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I turn now to new clause 8. My hon. Friend spoke in some depth about the possible implications for housing in the Bill. The House will be aware that the Government have made their commitments quite clear: we want to develop 3 million new homes by 2020. Earlier, I mentioned our ambitions on zero-carbon homes. From 2016, we are expecting 240,000 new homes to be built to zero-carbon standards. That is a challenging target, which equates to level 6 of the code for sustainable homes. Immediate steps will be taken in 2010, when we will set building regulations at a standard equivalent to level 3 of the code. We will set level 4 standards in the building regulations in 2013.

This is an unprecedented scale of ambition, and we welcome the support that we have received from industry, house builders, the supply chain, local authorities and non-governmental organisations. The Callcutt review, which reported last year, confirmed that the programme was achievable. As has been highlighted in the debate, however, this is a huge ask. The proposals will require industry to get its supply chains into shape to provide zero-carbon products. They will require research into those products and exemplar programmes to show what works and what does not. They will also require a huge marketing effort so that home owners can understand what they will be buying, and they will need investments in skills and processes. Above all, we will need a co-ordinated programme to minimise duplication and to avoid wasted effort. We need to maximise learning and co-operative working, and that will all require a stable framework to provide certainty for investment over the next eight years.

We have spoken before about the legitimate concern raised in the Callcutt report that house builders have to deal with a plethora of different standards and that, however well intentioned the provisions might be, they could get in the way of a co-ordinated programme. We need to avoid a situation in which different building standards apply all over the country. It is in no one’s interest to fragment building standards. We recognise, however, that some house builders and local authorities will want to go further and faster than the national timetable, and there will be circumstances in which it is justified to do exactly that. That will be important for the exemplar projects, for example. Some householders have said that they are going to move ahead as a matter of policy, without waiting for new building regulations. In Committee, my right hon. Friend the Housing Minister noted the example set by Berkeley, which has said that all its new homes will be built to code level 3 from here on in. I hope that hon. Members will be aware that we have put in place our own exemplar programmes, through the carbon challenge being run by English Partnerships, and our eco-towns programme.

In our “Building a Greener Future” policy statement last July, we said that we welcomed house builders and local authorities working together on exemplar
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developments, and that local authorities could bring forward policies to encourage and mandate such developments when the circumstances could justify that. The planning policy statement on climate change sets out the policy in more detail. Those who are particularly interested can find the details in paragraphs 30 to 33.

I sympathise with my hon. Friend’s concern about taking costs into account. This is one of the reasons why the Government have welcomed the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks. The Bill, as amended in Committee, will require local planning authorities to have regard to national policy when drawing up policies under the terms of the Bill. That will be the effect of clause 4. In England, that will include our planning policy statement on climate change. The Welsh Assembly Government are working on their own planning policy on climate change. Our climate change PPS sets out clear steps for testing local requirements to ensure that they are reasonable. They cover the type of concern that my hon. Friend had in mind when tabling his new clause.

As I have said, the tests in the PPS are not intended to tie councils down. Quite simply, if targets for using local energy and on energy efficiency requirements are to make a serious cut in carbon emissions, they must be achievable and compatible with delivering the affordable homes, jobs and regeneration that are needed in our local communities. If we were unable to deliver all that, we would be making a mistake in supporting the Bill. We believe that we can achieve that aim through a combination of the PPS and the Bill. That is why targets should be set, and tested, through the preparation of development plan documents. Helping communities to grow and high environmental standards are not alternatives but should go hand in hand.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon will not be surprised that I am worried that new clause 8 will bring ambiguity to the Bill. It might intend to place a requirement on local planning authorities to consider the viability of their proposed policies, but on the other hand it might intend to ask local authorities to consider the energy costs to the end user. By “end user”, I mean the individual who buys or rents a development once it has been completed. The clause could of course be asking for both intentions to be considered, but the drafting does not make that clear—hence my question to my hon. Friend earlier. Local planning authorities should not have to second-guess what a piece of legislation requires. I call on him to withdraw new clause 8 because of the way in which it is drafted.

Finally, on new clause 9, requirements for consultation on drawing up development plan documents are already set out in the Town and Country Planning (Local Development) (England) Regulations 2004. The Government have consulted on the simplification of the regulations in the interests of devolving such matters to local authorities, which we consider to be best placed to make those decisions. We intend to make the simplified regulations that result from the consultation later this month and the new procedures will take effect from late June. It is unclear how the new clause would fit in with either the existing arrangements or the streamlined proposals, which have received substantial support. I am sure that my hon.
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Friend is sympathetic to the notion that such matters are best run by local authorities.

The new clause also covers many interests, including those of local businesses, house builders and other groups. Energy providers or commercial developers would be high on our list of those who would have an interest, as well as many others mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North. The new clause could make many of those organisations think they had been excluded from the consultation expected in the preparation of a DPD. I do not think that that is in any way the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, but it is the unintended consequence of the new clause’s wording.

