HC Deb 30 April 2004 vol 420 cc1119-45
Mr. Hayes

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 6, line 30, at end insert— '(4A) The registers shall contain such information and documents that relate to the requirements placed on local authorities under the Sustainable Energy Act 2003, outlining any achievements beyond the statutory minimum in pursuit of warm homes and energy conservation.'.

This amendment will add to the Bill. I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), and you will remember, Mr Deputy Speaker, from you assiduous reading of these matters, that he expressed a similar kind of sentiment in Committee. I think that it is fair to say that he was enthusiastic for the energy conservation issues associated with the Bill to be in line with existing legislative requirements, and that he was seeking to press the Government a little on that issue. We on the Conservative Benches are passionate in our opposition to fuel poverty and in our defence of warm homes. The hon. Gentleman's Bill provides once again the opportunity to tweak tile Government's performance a little.

Members on both sides of the House who are associated with warm homes campaigns are doubtful whether the Government will reach their targets. I mentioned that in Committee at greater length and I do not intend to take the House's time by repeating myself. Suffice it to say that the ambitious targets that have been set are unlikely to be achieved unless we make real and significant changes to the way in which we deal with new buildings and with existing ones. Beat practice allows buildings to become highly energy efficient, but, sadly, best practice is by no means the norm, even in the case of the most modern buildings. Through improved insulation, improved ventilation, and the whole energy conservation culture, which can be embedded in design, we can, through the Bill, press the Government towards a position in which those targets might be realisable.

I know that there was a certain resistance from the Government when the hon. Gentleman adopted that kind of tone in the earlier stages of the Bill, and I understand that: it is much easier in opposition to make these bold claims than in government and much easier when one is not answerable for missed targets. There is no point in us not facing up to that truth. It is the role of the good Opposition. however, and even of a minor party—I say this to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove—to force the Government's hand, to put appropriate pressure on them, and to articulate the concerns of the House and of people outside this place who specialise in these matters, and who share the passion for the fight against fuel poverty, which is almost intrinsic in Tory thinking and relates to Liberal thinking, too, at least to some degree.

It is therefore important that we once again challenge the Minister, through the amendment, on why he will not go that one step further on the road towards achieving warm, secure homes, fit for the purpose, for all our people. I commend the amendment to the House.

Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab)

As the amendment refers to the Act that I put through as a private Member's Bill last year. I concur with the hon. Gentleman's sentiments. As one of the roles of Government Back Benchers is to push our Front-Bench team to go that bit further than the permanent government of the civil service would like, I ask the Minister to take on board the sentiments of this amendment, as there are a number of concerns in relation to the way that the Government are tackling fuel poverty, which I know that he shares. I accept, however, that the Government are doing good work, such as that announced this week in the energy efficiency review, all of which is to their credit, and about which we should be talking much more.

As the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) pointed out, there are a number of concerns that the targets set by the Government will not be met. To those of us who believe that one of the Government's achievements is taking people out of fuel poverty, and taking children out of poverty, this kind of measure is important. The amendment is not necessarily the right way forward, but certainly, the sentiments behind it are. I seek assurances from the Minister that the issues raised in my Act last year, such as linking the work of local authorities with that of the Government, and backing up the work of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 and that of the warm homes programme, and getting the balance and synergies between those right, are recognised as important. When the Government supported my Act last year, they recognised that, and when the Minister replies, I hope that he will also recognise that that work needs to be taken forward urgently, as was recognised earlier in the week in the energy statement.

10.15 am
Dr. Palmer

I must admit to being slightly puzzled by the amendment. Most of us would not rank the introduction of annual reports on progress, which came soon after the election, among the magnificent achievements of the Labour Government. I do not remember the Conservative party being at the forefront of those welcoming the publication of such documents. I see that the amendment would require local authorities to identify any achievements beyond the statutory minimum in pursuit of warm homes and energy conservation. That appears to be an invitation to local authorities to wax lyrical about their splendid achievements in the area at the expense of the people who pay for their time.

Brian White

One of the reasons that the provision to make sure that local authorities report was included in my Sustainable Energy Act 2003 is that a number of local authorities are lagging behind. Although the best local authorities are doing an excellent job, a number need to be dragged into the arena to deliver some of the programmes that we all want.

Dr. Palmer

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We must strike a balance between central direction, which will achieve the necessary progress, including in areas in which local authorities might think that they have other priorities, and allowing a degree of local flexibility. What worries me about the amendment is that basically it does not raise the minimum standards, and nor does it apply any standard reporting function that would enable us to collect statistics or assessments nationally. It is simply an invitation to local authorities to chat about their achievements. Given the intention of the Bill, I honestly do not think that anything will be achieved by that.

I accept fully that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) who moved the amendment is motivated entirely by wanting to stimulate the best possible practice in local authorities and to encourage them to take an opportunity to boast about their achievements. My experience of local authorities—except mine, of course—is that they are only too keen to boast about their achievements at great length, which is perhaps a general characteristic of political organisations. We do not therefore need statutory encouragement for them to do so.

Mr. Hayes

In order that the hon. Gentleman might abbreviate his remarks, may I make absolutely clear what I thought that I had made sufficiently clear by inference earlier—that this is a probing amendment? It is designed to press the Government to move closer to the standards that are absolutely necessary if they are to meet their 2010 targets. In the hope that the hon. Gentleman might recognise that, and be brief, I say to him that 1.4 million social sector homes in England are failing to meet the decent home standards, and the vast majority of those—about 80 per cent., or 1.1 million—fail on thermal insulation grounds. On that basis, the Government will not meet the 2010 targets, and we are pressing the Minister, in an extraordinarily moderate way, a little further towards his own target.

Dr. Palmer

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's wish to get away early or deal with whatever other pressing business he may have, but I feel that we should look at the amendments as they stand. Although he has hinted that he may be thinking of withdrawing amendment No. 1, which he would be wise to do, if he tables an amendment, we must be able to discuss it on its own terms.

We recognise the need to make progress with objectives to which we all at least pay lip service and that I hope we would wholeheartedly support, but what is required is a steady increase in minimum standards, accompanied by the flexibility that we discussed on new clause 1. We should not encourage local authorities simply to make statements that are not viable in cash terms.

In a previous life, I worked in statistics. I remember attempting to assess the progress of projects, and I remember that each of those reporting reported in a different way. That is a statistical nightmare with which everyone in Government is familiar, and I would not like to contribute to it now. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, whose objectives I respect and support, will withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Stunell

Some tempting bait has been dangled in the water with mention of the Sustainable Energy Act 2003, which began as a private Member's Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White). The amendment is clearly a good thing in the sense that motherhood and apple pie is a good thing, and I approve of the idea of a report on progress, but there are one or two problems with it. For one thing, it would amend clause 6, not clause 5. Clause 5 deals with reports; clause 6 concerns the lodging of documents for inspection.

I wish the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) had had an opportunity to try out the idea in Committee, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) did with her proposals. That would have enabled us to deal with a provision that worked and was appropriately placed. The Minister might still be shaking his head, but at least the amendment would relate to the right part of the Bill. If it had referred to clause 5, I might have felt able to be rather more vigorous in my defence of the hon. Gentleman's defence of the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East.

