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9 May 2008 : Column 1029

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I was merely wondering whether the hon. Gentleman should reflect on the fact that Hendon is an awfully long way from the sea.

Mr. Dismore: It is at the moment; one never can tell with flood risk, as we saw on that TV programme the other day. I should also point out that we have the Welsh Harp reservoir in my constituency, and I did grow up by the seaside. Perhaps that is why I am stuck in this nautical phase.

It is important to reflect on the fact that local authorities are major commissioners of building, as is central Government, and it is important that local authorities, when setting these new rules, should reflect on the fact that they will have to comply with them. That could be seen as both a carrot and a stick, in the sense that having to comply with them might involve imposing onerous obligations on a local authority. At the same time, however, they will enable local authorities to set a good example to developers, whether of school buildings, office blocks or other projects. Similarly, central Government will have to reflect on the fact that when they apply for planning consent for central Government buildings such as prisons, which were mentioned earlier, they will have to comply with the higher standards imposed by the local authority, which could go beyond the national requirements.

An important feature of the Bill is the fact that it refers to “reasonable requirements”. As a lawyer, when I see the word “reasonable”, I always wonder where on earth the argument will end up. Inevitably, litigation will be brought by developers who are not very keen on a local authority imposing the new rules, to decide what the word means. However, I believe that “reasonable” is a common-sense word in this context. It is far better than the percentages that we saw before.

When the Bill goes to another place, we must hope that the meaning of the word “locality” will be scrutinised in a little more detail. It is vague and imprecise, and it will be a recipe for difficulty in interpreting the Bill. We fenced around this issue in our earlier debates, and I understand the problem that the hon. Gentleman had when he phrased the Bill. Reference to a local authority area could be over-prescriptive for developments on the boundaries. Perhaps the Bill intends to deal with an area that is more narrow than a local authority boundary—a local estate, for example, or a new development that might contain only a few dozen houses. So I hope that we can come up with some better wording in due course.

Stephen Pound: At the risk of offering another word of such imprecision as to make lawyers salivate and their bank managers grin, I should like to point out that the Government negotiated with the hon. Member for Sevenoaks, and it is made clear that the expression “in the locality” refers to near-site and on-site renewable and low-carbon energy sources. I think that that is explicit within the Bill.

Mr. Dismore: The term “on-site” is pretty specific, but I am not sure that “near site” is. I suppose that it depends where one is starting from—

Stephen Pound: From the site.

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Mr. Dismore: Well, of course, but if one was going to go as far as Timbuktu, Brighton would be quite near. However, if one was going only as far as Ealing, Hammersmith would be near. And if one was going only as far as Victoria, the gardens next to the House would be considered near. That is why I think that those terms are rather imprecise. I think that we shall have to work on them.

Mr. Dhanda: I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s contribution, and I really respect what he says, and the way in which he says it. However, I think that we can sometimes over-elaborate individual words. The public might prefer it if we just allowed words to have their normal meaning. Rather than trying to define the term “locality” in terms of certain distances and places, let us just allow “locality” to mean “locality”. The word has some kind of resonance for most people.

Stephen Pound: Eric Forth would turn in his grave.

Mr. Dismore: Indeed.

The real problem is that the Minister might think that he knows what “locality” means, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North and I think that we know what it means, but we might all have a slightly different idea. The real problem is that, if the language is imprecise, the lawyers will inevitably get hold of it and argue about it to the n(th) degree in the courts. That is one of the problems associated with my former profession.

I was very pleased that when the hon. Member for Sevenoaks and I discussed my amendments he assured me that all the things that I advocated would be included under the wording of the Bill. He will recall that the first group of amendments that we discussed concerned insulation, and he reassured me that insulation would be brought within the requirements of clause 1(1)(c), which covers the question of energy efficiency standards. That squares an important circle, because when we are considering energy policy the driving force has to be to do what we can to reduce consumption in the first place.

The hon. Gentleman was also able to reassure me that microgeneration, which is not specifically referred to in the Bill, will be brought in. He took me to task as he thought my wording was a little too lax in that respect. I am happy to concede that point.

We had a problem with what local supplies meant in this context. It seemed to me from looking at the available research materials that the difficulty was identifying what local supplies might be when considering energy generated in the locality of a development. If we are talking about microgeneration, that is not a problem. I suppose we are talking about energy generated in one place being transferred to a nearby site. I was pleased that the hon. Gentleman was able to reassure me about the impact on housing policy. If the net result is that we end up with fewer houses for people in desperate need, that will mean that we will have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

I was also pleased that the Minister was able to reassure me on the question of consultation. When one is going to produce a policy that is likely to have such a wide impact as we all hope that this policy will, it is important that those who are affected by it are consulted. I am pleased that that has been brought into the Bill through the cross-references to various national policies.

9 May 2008 : Column 1031

Mr. Cash: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dismore: I am about to draw my remarks to a close—

Mr. Cash: The hon. Gentleman has been droning on—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Is the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) giving way?

Mr. Dismore: I am not, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I was about to draw my remarks to a close. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman wants to get on to his Bill. I suspect that he will block himself if he starts to intervene on me or on anyone else who wants to contribute to the debate.

I was simply going to say that I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister emphasised the importance of what the Government are doing centrally in parallel with the Bill, including the change to the building regulations in 2010 and the definition of zero-carbon for new homes that will come into force in 2018. I was pleased, too, with what he had to say about renewable energy.

A trite phrase used when we consider environmental matters is that we should think global and act local. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks has achieved that in the way in which he has introduced the Bill. The Bill has a global thought behind it and provides for the local action that is necessary to achieve that objective.