I hope that I have persuaded my hon. Friend that the new clauses are unnecessary. The intentions behind them are noble, but are covered elsewhere. I hope I have also shown that their drafting means they are not risk free and could undermine the Bill’s intentions. At the same time, the whole House is grateful to him for the work that he has done in allowing this level of scrutiny. As he said, the Bill was considered in Committee, but many issues have been aired in such detail for the first time today.

Mr. Dismore: We have had an interesting debate on a wide range of subjects related to these new clauses. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) was right when he said that this is a permissive Bill, and I would not want to take anything away from that. My main concern with the new clauses was to say that if a local authority goes down such a route, it ought to think about certain matters when it does so. My view was that it was better to put those matters in the Bill.

I am pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman has consulted Merton borough council and that no developer has been in difficulty with the requests that it has put forward. Of course, there is a risk that a local authority might go beyond what Merton suggests. Ultimately, it comes down to the question of price. A developer will build whatever someone wants if he is given the money to do it. One issue that has arisen is whether the developers would charge more to do the sort of things that boroughs are asking about.

I agree that alternative technology is expensive, although the more people buy it, the cheaper it will become, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole) in reply to his intervention. We need to encourage that to happen, and I hope that the Bill will do that.

My main concern in this debate is the source of the value added. If we are saying that we will reinforce national policy—my hon. Friend the Minister reminded us of that—the Bill would not seem to increase the value added very much. My hon. Friend points out that we have the planning policy statement, but the point of the Bill is that it would allow local authorities to go beyond the PPS. My hon. Friend says that the PPS can change, but the point that I made earlier is that that could happen in response to a pilot scheme operated by a local authority in accordance with this Bill. So we return to the issue of where the value added can be found. To my mind, it must come from the provisions that I would wish to add to the Bill in new clause 3 in particular.

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I take the point about the wording “shall take into account” in new clause 7, but it would not water down the Bill, because it is an addition to the Bill not a removal or substitution. We do need to consider how we will emphasise the value added if we do not go beyond the national guidelines.

On the issue of costs, my hon. Friend asked whether my concern was about the viability of the policy or the ultimate energy costs to the end user. Of course, I am concerned about both. If my hon. Friend thinks that new clause 8 is not worded sufficiently tightly, that is a fair criticism. If the Bill goes to the other place, perhaps that issue can be addressed there.

New clause 9 is about consultation, and I take the point that my shopping list may not be as long as it should be when it comes to energy suppliers. One could argue that they would come within the definition of local business, but if there is sufficient consultation within the existing framework, I would not want to try to suborn that through the new clause. However, it is important that the obligation to consult be put on the face of any legislation that will impose new obligations that would cost someone else at the end of the chain. I accept that the wording may not be appropriate, and perhaps an amendment could be tabled in the other place to impose a general duty to consult.

I have listened to the debate and we have had a useful airing of the issues. I do not intend to press the matters to a vote and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3

Short title and extent

Mr. Dismore: I beg to move amendment No. 12, page 2, line 26, at end add—

‘(3) This Act shall come into force on such date as the Secretary of State shall appoint.’.

This amendment is an attempt to plug a gap in the Bill, which contains no commencement provision other than the general implication that it would come into effect. If we are to give local authorities these new discretions and powers, as I hope we will, we need to allow some gearing up time so that they can get ready to exercise them. Some local authorities may be advanced in the preparation of their local plans, but it would be wrong simply to leave the matter in the air.

It is not uncommon for Bills to have commencement clauses that give discretion to the Secretary of State to decide when they should come into force through the normal process of subordinate legislation, and that would be appropriate in this case. I have drawn new clause 12 as tightly as possible in that respect by referring to

That means that the Secretary of State must appoint a date at some stage. We have discussed such clauses before on other Bills, and there is House of Lords authority on the difference between “shall appoint” and “may appoint”. I know that, because I was involved in the case that decided it before I became a Member of Parliament. If the provision included the word “may”, the Bill could remain on the shelf
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indefinitely. However, if it says “shall”, the Secretary of State will have to do something and keep the matter under active review until the Bill is brought into effect.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Nevertheless, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the amendment would allow considerable delay in the Bill’s implementation? It would be a great pity if developers brought forward their development plans as early as possible to avoid the provisions of the Bill, so that the energy standards that councils might wish to introduce would not be in place.

1.15 pm

Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. However, the lead-in time for such developments is often many months, if not a year or two. Given what my hon. Friend the Minister has said, and the fact that the Government support the Bill and have the intention that it will come into effect, we would not be talking about an inordinate delay. However, unless there is some discretion, the Bill might come into force before anyone is ready to implement it, which would be a worse evil.