There is no doubt that we need more progress in the implementation of the 2003 Act. Along with other Members in all political parties, I have criticised the Government for not setting proper targets under the Act and for all the shortfalls in performance, but sadly the amendment is not a viable means of dealing with that.

I hope that we have made useful points. I hope that the Minister will go back and say, "They gave me hell over this—what are we doing?" The Government need a good nudge. They need to be reminded that Members throughout the House are concerned about the issue, and feel that the Government have been somewhat lethargic. I also hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman will not press his amendment, which I fear might jeopardise the wider project represented by the Bill.

Phil Hope

For reasons given by various Members today and for others that I will explain shortly, the Government will oppose the amendment because we think it unnecessary. That does not mean that we are not keen to pursue our targets relating to fuel poverty and warm homes. I realise that this is a probing amendment, and I will respond to it in those terms. As for my being given hell this morning, I prefer to say that Members have given me a good push forward, while supporting my enthusiasm for better fuel and energy efficiency and attacking fuel poverty on behalf of the Government.

The amendment is unnecessary because the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 already provides the necessary flexibility to ensure that compliance takes place clearly and openly. That was the aim of all who were involved with the Act during its passage through the House. Section 4 gives the Government in England and the Welsh Assembly Government discretionary power to direct energy conservation authorities to improve energy efficiency in residential accommodation. It also requires those authorities to take action to implement cost-effective and practicable measures to achieve such improvement, while having regard to the eradication of fuel poverty. The Act gives the Secretary of State power to provide local authorities with guidance on their duties, and the authorities have a duty to have regard to it.

Brian White

When is the guidance likely to be produced?

Phil Hope

Regrettably, I am not responsible for the decision making of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so I cannot give my hon. Friend that information; but I will convey his enthusiasm for such guidance to my colleagues in that Department.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer), I find it hard to believe that a local authority that had not only managed to meet its obligations under the 2003 Act but exceeded them would be reluctant to publicise its achievement. Surely it would be singing its own praises loud and clear. I imagine that it would take great pleasure in including all the details of its achievement through whatever monitoring or reporting system it had eventually agreed to.

An important part of the Act provides that any use of the powers it confers should be considered carefully, and that use of the powers and final implementation of the Act should involve consultation with representatives of local government. That approach is consistent with our policy on freedoms and flexibilities for local authorities. The Government would not issue such directions—thus placing a new burden on the authorities—without providing the funds needed to meet the new requirements.

As the Government have said on many occasions, we consider the powers potentially useful, in that they could help us to meet our energy efficiency and fuel poverty objectives. That was clearly demonstrated by the Government's wholehearted support for the legislation during its passage.

I agree with the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) that the placing of the amendment is odd. The registers established by clause 6 will contain information relating to the Building Act 1984 on individual buildings, whereas the amendment would require general, local authority-wide information to be placed somewhere in a register that was not designed to receive it. Even if we supported the amendment, we would feel that it was in the wrong place in the Bill.

I should explain to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe, who was not on the Standing Committee, that clause 5 obliges the Government to produce a biennial report to Parliament on progress in the sustainability of building stock. He asked about the value of that, and the extent to which it would create pressure and momentum for improvement.

I shall not go into all the details that we discussed in Committee of other efforts that the Government are making to improve building stock, but we have PPS1 and PPS22, the sustainability of buildings task group—which is about to publish a report—and many other initiatives showing our enthusiasm for the direction in which the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) has pushed me. A great deal is going on and we are making progress. The amendment is unnecessary to our achievement of our aims.

Mr. Hayes

The Minister, as I anticipated, has responded by acknowledging that this is indeed a probing amendment, designed to drive him towards ever greater efforts to achieve the targets set. He has given us an undertaking today that he is re-energised by the pressure from his Back Benchers—so admirably represented by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White)—and from the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell). The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) has not been following these matters closely until today, perhaps because he has been out buying shoes—although I resisted the temptation of drawing him into the earlier debate about aesthetics, because I thought that he would be less than a frontrunner in that department, judging by today's footwear. However, although he is less certain on these matters, I am satisfied that the Minister has got the message, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.30 am
Mr. Hayes

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in clause 6, page 7, line 3, at end insert— '91B Accessible housing registers for the disabled

  1. (1) Each local housing authority must maintain an "accessible housing register"
  2. (2) The accessible housing register must outline—
    1. (a) current and proposed accessible residential properties in the local authority area (whether purpose-built or adapted) with details of the access features relating to each property; and
    2. (b) the provisions available for disabled people who require accessible housing,
  3. (3) For the purpose of this section "accessible residential properties" means dwellings, flats and HMOs which provide a reasonable means of access and ease of use for disabled people, or which may be easily adapted to provide such access and ease of use.'.

Amendment No. 2 relates to registers of accessible housing for disabled people. That is not a new idea, and it is widely supported by disabled organisations and charities, as well as by many Members. I raised the matter in the Committee on the Housing Bill; the amendment is almost a repetition of the new clause that we then tabled.

Briefly, the argument for such registers is as follows. There is no doubt that all Members want to ensure that adequate housing is available for people with disabilities. That housing, often by necessity, must be adapted so that a person's needs can be properly catered for. Adaptations that take place in the cause of providing good housing for disabled people are varied. Someone with a spinal injury who is a wheelchair user will require very different adaptations from someone with partial sight. A range of disabilities requires a range of approaches.

Such adaptations can be expensive, and the current problem is that local authorities often adapt a house to satisfy a tenant who subsequently dies or moves on, and the new tenant might not necessarily be able to access the same property. The match between disability and suitable adapted housing is often poor, which leads to houses being re-adapted for a person with a different disability, or de-adapted—if such a word exists—for someone with no disability at all, or only a minor one. That is a costly process, which wastes many millions of pounds for local authorities up and down the country.

Dr. Palmer


Mr. Hayes

I give way to the hon. Gentleman, who is about to offer a riposte to my earlier rebuke.

Dr. Palmer

Not at all. I would hesitate to compete with the hon. Gentleman's sartorial elegance, but I am less certain about his drafting elegance. There are 41,000 homes in my constituency. Is he seriously suggesting that the local authority should assess and maintain a register of each one, including "dwellings, flats and HMOs", to see whether it is accessible—whether purpose-built or adapted—and what provisions are made for disabled people to access it? How many hundreds of additional local civil servants does he think that Broxtowe council would require to implement that proposal?

Mr. Hayes

I can see that despite the hon. Gentleman's good will, he has not made a close study of the matter. I am not surprised at that: he is a busy man and cannot always take as much time as he would like to advance the interests of disabled people. If he had made a close study of the matter, he would know that in those parts of the country where such schemes have been adopted, there have been substantial savings to local authorities. The cost of setting up and running a register has been found, for example in Bradford, to be considerably less than the savings made by not having to re-adapt homes. I am not simply advancing my proposal in the interests of disabled people because of a proper concern for them; I advance it because it is highly cost-effective for local authorities to ensure a better match between tenants and available properties.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)

I agree with my hon. Friend's proposal. In my local authority in East Devon there is increasing pressure to comply with Government regulations on providing housing for disabled people, although there is not necessarily the financial wherewithal. If we moved towards a local register, it would not only save money in the long term but make it much easier to move people who need that sort of housing around in the constituency, without having to spend vast amounts of money each and every time they have to be housed.