2.23 pm

Stephen Pound: Normally, when the House speaks with a single voice there is reason for the nation to tremble. When right hon. and hon. Members refer to an interesting, wide-ranging and comprehensive debate, they usually mean precisely the opposite. However, the rare occasions when the House unites in the praise of an individual Member for promoting a Bill are so unusual that that praise is almost always utterly sincere. On this occasion, the sincerity evident in the tributes paid to the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) speaks for itself.

The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on the way in which he has promoted the Bill. He has not used some of the more flashy and apocalyptic images. He has been more of a Barrington than a Dexter, more of a Gooch than a Gower and more of an Erik Nevland than a Diomansy Kamara. His taut, sparse, precise, elegant Bill has been all the better for that.

This is the right Bill at the right time. It chimes well with the planning policy statement on climate change, and it comes at a time when there is not only increasing concern about the global consequences of warming and climate change but an unprecedented period of house building—we need only look at the new developments in the Thames Gateway. The Bill will put a strong lock that cannot be ignored on all developments in the future.

The issue of cost has been mentioned, and everybody knows the principle of BATNEEC—best available technology not entailing excessive cost. In this case, the costs are so huge that they are beyond the mere monetary, and people are beginning to accept the
9 May 2008 : Column 1032
reality of that. Some of the new developments in the Thames Gateway, and some of the work that was done by Taylor Woodrow around what used to be called the millennium dome, and is now called the O2 something or other, have used renewable sources, from the bricks to the structure to the entire energy package. That was emerging technology, and the Bill will give us a statutory—

Mr. Cash: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there any protection that the Chair can give to future business, such as my Bill on statistics relating to foreign nationals? It is clear that there is a filibuster going on. Some £100 billion of taxpayers’ money is being affected by misleading statistics—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is experienced enough to know that that is not a point of order. He is also experienced enough to know that Friday rules are Friday rules.

Mr. Dismore: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am astounded that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has accused us of conducting a filibuster today. If we had been filibustering, the Chair would have intervened—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order. I hope that the Chair has governed proceedings according to the Standing Orders of the House.

Stephen Pound: The Bill will establish guidance—a framework, a signpost and a marker—that chimes well with what the Government are doing, what the nation seeks to achieve and what many local authorities and councils are keen to do. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) eloquently expressed that when she said that this is a permissive Bill. As we have heard, it will permit authorities such as that in Cambridge to do what they want to do.

One of the crucial points is that if a local authority did not wish to implement the Bill after it becomes an Act—as I profoundly hope it will—local people would have the democratic strength to demand that it become part of that local council’s policy. The Bill will empower and give freedom to people locally, whereas at present their elected representatives are constrained. That is an intensely important point. The Bill will allow the continuum of ownership to flow in the right direction—towards the people—instead of being constrained by the voice from Bristol.

Traditionally in local government housing provision, the policy was predict and provide. In this case, we do not need to predict the consequences of global warming, because we can see them all around us. Only the most purblind person in full denial would attempt to justify anything other than recognition of the sickening consequences of global warming. The Bill will not only help us to provide homes fit for purpose, but will make the world a better, safer and cleaner place. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks has done the House an extraordinary service today, and he has also done the nation and the world a service.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

9 May 2008 : Column 1033

Foreign Nationals (Statistics) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

2.29 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

In the few seconds that I have to deal with the Bill, I would simply like to remonstrate against the filibuster that I believe was being engaged in—

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is the third time that the hon. Gentleman has accused us of conducting a filibuster. The Planning and Energy Bill was important and required the proper consideration of the House. Accusing us of a filibuster—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I have ruled on that matter.

Mr. Cash: This Bill is important, for example because—

It being half-past Two o’clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker interrupted the business.

To be read a Second time on Friday 16 May.

Remaining Private Members’ Bills

Drugs (Roadside Testing) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

To be read a Second time on Friday 16 May.

Drugs (Reclassification) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

To be read a Second time on Friday 16 May.

9 May 2008 : Column 1034

Care Home Charges

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Roy.]

2.30 pm

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Care home charges could represent a vast subject. I do not want to abuse the form of Adjournment debates by getting into the whole area of the funding of social care, so I will focus on a narrow issue that has been drawn to my attention through constituency work: the specific question of cross-subsidy in relation to care home charging, and the related problem of third party top-ups.

The issue emerged locally when it transpired, given that I think that most people were not aware of it, that the council, under two administrations—this is not a party political issue—had a 25-year agreement with Care UK, which is one of the major providers. The deal was probably very good from the council’s point of view, but built into it was substantial price discrimination between two groups of residents. It emerged that self-funders were paying roughly £230 a week more than council-nominated residents. To be precise, those groups’ charges were £820 a week and £585 a week. The self-funders were thus making a transfer of approximately £12,000 to the other group of residents.

As I shall point out, there might be an element of rough justice in some of the redistribution, but for the most part, it involves transferring money from people who are quite poor to others who might or might not be quite poor. When Tracey Blackwood came to see me, she pointed out that her mother, who was a self-funder and was thus required to make the transfer, had no more income than her basic state pension, yet she was required to make large transfers on the grounds that she had a relatively small asset in the form of a modest house.

The problem is not new. The first trace of it that I can find in House of Commons records is from a speech made in 1992 by Lord Rooker when he was an Opposition spokesman. He said:

Ministers have undoubtedly considered the problem, but it still exists in very much the same form, although the amount of cross-subsidy is now much larger.

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