and, as we know, it has proved to be extremely dangerous to those installing it, many of whom suffer from mesothelioma and asbestos-related injuries, and to any householder who accidentally damaged it.

Stephen Pound: My hon. Friend is right to see this in the historical context. There was a time when asbestos was seen as the wonder material. I still recall wearing asbestos gloves as a young man in uniform. They were issued to members of the armed forces. We even had asbestos hoods to wear when firing naval weaponry. Some in this House may remember asbestos filters in what were known as flash hoods—things do move on.

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I am not implying for a moment that any of the modern insulation materials will have anything like the lethal consequences of some of the shades of asbestos; there were white, brown and blue forms of asbestos. My point is that materials do change. Siân Berry, the Green party candidate to be Mayor of London, spent a great deal of time trying to give away insulation material on the streets of London just a few weeks ago, and she was constantly asked where it came from, whether it came from renewable sources and whether it was created in a low-energy environment.

That is why the point about insulation in new clause 1 is crucial, and I genuinely do not think it detracts from the Bill’s substance, thrust or ethos. That is why I support my hon. Friend in introducing this aspect, because it rounds out the process. More importantly, it allows us, by incorporating the expression

to realise that it makes provision in respect of exceeding not only the requirements of today’s building regulations, but all building regulations. Therefore, if building regulations are tightened, widened, improved and deepened in time to come, his new clause 1 will enable us always to be ahead of the curve. That is why it is an important new clause.

Chris Mole: Far be it from me to disagree with my hon. Friend, but he has just discussed some of the technological changes in the construction industry, particularly in insulation. Technological developments move apace, and a feature of future construction could be composite materials that have insulating qualities. Is not there a risk in creating an artificial divide between insulation and other construction materials that might have insulating properties? There are probably already some construction materials with insulating properties—some timber constructions could be considered to have insulation built in.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that interventions are meant to be brief.

Stephen Pound: I do not know whether the Thermal Insulation Manufacturers and Suppliers Association employs a parliamentary agent, but I am sure that if it ever needs a voice in the House, my hon. Friend will step up to the plate, as he knows a great deal about such issues. His substantive point is absolutely right. I originally lagged my loft with old Labour party leaflets that I had no further use for, as I had an enormous number of them lying around the house. Whether they were produced from renewable sources in an energy efficient way, I do not know—they were not particularly politically effective at the time—but they certainly kept my loft warm and, I hope, retained heat in my house. Nowadays, the Liberal Democrats provide that service for us; I have several tonnes of Liberal Democrat material.

On new clause 1, we should not miss the importance of having a measure on insulation as an add-on to or component of the Bill.

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