Mr. Hayes

Yes, as my hon. Friend implies, the figures for the possible savings are impressive. It is certainly true that moving people around, as he puts it, is costly and painful to those concerned, and the savings themselves make a case for my proposal. Local authority estimates. from Bradford suggest that savings may be in the range of £200,000 to £400,000, and some estimate that those savings may in fact be of more than £500,000. Of course, that will vary from place to place depending on the nature of the local available accommodation.

This idea was supported by Members on both sides of the Housing Bill Committee—I draw particular attention to the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), who is an advocate of a similar proposal—and at the very least, the Government must consider the matter further. The Minister for Housing and Planning, who is sitting in his place because he takes these matters seriously, and who saw my name on the screen and rushed into the Chamber, acknowledged when I made my proposal in Committee that it was something that any Government would want to consider seriously.

My argument, therefore, is not partisan; nor is it trivial. It is born of a desire to do what is right, but it is also to do something that can be implemented cost-effectively, as the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) properly suggested.

Matthew Green (Ludlow) (LD)

The hon. Gentleman will know that when a similar amendment was tabled to the Housing Bill it had our broad support. However, I hope that he rabidly describes this as a probing amendment because, if my reading of it is right, it applies to all houses, not just local authority and social housing. I think that the latter is what he means, but the amendment in fact seems to apply to all houses, including privately owned ones. I am sure that he would not particularly want his local authority to maintain a register of whether his property, which we have discovered is listed, has been adapted for disabled purposes.

Mr. Hayes

It is fair to say that this amendment, as the tone of my comments suggests, is, like my previous amendment, designed to probe. Given that the debate in Committee was received well by Members on both sides, and given that the Minister for Housing and Planning dealt with it with his characteristic generosity. we are once again looking to press the Government to examine the matter more carefully and perhaps to come back with their own proposals, which we could then consider with equal generosity. My proposal comes from a real demand from disabled organisations, and the cause is driven by a proper concern for vulnerable people, so the matter should be taken up with alacrity throughout the House.

A pilot study in conjunction with local authorities might be a way forward. Far be it from me to suggest how the Government should run their affairs, but such a study could be done reasonably quickly and inexpensively, and with the co-operation of local authorities—of varying party political persuasions—that are already leading the way in this regard. If the Minister says today that that is already his intention—that he had plotted such a scheme before today's debate—my regard for him, which is already high, would reach proportions to which even he would be too modest to aspire.

The Minister will doubtless reply in the spirit offered, and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove will know that the amendment is meant to be a helpful addition to his Bill. Neither he nor the Minister has anything to fear from it, and they have the opportunity to show that in some measure they can match the Conservative commitment, rooted in our party's proud history, to the most vulnerable in our society.

Dr. Palmer

I am thinking of introducing a private Member's Bill to make it illegal to introduce probing amendments that do not make sense, but in the absence of such legislation, we have to deal with amendments as they stand. I note that in his response to the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green), the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) evaded the question of whether his amendment is intended to cover all private housing. As it stands, it does, so we would have to investigate not only whether my house has disabled access, but whether his grotto does. Does any sensible party aspiring to government really wish to impose such a burden on local authorities?

I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point that disabled organisations and sensible people everywhere want local authorities to keep track of the modifications made to local authority housing and social housing so that a match of the kind that he described can be encouraged. That would be entirely sensible and I should be surprised to discover that any local authority wanted to lose track of the improvements that it has made.

I can also see that there is a case for encouraging private owners to register improvements of this kind; doing so might well help them to sell the property in due course. However, I cannot see the point in maintaining a vast local bureaucracy that pursues every modification to every house and flat in the local authority area to try in vain to keep track of whether Flat 17, Gregoria Mansions, for example, has been modified in a way that would be helpful to people with a particular problem.

Mr. Hayes

I do not want to delay our proceedings, but the hon. Gentleman needs to acquaint himself with the Housing Act 1996, parts VI and VII of which already encourage housing authorities to maintain lists of properties suitable for disabled people and other special needs groups. More especially, in 1999. the National Disabled Persons Housing Service and the Housing Corporation described the benefits of such registers. The need now is for some statutory teeth to back up that good practice.

The hon. Gentleman is not, I hope, making a fundamental criticism of my proposal. I have made it clear that this is a probing amendment. We are simply looking to the Government to give teeth to the good practice that has already been established by a range of organisations and in legislation.

Dr. Palmer

The hon. Gentleman points to other legislation that encourages a register of suitable housing. However, as I understand it, his amendment would require local authorities to inspect every dwelling, flat and other building in the area to see whether it was purpose-built or adapted and what access features were available. He is a sensible man and I feel sure that, on reflection, he will agree that his amendment goes further than the provisions in existing Acts. Even probing amendments should be sensible in their own terms.

10.45 am
Mr. Hayes

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not hear what I said. I repeat that the 1996 Act makes it absolutely clear that housing authorities are encouraged to maintain lists of properties suitable for disabled people and other special needs groups. It is true that such properties will be spread throughout a range of housing types. What we need to do is to achieve a better match, which requires that authorities take a lateral approach. The issue is not the extent of what they should do, but whether it can be done cost-effectively. That is why the current cost of not getting a good match needs to be properly measured against the cost of implementing a scheme. I do not say that the amendment is perfect—it is a probing amendment—but surely the hon. Gentleman will briefly acknowledge that the Government should at least look at this issue.

Dr. Palmer

I entirely agree that it is sensible for local authorities to try to promote the availability of accessible housing and to keep track of the accessible housing of which they are aware. However, as it stands, the amendment would require local authorities to list current and proposed accessible residential properties and give details of the access features relating to each property.

The amendment reflects a general pattern of behaviour in Her Majesty's Opposition. In general terms, they are in favour of fewer bureaucrats, less local expenditure and lower council tax. But in respect of any given issue, they want more bureaucrats and greater local authority expenditure, the inevitable consequence of which is higher council tax. Even in this relatively cosy environment of a Friday morning discussion of a Bill, we should not lose track of the fact that there is a fundamental inconsistency there. Let us promote the good practice of local authorities keeping track of accessible housing, but let us not impose on them the requirement to send an inspector round to every building to maintain a vast register that will be out of date the moment that it is printed.

I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment. We all accept its spirit—we need to promote disabled-friendly housing—but its means are unachievable. He suggested a pilot scheme and I suggest that he try to persuade his own local authority to run one. If he is successful, we look forward to his authority's announcement of next year's council tax and we will see whether we have to cap it.

Mr. Stunell

I thank the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) for introducing this amendment, which has obviously generated some interest. It is certainly worthy and full of the best intentions, but it suffers from a couple of serious flaws. In its original form, it related to the Housing Act 1996, which refers to local authority and registered social landlord housing and does not automatically apply to the private sector. By transposing the amendment to the Building Act 1984, which does apply to all buildings, he has created a problem for himself that he perhaps did not recognise at the time.