Stephen Pound: My hon. Friend will be as aware as I—and the whole House, I am sure—that the Easter bank holiday legislation that was passed 80 years ago has never been implemented. It could be commenced at any stage, but no Secretary of State since the 1920s has felt inclined to do so. Does he not think that it would be appropriate to fetter the discretion of the Secretary of State slightly by giving at least some indication of an implementation time in the Bill?

Mr. Dismore: It is a little while since I read the Easter Act 1928. However, if my hon. Friend were to read it, I think that he would see that the phrasing of its commencement provisions is rather different from that of amendment No. 12. The amendment would give the Secretary of State the mandatory duty of keeping the matter under review and acting to bring the Bill into effect.

My hon. Friend the Minister has said that the Government are sympathetic to the Bill. It is important for the Secretary of State to have discretion because if we are to give these powers to local authorities, they will need to be ready to use them when the Bill comes into force. There is nothing worse than the House passing legislation that is not taken up, but that could well happen if there was a flurry of publicity surrounding the Bill becoming law, but everyone then forgot about it because local authorities were not ready to implement it. Things would then simply fall back to the national standards to which my hon. Friend referred. We need discretion to ensure that the Bill may be brought into force in an orderly manner, given the additional discretions that local authorities will have under it.

Mr. Fallon: I hope that I have not been unsympathetic to the various points raised by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) throughout the sitting. He has asked the House to reflect on matters such as costs, which we did not have time to consider in Committee.

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I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about commencement, and I was not persuaded by him. He said that he wanted to delay the start of the Bill because local authorities might not be able to implement the measures on the day of Royal Assent. However, the Bill is permissive. It does not tell all local authorities that they must do something straight away. It allows those local authorities that want to get on with the process to do so.

The hon. Gentleman might not be aware that many local authorities want to get on with this. More than 100 local authorities—behind Merton and those councils that have adopted Merton-style policies—are at various stages in respect of their desire to incorporate such policies in their local planning framework. It is not the case that Merton has started and everyone else is wondering whether to follow. Many local authorities are already in the queue behind Merton and want to get on with things.

The point is that there is uncertainty. There was uncertainty while the planning policy statement was being prepared and went through various drafts. People waited for the final text, which was fine, and now they are waiting for the detailed guidance on it. There is still some uncertainty about what local authorities can do if they want to, so I see no reason for delay.

Finally, as I said earlier, all new homes have to be zero-carbon by 2016. That is only eight years away, so we really have to get on with it. Unless the hon. Member for Hendon or his colleagues can think of any other arguments, I cannot see any substantive reason why there should be any delay in putting the Bill into force, if it is fortunate enough to receive Royal Assent.

Mr. Dhanda: It is not the Government’s intention to delay the Bill in any way. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) eloquently argued why it would be good to get on with it. As hon. Members have said, the amendment would enable the Secretary of State to decide when the Bill should come into force. It is intended that the Bill will come into force immediately. The amendment would delay the Bill, and we feel that there is no reason for that.

There is no commencement provision in the Bill to delay it, and that is quite deliberate. The Government were in agreement that there was no need to delay commencement, and our views on the matter remain unchanged. The Bill does not affect the continuing exercise of rights by individuals or their legitimate expectations. There are no specific measures that require local authorities or developers to gear up for a change of policy, either. Unless the Bill is amended to such an extent that a reason for delaying commencement is introduced, we see no reason to delay it. As the hon. Member for Sevenoaks says, this is a permissive Bill. It encourages local authorities to do things that they may well wish to get on with. I therefore urge my hon. Friend to consider withdrawing the amendment.

Mr. Dismore: I listened to what the hon. Member for Sevenoaks said. It is certainly not my intention to delay the implementation of the Bill inordinately, and I heard what he said about local authorities wanting to get on
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with things. My main aim in tabling the amendment was to ensure that the Bill was brought into force in an orderly fashion, but if my hon. Friend the Minister thinks that the amendment is not necessary—he says that the Government want to bring the Bill into force straight away—I will certainly not argue. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

1.22 pm

Mr. Fallon: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I will not delay the House long, because I am anxious for the Bill to proceed today and to come into effect, but I want to put on record my gratitude to colleagues across the House for the support that I have had. I include in that those who spoke today and who raised points that we were not able to consider in Committee.

This is a short but, I venture to suggest, important Bill. It enfranchises local authorities and puts their ability to adopt Merton-style policies on a statutory basis for the first time. To refer to a point that the Minister made, the Bill also means that those who want to move faster than the Government originally intended can now do so with certainty, provided that they do so in a way that is consistent with Government policies. That means that local authorities will no longer have to wait for a revision to the planning policy statement, for more detailed guidance, or for a change of Minister or—who knows?—of Government. They can now get on with implementing Merton-style policies with whatever speed they wish. That is important. If we are to engage our communities in facing the challenge of climate change, we cannot simply leave things to central Government. We have to get local communities involved, and that means putting local councils in the driving seat. That is the aim of the Bill, and I am most grateful to colleagues who supported it.

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