There is also a problem with the drafting in that the provision applies to all houses in the private and the public sector and to all future houses as well as present ones. The amendment refers to current and proposed accessible residential properties", so presumably a scan of the planning list and applications would be needed. Overall, there are all sorts of technical problems with the amendment.

From my perspective of promoter of the Bill, the amendment adds a completely new dimension. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that his colleague, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), took up a considerable amount of the House's time on Second Reading to criticise my Bill, as it was then drafted, for the burdens that it imposed on local authorities. After that criticism, I find it a little hard to be faced with a proposal to put back into the Bill a provision that the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman specifically condemned. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) also commented on the lack of precision in the amendment.

The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that the amendment would be cost-effective. If so, I should have thought that we needed a code of practice to explain to local authorities the benefits that would accrue if they adopted it. They should then be queuing up for a cost saving, which they are always searching for.

I repeat that the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge heavily criticised me on Second Reading for doing exactly what the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings is seeking to achieve through the amendment. The hon. Gentleman will not therefore be surprised if I do all that I can to resist the amendment on this occasion.

Phil Hope

The amendment would require local housing authorities to maintain a register of all housing, including private sector housing, that is accessible to people with disabilities. The Government recognise that it is enormously important that disabled people can access accommodation that meets their needs. In replying to this probing amendment, I shall say a few words about increasing the supply of accessible homes and the importance of being able to match disabled people with them. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning was in his place to hear our debate.

We are taking action to increase the supply of housing accessible to people with disabilities. All newly built homes are required to comply with part M of the building regulations. The Government revised part M in 1999 to improve the visitability and convenience of new housing. The revised regulations include requirements to ensure that entrances, lifts, corridors, doorways and WCs are accessible, including to wheelchair users. Those provisions are expected to enable occupants to cope better with reducing mobility and to live longer in their own homes.

We announced earlier this year that we will carry out a further review of part M, with the aim of incorporating lifetime home standards for accessibility into the building regulations. Furthermore, in relation to new social housing, the Government require that all schemes funded through the Housing Corporation comply not only with the building regulations, but with additional criteria for accessibility and internal environments set out in the Housing Corporation's scheme development standards.

Our reform of the planning system is also designed to address issues of access and inclusion. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill includes requirements for access statements o be drawn up to support planning applications in appropriate circumstances. The Bill will also introduce a statutory requirement for those responsible for preparing regional spatial strategies and local development documents in England to undertake those functions with a view to contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. That will be defined in planning policy statement 1. PPS1 will make it clear that development plans should contain clear and comprehensive inclusive access policies.

We are not only taking action to improve accessibility in relation to new developments; we have also substantially increased resources to fund adaptations to existing housing stock. The disabled facilities grants programme provides funding for local authorities to help disabled home owners and tenants to pay for essential adaptations to their homes. Since 1997, Government funding for disabled facilities grants has nearly doubled, rising to £100 million a year. This year, more than 33,000 homes will be adapted to meet the needs of disabled people through the programme—a 50 per cent. increase on 1997–98. That deals with the point raised by the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) about the resources available to help disabled people secure accessible homes. We have also given local authorities new and wide-ranging discretionary powers to provide help for home owners for repairing and improving their properties, in addition to the support provided through the mandatory disabled facilities grants programme.

Through our revisions to the building regulations, through the standards we set for new social housing, through our reforms to the planning system and through our funding for adaptations, we are seeking to increase the availability of accessible homes that meet the needs of disabled people. However, the point of the amendment is about how to match those homes to disabled people. Increasing the supply of accessible housing to disabled people is only the first task. We also need to ensure that people with disabilities are matched with the most suitable accommodation available. The amendment is designed to press the Government to make improvements in that respect. That, of course, is why the Government encourage local housing authorities to maintain disability housing registers, an issue that was debated during the passage of the Housing Bill.

The code of guidance on the allocation of accommodation that we issued to local housing authorities in November 2002 makes it clear that the Secretary of State recommends housing authorities to maintain lists of properties which are suitable for disabled people and other special needs groups … Such lists might include all accessible or significantly adapted local authority stock, RSL properties and private sector properties to which authorities nominate tenants. In addition to that statutory guidance, good practice guidance on disabled housing registers is also available to social landlords. "A Perfect Match?", published jointly by the Housing Corporation and the National Disabled Persons Housing Service in 1999—currently being updated—is designed to help spread best practice and to support the creation of matching services.

Choice-based lettings schemes, under which properties are openly advertised and appropriately labelled as to the level of adaptation, also make it easier to match people with disabilities to appropriate available accommodation. Those schemes help to provide people with disabilities with the information that they need to choose a home appropriate to their diverse needs. More than 20 per cent. of local authorities are now pursuing some form of choice-based lettings system and we have set a target that all local authorities will have adopted choice-based lettings schemes by 2010.

Although I am fully in favour of measures that make it easier to match the housing needs of disabled people with available accommodation, in view of all that I have said, I am not persuaded that the amendment is the appropriate way forward. I hope that I have demonstrated our enthusiasm for making change and progress, but not necessarily through the amendment. There were good intentions behind it, but it also has unfortunate consequences. The Government repealed the duty to maintain a housing, register in the Homelessness Act 2002, and I am not convinced that there is sufficient justification to reintroduce that duty for one category of applicant only.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) pointed out, the amendment would require local authorities to maintain detailed registers of all current and future accessible housing in their area. To meet that requirement, local authorities would need to collect information on the access features of not only social housing and private sector housing to which the authority has nomination rights. but of all housing—including owner-occupied housing and homes for private let. The amendment would also require local authorities to provide information relating not only to existing homes, but, as the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) pointed out, to all homes proposed to be built or adapted to meet accessibility standards in the future.

The exceptionally broad scope of the requirement would clearly place enormous demands on the resources of local authority housing services. For local authorities to collect detailed information on all properties within their boundaries—whether owned by them or by private individuals, and whether existing or yet to be built—would he onerous indeed.

The question of cost was mentioned. I am aware that some local authorities that operate disabled housing registers have reported savings from this scheme. Following debates in Committee on the Housing Bill, the Minister for Housing and Planning asked Office of the Deputy Prime Minister officials to look into the operation of such registers across the country. That was the commitment that we made in Committee. The emerging findings show enormous variation in the declared savings of such schemes. Information was limited, variable and lacking in consistency. For instance, some estimates were based on the whole disabled persons housing service, rather than specifically on the disabled housing register.

11 am

Because of those serious data reliability issues, we cannot be certain that registers would produce any savings for authorities in the long term. What is certain is that all registers incurred significant start-up costs, which would be a significant new burden on local authorities if registers were to be required in legislation. There are also practical issues around how local authorities could gather information about the access features of privately owned properties in their area in practice, unless the owner volunteered such information. Our view remains that making registers a legislative requirement would place a disproportionate burden upon local authorities and take up resources that could be better used to improve the provision of housing for disabled people through the disabled facilities grants programme.

We are committed to taking action to ensure that people with disabilities have access to housing that meets their needs. Our announcement of an expedited review of part M to incorporate the lifetime home standard into the building regulations illustrates that commitment. But we believe that the best way forward is through non-legislative measures, such as increased funding for the delivery of a first-class adaptations service and continuing to encourage and promote best practice in local lettings policies to help match people with the most appropriate housing available. With those words of explanation, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw this amendment.

Mr. Hayes

The Minister has given a useful and interesting response to our short debate and I have two or three further points to make. First, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) appropriately raised the question about the extent of the responsibility to maintain information to match disabled people with appropriate housing. We should not be naive about that, because much adapted housing exists outside the local authority sector. For instance, housing associations, such as the John Grooms housing association, do good work in that area, and the private sector also contains some adapted housing. It is not good enough to exclude such housing from a sensible consideration of how to move forward on the issue. Indeed, Governments have not done so in the past.

I mentioned the Housing Act 1996 and it is worth drawing particular attention to the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996, annexe 1 to circular 17/96, entitled "Private Sector Renewal: a Strategic Approach". That guidance, issued under the Act, states that local authorities should consider the development of registers of adapted homes and of people looking for such properties. Given that that guidance was aimed at taking a lateral view of the availability of accommodation, and that it also mentions matching people with properties, it is clear that the Government recognised a problem that had to be dealt with. The Minister acknowledged that issue in his remarks, but we should not take too narrow an approach. The balance between cost and efficacy is an issue, and all sensible people would wish to take that into account, but I hope that a sufficiently lateral approach will be taken.

Secondly, we must take account of existing good practice. I was interested in what the Minister said about the research that was done after my original comments on the issue in Committee on the Housing Bill. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for having commissioned that work by the Department. The Minister said that it produced varying results, but we should consider best practice as found in those authorities that report good results on matching and on cost-effectiveness, in terms of needing to adapt fewer homes, and see how that best practice could be spread to other areas. Local authorities may take different approaches—electronic databases, information distribution, process management, interaction between departments are all relevant. For example, a social services input would be needed as well as a housing input, and possibly a health input. A multi-agency approach is required to achieve the best results. Therefore, I reasonably ask the Minister to consider what the most effective local authorities do and seek to export it to others.

Thirdly, I wonder whether further discussion might take place with those who represent disabled people, such as the housing associations that specialise in the issue. I mentioned John Grooms housing association, which produced a very good report last year, in conjunction with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, on housing availability for wheelchair users. The results that it found were disappointing, even in respect of new build. Substantial numbers of newly built properties did not meet statutory requirements for access. The Minister said that progress had been made, but there is an issue of compliance. I hope that the Minister will agree to meet people from the sector to discuss the matter further, so that we might make some progress.

Dr. Palmer

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hayes

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I move on. I am usually generous in giving way.

With those comments and caveats, I can say that the Minister has approached the issue in a helpful and positive way. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

11.7 am

Mr. Stunell

I wish to thank all those colleagues who have participated in discussions on the Bill, on Second Reading, in Committee and today. I also wish to thank organisations outside the House that have contributed to the Bill in its present form, especially the Greater Manchester police, who gave me practical assistance on the crime reduction aspect of the Bill, and the WWF which, with its 1 million sustainable homes campaign, has been an important supporter of the Bill.

The Bill comes at an important time in the development of policy by the United Kingdom on sustainability. Only last week, the Government published their plan of action for energy efficiency, and next week the House will consider the Energy Bill. I like to think that my Bill will play a part in helping the Government out of a hole. They signed up to Kyoto, acknowledged the royal commission report, produced a performance and innovation report and then published a White Paper. They now need some legislation to deliver on some of those promises, and I hope that my Bill will help to do so.

I am delighted that the Bill has got so far and I am keen to finish the job, so I will not delay the House for long. I brought before the House a Bill that I described as modest, and it has emerged from Committee a little more modest, which I regret. It was never the answer to everything, and it certainly is not now. The Bill is a useful building block that can help to cut crime; I gave practical examples of that at Second Reading.

The Bill can help to cut carbon emissions and can promote the sustainability of buildings and of homes. Buildings collectively are currently responsible for more than 30 per cent. of this country's carbon emissions, with homes alone accounting for about 27 per cent. Also, clause 5 contains a useful provision that holds the Government to account, requiring them to report every two years on the progress they are making and are planning to make.

I could easily wax lyrical. On checking Hansard, I was amazed to find that I had talked on Second Reading for 70 minutes. I hope to keep it well under seven minutes this time and simply say that I commend the Bill to the House. I hope it is brought to the Lords quickly and is subsequently put on the statute book as quickly as possible.

11.10 am
Brian White

Today I should have been chairing a meeting between the Milton Keynes energy agency and the local authority about the energy needs of local authority buildings, so it is appropriate that I am here to support the hon Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell). The Bill is useful and builds on the Sustainable Energy Act 2003, which the hon. Gentleman strongly supported. He ought to be congratulated, not just on the Bill but on galvanising support from the public and from the organisations about which he talked.

The Bill is a step forward and a building block, and makes a number of key advances. I regret that two of the clauses on energy that were in the Bill when it went into Committee have been removed. However, that does not mean that the Government will not need to discuss and make progress on the issues. I am confident that they will, and that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary's assurances in Committee will be taken forward. We are to discuss the Energy Bill next week, when we will return to the issue of renewables. There are a number of key issues that we need to take forward and this Bill gives us an opportunity to do that.

I am sure that the Under-Secretary will assure the House that the Government are on target to achieve their energy objectives. In welcoming the Bill and wishing it well in the Lords, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the Bill, the progress that he has made and the difference that the Bill will make to the country.

11.13 am
Sue Doughty

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) on the work that he has done. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) have concerns that the Bill does not go as far as we would like. We must continue to work on previous and future energy legislation to see its impact on climate change and other problems. I am however delighted that the Bill is being taken forward.

I thank the Under-Secretary for his help. The other day, I chaired a meeting at which he gave a most interesting address on sustainable buildings. His personal comments about the Bill are helpful.

The housing stock is desperately important, but the scourge of fuel poverty is still with us. We have made progress, but there is a long way to As energy costs increase, the problem becomes more argent, particularly among the lowest income groups. I look forward to the Energy Bill, which we hope will deal with that matter.

Public buildings, town centre developments and out of town shopping centres can contribute to the excess use of energy and resources, as well as to greenhouse gas problems. In future, such developments must use fewer resources and must be less demanding and more sustainable. This is where the Bill starts to make progress.

I met the developers of a proposed development in central Guildford, and at last they are starting to talk about combined heat and power and recycling. Big companies are much better on recycling because the reuse of materials can reduce their costs, but small law firms, for example, that generate lot of paper often do not have recycling facilities. We hope that the Bill will start to help such organisations. We need to know how large buildings can generate renewables, which is possible. These are cheap wins if we can move the market forward. We also need more sustainable construction.

Public thinking is changing. A few weeks ago, I was canvassing for a by-election in an area of Guildford that has an area of land that is up for development. It is to be used for properties, but people were asking where the recycling facilities would be. They wanted composting facilities and the easy collection of recyclables. We also need to examine the conversion of large buildings into flats. My flat in London is in a large building, the former headquarters of the NAAFI. When it was converted, opportunities for combined heat and power were not taken, although the building would have been an ideal candidate. There is no recycling facility. It is gated and secure, but an opportunity has been lost.

I strongly welcome the Bill, which will be paving legislation. It does not change things as such but gives the Government more opportunity, through building regulations, to say what they want and how they can work on climate change and fuel poverty and cut waste. I am delighted that the Bill is proceeding, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove.

11.18 am
Mr. Hayes

We are coming to the conclusion of a good debate that has cut across the party divide, largely thanks to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell). Exploring the important issues of the security and sustainability of buildings has done the House a power of good.

I had a lovely day on Monday; I went to Birmingham. I do not often go there and it was exciting. I went to the master builder of the year gala awards lunch, attended by hundreds of builders. I was the only politician there, which was disappointing. No doubt others were invited, but we have busy diaries. I was pleased to see the very best of what builders can do. The awards involve the exploration by judges of projects throughout the country and show what builders—typically small firms—can achieve when they take on board the things we discussed during our debates.

We can do good work. There is great skill throughout the building professions and we have many good architects. We have people who are committed to producing the very best, and they must be encouraged. The House will forgive me for noting that one of those nominated for a prize—indeed, the winner of a local award—was Fensom Builders, for a project in Deeping St. James in my glorious constituency. I met Dave Fensom and his family; better people one could not wish to know. They are typical of small builders in this country who are taking on board many of the considerations embodied in the Bill.

In broadly supporting the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove throughout consideration of the Bill, I wish to discuss three matters that emerged from that consideration: power, learning and knowledge. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) mentioned the difficult balance between, on the one hand, the power that the legislation will provide and the resulting issues of cost and effectiveness—whether the good intentions can be delivered—and, on the other, the desirability of the intentions that lie behind the Bill. That balance will be the test of whether the proposals make legislation that is indeed as good as we hope it will be. When speaking of power, the whole House turns first to Edmund Burke, who said: The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse. It seems to me that when they consider the Bill, their lordships will be aware of that balance, which has properly been discussed here and been accepted as the key to whether the Bill makes good law.

Hilaire Belloc, who is another of the Minister's heroes and one of mine, too, said that pride—not a fault of which we can accuse those present here today— causes those who suffer from this disease to regard whatever they think they have learned … as absolute and sufficient. Although many of the things said during our deliberations, and much of the Bill, are good, they are neither absolute nor sufficient. That is why I moved my probing amendments today and why I have tried, in my humble contributions, to highlight some of the areas that are not yet sufficient and the ways in which the Bill could act as a catalyst for discussion of further issues, such as those affecting disabled people, warm homes and energy efficiency.

On progress, I turn to my hero G. K. Chesterton, who said: My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday. Progress must be more than an ambition, but to be realisable it must be routed in a certain sense of where we want to get to. Today, we have discussed aesthetics and our determination to ensure that our historic built environment is respected to an even greater degree than it has been thus far, and that we take proper account of the relationship between new buildings and existing settlements, and understand buildings' impact on the landscape. All are vital to ensuring that progress represents genuine improvement rather than change for change's sake.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove will agree with me that every Briton should have the opportunity to live in a home that is secure, warm and fit for its purpose. Let that be our mission. It is certainly the Conservatives' mission, and I think that we are gradually converting other parties, including the Government.

11.25 am
Dr. Palmer

I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell). Each of us would like, before we leave this place after many scores of years, to be able to attach our name to a law. I have a nasty feeling that my epitaph will be, "He got bells on bicycles", but I think that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to have his name attached to this substantial piece of legislation when, as we anticipate it will, it has completed its passage through both Houses and receives Royal Assent.

There is broad consensus on the building regulations being the right way in which to deal with the general issues in the Bill. Any individual developer may pay lip service to the principles of sustainable development—indeed, his support may be genuine—but the financial, planning and other pressures attached to any development will tend to overwhelm such good intentions unless we secure a general raising of standards across the country. Everyone who has canvassed in his own and other constituencies will know that standards must be raised.

I shall focus on an aspect that has been little discussed today: the design of buildings to discourage crime. Our constituents would no doubt be pleased to hear that their building was environmentally sustainable, but the issue that comes up more in daily canvassing is whether a building is designed to discourage hooligans and the entry and escape of people with inappropriate intentions—whether, when consideration was being given to developing a property, especially a block of flats, attention was paid to whether the design would discourage crime. That gets far too little attention at that stage, and we tend to fix the problem later, often at disproportionate expense.

Brian White

In my area, the local planning inspector has just thrown such key issues out of the local plan. My hon. Friend raises an important matter. I hope that the Minister will ensure that during inquiries planning inspectors take account of the need to design out crime.

Dr. Palmer

Crime is one of the areas in which an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I think that we all have estates in our constituencies where, if more thought had been given to the problem, the risk of crime could have been greatly reduced.

Clause 2(8) amends section 44 of the Building Act 1984, which deals with Crown properties. Building legislation passed in 1944 has not yet taken effect. Although I am all in favour of not rushing legislation, I ask the Minister to consider whether 60 years is sufficient time to implement the provision in respect of Crown properties.

We had a partly playful but also partly serious discussion on the registration of properties with good disabled access. Leaving the banter aside, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), whom I count as a personal friend despite his criticisms of my sartorial excellence, is on to a serious point here. I suggest that local authorities be encouraged to register the disabled access of buildings in their control, and in respect of housing associations, and that they maintain a voluntary register so that owners of private property who wish to record the fact that they have improved the it properties to allow for people with disabilities are able to do so with some local authority imprimatur or a verification to show that that has happened. People trying to sell their property would find that beneficial and helpful, as opposed to an imposition, which is how the proposal would be considered if there was a blanket requirement to register the situation for every property in the borough.

I urge those implementing the Bill to examine best international practice. As has been said in the debate, Britain has a great tradition of architecture, but I am not sure that we have a great tradition of sustainable development. There are countries that are significantly in advance of us on that. We should consider examples from Scandinavia and countries such as Switzerland and Holland. which is no doubt of special interest to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, as we would see that there are lessons to be learned, which we do not have to reinvent. If we could achieve the best international standards, that would be an enormous step forward.

We obviously must consider the cost of any such improvements. When we have what is generally accepted to be a shortage of housing, especially affordable housing, we must be careful that we do not gold-plate the regulations to the extent that affordable housing becomes unaffordable.

I think the hen. Member for Hazel Grove, who introduced the legislation, would agree that many of the improvements that we can envisage in building regulations are not terribly expensive, but merely ones that people have to decide to make. It is not necessary to have amazingly luxurious building with all modern conveniences for every conceivable situation; it is merely necessary to bear in mind as one develops a new construction that we need to cover the aspect of crime prevention and that of environmental sustainability.

Mr. Stunell

I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. The building legislation and the building regulations are some of the best preventive health measures there are. I have made the point before that building inspectors have saved more lives than doctors in the past 150 years, and long may it continue.

Dr. Palmer

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We tend to overlook the health aspect of the issue. We consider the environmental side, which is a social good, and the crime side, which is a social and individual good, but it is easy to forget that good building regulations mean healthy buildings, and healthy buildings reduce the burden on the health service.

It is Friday morning and, as usual, the turnout is not overwhelming, but we must acknowledge that such legislation—for example, the Town and Country Planning Act 1990—has a significance and an impact well beyond that of more glamorous and high-profile legislation. I would be surprised to see any reference in any of tomorrow's newspapers to the passing of the Bill, but it will probably benefit people right across the country for decades to come. As has been said, we are busy people, so we should all feel a little proud that we spent some time on a Friday morning giving the legislation a fair wind.

11.35 am
Matthew Green

The House will be relieved to hear that I intend to be brief and that I do not intend to quote from a Burke.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) on this excellent Bill and the manner in which he has taken it forward. I would add my congratulations to the Minister and to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who speaks from the Conservative Front Bench, on approaching the Bill sensibly and meaningfully. That shows their intention to take the Bill seriously.

I did not have the pleasure of serving on the Committee—I have probably served on too many Committees involving the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in recent months, so my absence was probably a relief—so I rise briefly now to offer the support of Liberal Democrat Front Benchers for the Bill. I am not saying that just because my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove is the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip.

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a shame that the Bill lost some elements in Committee, but he still has a Bill of which he can be very proud. It will make step changes and improve sustainability and security of buildings. The public will appreciate that he has done a great service in introducing it.

The Bill is based on firm principles, but those principles have not prevented it from being coherent and, most importantly, effective. I hope that the other place also approaches it pragmatically and sensibly, and approves it so that it can reach the statute book, which it deserves to do.

11.37 am
Phil Hope

Here we are on Third Reading and the Bill, like me earlier, has arrived at its crunch point. I thank the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) and congratulate him on introducing it and taking it forward. The Government offer it their strong support.

Modestly, the hon. Gentleman described the Bill as modest, but I beg to differ. I believe that it will be of enormous help in supporting Government policies and aspirations on sustainable development and security. I also thank other hon. Members who—in the Chamber today, in Committee and on Second Reading—have played an active part in its consideration. We have had contributions from the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) and from my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White), who has a well-known track record of championing this cause.

During consideration of the Bill, my hon. Friend has pressed the Government and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove to take things further. Where we have been able to do so, we have responded positively; where we have been unable to do so, our intent has none the less been similar to his. I hope he acknowledges that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley), who is not present, lost her amendment in Committee, but, through the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, we have managed to put it in the Bill, which is very pleasing. Indeed, it has been a pleasure for me to serve for the first time during consideration of a Bill with the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who brought eloquence and flair to our proceedings, quoting Belloc, Chesterton and Burke.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that when we discussed city states and their evolution during the passage of the Local Government Bill, I managed to get Marx, Hegel, Machiavelli and Rousseau into our proceedings. I suggest that my panoply of champions is at least a match for his.

Mr. Hayes

I think that the whole House will know that, whereas the Minister is Machiavellian, I aim merely to be Chestertonian.

Phil Hope

I can put that on my tombstone in the long and distant future—not too soon, I trust. To be known as the Machiavelli of modern British politics would be—

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab)

The prince.

Phil Hope

The prince of modern British politics would be a fine epitaph for a junior Minister.

I would like to mention the main provisions of the Bill and remind everyone about what we have achieved and are achieving through it. It will allow building regulations to be made for new purposes of furthering the protection or enhancement of the environment, facilitating sustainable development and furthering the prevention or detection of crime. It extends the circumstances in which building regulations apply to existing buildings and allows building regulations to impose continuing requirements where needed to conserve fuel or power or to reduce greenhouse emissions.

The Bill requires a register of information to be kept by local authorities about their building control functions. It allows regulations to require that building control compliance is certified to the local authority and regulations to require a person to be appointed to manage compliance with the building regulations throughout the period of building work. It also requires a biennial report to Parliament on the progress of sustainability in the building stock in England and Wales and, as a result of today's decisions, it requires the Secretary of State to take into account the historic character of buildings when making building regulations.

I do not think that it is a modest Bill. We in the House and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove can be proud of it. The Government are delighted to support it. I hope that it will receive fair wind in the other place and that it will become an Act in due course.

The Bill is in line with Government policy on sustainability and the environment. It will help us to apply our wider policy objectives to building regulations. I want to say a few more words about why we support the introduction of the measures that I have described and about how the Bill will help us to promote security and crime reduction.

It is interesting that, both on Second Reading and in Committee, the sustainable development aspects of the Bill attracted most attention and interest, yet its security and crime-reduction measures are hugely significant, too. The powers will enable us to do something to try to reduce crime and to decrease people's fear of crime in the years ahead.

Sustainability is an important part of the Government's programme. We are committed to promoting economic growth but, crucially, we are keen to do so in a way that promotes quality of life and does not diminish it. That has been too often forgotten by previous Governments.

One of the most common definitions of sustainability is development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". Hon. Members will know that the ODPM launched the sustainable communities plan, which is about regenerating communities and about growth that includes the infrastructure that is required to ensure that we do not build soulless housing estates and make the errors of the past that bedevil rather too many of us in our constituencies. We want growth that is genuinely sustainable, not only in the economic and social senses but, crucially, in the environmental sense. It will be a triple win, if we can do it: creating, building and growing sustainable communities that combine economic, social and environmental progress.

I spoke to the all-party group on sustainable waste only the other day. The hon. Member for Guildford was kind enough to thank me for that. There is huge interest in the House and great support for measures concerning sustainability that recognise—this applies not just to waste management but to many other sectors—the importance of being able to embrace all three aims. Understanding how to achieve economic progress, sustainable environmental progress and social progress is the real story of the 21st century, so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

The Bill will allow us to use building regulations to make buildings more sustainable. It aims to improve the quality of life of people in their homes and workplaces in a cost-effective way to avoid imposing burdens on business. There are three specific ways in which it will move policy forward.

First, it aims to promote the sustainable use and reuse of building materials. Secondly, it aims to raise performance standards for energy efficiency and so reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and vapours. Thirdly, it aims to increase the level of compliance with building regulations through measures relating to appointed persons and certification. Those are three specific, concrete, identifiable action points that will achieve specific and agreeable outcomes. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove championed those measures throughout proceedings in Committee. He was right to do so. They will achieve real progress.

In addition, the biennial report to Parliament on the progress of those activities and of sustainability by the Secretary of State will act as a spur to continuing good practice. We should not underestimate the challenge presented to us by the Bill, the fact that the Government are prepared to support it, and the report. There is a small cost involved in that. We debated issues around cost; I do not think Burke really got into the difference between power and regulation. This is an enabling Bill that allows us to take those powers forward. Therefore, costs associated with the Bill are small because they relate only to reporting to Parliament.

Later, when the building regulations are discussed, consultation is held and the regulatory impact assessment is made, there will be a detailed cost-benefit analysis of the various measures. Members raised those concerns, particularly on Second Reading. It is important that hon. Members understand what the Bill will do and the regulations that will flow from it.

Sue Doughty

I add my appreciation of the fact that there will be reporting. I have regularly lamented the Government's refusal to report on progress and I have highlighted the importance of reporting. I am grateful for the Government's movement on that and for the Minister's understanding of the importance of progress reports.

Phil Hope

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comment. We were not able to accept some of the amendments tabled in Committee because they went further than we were able to go at the time, but in this case we have responded positively—in the production of the Bill, in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading—to put on record our commitment and to implement it through the reporting process.

The imposition of a requirement on local authorities to keep information about their building control function will help them to meet the needs of the home information pack, and better enable them and the general public to track the progress of sustainability in their areas. We will thus be able to see the progress locally, as well as nationally and in Parliament.

On energy efficiency, the building regulations that the Bill directly affects play a crucial part in our climate change programme. As hon. Members know, that sets targets for reducing national carbon emissions in 2010 to 20 per cent. below that in 1990. Almost half of our national carbon emissions are from buildings. Understanding that a building is responsible for carbon emissions is an interesting idea, to which the hon. Member for Hazel Grove alluded. Most people believe that carbon emissions are generated by cars, aeroplanes and so on—things that move around. The idea that carbon emissions are generated by buildings is understood by scientists and. I hope by children in their lessons at school, but I am not sure the general public fully understand it. It is true to say that about half of our national carbon emissions are from buildings.

Mr. Stunell

The Minister makes in important point. It continues to fascinate me that this place spends so much time and so much political energy on measures that will affect traffic and vehicles, whereas my house and the Minister's house emit more carbon than my car or the Minister's car. I welcome his recognition of that, and I hope that that means that in future a larger part of Government policy will be directed at reducing carbon emissions from buildings, with less attention focused on traffic.

Phil Hope

I am interested to hear the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip announce new Liberal Democrat policy from the Back Benches, and that the Liberal Democrats are no longer in favour of reducing carbon emissions from traffic. No doubt that will find its way into various leaflets—

Mr. Stunell


Phil Hope

Perhaps I am about to be corrected.

Mr. Stunell

Occasionally, misapprehensions can be picked up by Labour Ministers when they are not paying sufficient attention. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not authorised to change Liberal Democrat transport policy this morning.

Phil Hope

And neither am I.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con)

Does anybody care?

Phil Hope

I believe that more people are beginning to care about carbon emissions. They understand the impact of greenhouse gases on climate change and global warming. [Interruption.] I stand corrected—the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) was asking whether people care about Liberal Democrat policy. I fully share his cynicism in that regard.

The Bill will allow the application of regulations to a greater number of existing buildings, not just new ones. Improving standards in the existing building stock is vital to meet the targets. We all look forward to the report—it is due to reach the Government soon—from the sustainable buildings task group chaired by Victor Benjamin and Sir John Harman. It was commissioned by no fewer than three Departments—the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister—to recommend steps that we can take immediately to improve buildings in this country.

I shall deal briefly with an aspect of the Bill that has received less attention than the energy efficiency and sustainability provisions that we have been discussing: security and crime reduction. Those are particularly important in view of the debate that may take place later today. The provision in the Bill paves the way for the Government to introduce building regulations that will facilitate the prevention and detection of crime. That is very welcome. In addition to being an inclusive, well designed environment, a sustainable community must strive to be free from crime and free from the fear of crime. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that implementing even basic security measures can reduce the risk of an individual becoming the victim of burglary.

According to the 2002–03 British crime survey, some 974,000 domestic burglaries were committed in that year. I am pleased to say that that is 25 per cent. fewer than in 1999, which is good news for our communities, but it is still far too many. The evidence from that survey is that security measures are strongly associated with a reduced risk of becoming a victim of burglary. Households with basic security measures, such as deadlocks on outside doors and locks that need keys to open them on all accessible windows, are at less risk of being burgled. That is why the Bill will have a significant and valuable impact.

We can do a lot more to encourage people to improve the security of their homes and businesses by taking straightforward measures, such as ensuring that the door and its frame are solid and that the doors and windows have effective locks. Too many people fit security only after they have been burgled. On Second Reading, a number of hon. Members said that they had had their house burgled and that the police had come round, inspected their windows and doors, and said, "Why don't you just put a different kind of lock on your front door? With that, this burglary would not have happened."

I have had that precise experience. I came downstairs one morning, not realising that I had been burgled during the night. My video and television had been stolen, which was a shock when I walked into my front room. The police who came round to take fingerprints rightly chastised me for not fitting standard locks, which are easily affordable, on doors and windows. I went straight to the DIY shop to buy window and door locks, which I fitted myself, but if I had known about this debate, I would have fitted locks before being burgled rather than afterwards.

We can learn that lesson through these regulations. It would be best if people fitted locks voluntarily, but the Bill will enable building regulations to be made on fitting such locks to all new buildings and, when the circumstances change, to the existing building stock. That will reduce burglaries, because statistical analysis shows that homes with such locks on their doors and windows are less likely to be burgled.

Brian White

Further to my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer), will the Minister make sure that the whole planning system, and not just the building regulations, takes that issue seriously, because crime can be designed out when housing estates are constructed? If planning inspectors do not recognise that point, they are doing our constituents a disservice.

Phil Hope

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; I was going to refer to that point. The Bill is about building regulations, not the planning system, but measures on estate planning and building design can help to reduce crime considerably. My hon. Friends in the Home Office and other Departments are working together across the Government to examine ways to promote the idea of designing out crime, which requires Departments to work together. Other Ministers and I sit on Cabinet Sub-Committees to examine how we can work together on issues such as designing out crime to ensure that we take that agenda forward. PPS10 is particularly interesting, and it provides a way to move forward.

In time, we will be able to make regulations so that all new or refurbished buildings have basic security measures from the outset. We do not expect to use the provisions in the Bill to impose onerous or prescriptive measures, because the precise nature of the security needed in any place depends on the nature and location of the property, the type of use envisaged for it and who will occupy or visit it. However, we are taking a stride forward this morning with this Bill.

Finally, I remind the House that this is an enabling Bill to allow us at a future date to pass regulations based on such powers, and that before the introduction of the regulations, there will be a full regulatory impact assessment and a consultation process. I thank the hon. Member for Hazel Grove for introducing the Bill and ably piloting it through the sometimes choppy waters of its passage through the House. We have inevitably had to deal with the vagaries of procedure, which we have done successfully. I also thank all other hon. Members, some of whom I have not managed to mention specifically, who have contributed to a Bill that will, in time, make a difference to promoting sustainable development and improving security in our country's buildings.

Mr. Stunell

I very much appreciate the remarks—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. Gentleman needs to ask the leave of the House.

Mr. Stunell

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to thank all hon. Members who spoke in support of the Bill on Third Reading.

I see the Bill as the start, not the end, of a process. The Minister was kind enough to suggest that it is a substantial part of the jigsaw, but it is certainly not the complete picture. I have already given notice to him and his officials that if the Bill proceeds successfully I will haunt him by coming back to ensure that we get the results that we want. I therefore hope that it completes its passage now.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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