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Session 2001- 02
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Building (Amendment) Regulations 2002

Eleventh Standing Committee

on Delegated Legislation

Tuesday 18 June 2002

Mr. Bill O'Brien

Building (Amendment) Regulations 2002

10.30 am

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): On a point of order, Mr. O'Brien. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website was not up and running yesterday, so a fortnight on from the resignation of the then Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions we still do not know precisely what ministerial responsibilities have been allocated within the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Indeed, we do not even know precisely what the Department covers.

I can give a good example. We hear this morning that the Health and Safety Executive is unhappy that it has been split between the Department for Transport and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. We do not know how it has been split. The Health and Safety Executive has a role in overseeing how the building regulations are implemented. I ask you, Mr. O'Brien, to urge the Minister to get the Department's website up and running. I tabled a question two days ago on the subject, and I would like an assurance from the Minister that it will be answered forthwith.

The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman is aware that that is not the responsibility of the Chairman. However, his point has been made and I am sure that it will be noted. Hopefully, action will be taken.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: On a point of order, Mr. O'Brien. Paragraph 6 of the explanatory note to the regulations says:

    ''A Regulatory Impact Assessment has been prepared in respect of these Regulations. A copy may be obtained from Buildings Regulations Division, DTLR''.

We have had a problem twice before with the old Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. Once, maps and, another time, a regulatory impact assessment relating to a statutory instrument were not made available in the Library. I want to start with a good relationship with the new Minister and the new Department, and I make the point gently: it is a courtesy to the Committee, if nothing else, that the documents relating to a statutory instrument be freely available in the Library, so that we can come to the debate properly informed. I should be grateful if the Minister would ensure that the documents are available in future.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Further to that point of order, Mr. O'Brien. I am perhaps slightly less generously spirited than my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown). I have been to debates on a series of statutory instruments relating to

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the DTLR, and a pattern has developed in which documents are not being made available until after the statutory instrument has been discussed.

I shall be declaring a vested interest in the issue before us when we come to the substantive issue, but the regulations are terribly controversial stuff, about which there is strong feeling in the building industry. If the Government have made a regulatory impact assessment that considers what impact they think the regulations will have, it seems extraordinary that we are debating them without it.

The Chairman: I am sure that the Minister is taking note of the comments, and that the points made are being recorded. There is nothing more that I, as Chairman, can do, so I wish to continue with the business of the Standing Committee.

10.33 am

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the Building (Amendment) Regulations 2002 (S.I. 2002, No. 440).

It is a pleasure to raise the issue of the regulations this morning. We can now be clear that the Minister is in charge of windows, so we are making progress on his responsibilities.

The prayer that gave rise to this Standing Committee debate was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). He would have liked to speak this morning, but unfortunately he is away on parliamentary business this week. It therefore falls to me as co-proposer of the prayer to speak on the subject. I do not wish to steal the Minister's thunder by explaining at length the provisions of the regulations that we are considering, but it is important to state that we are principally dealing not with changes to building regulations per se, but with the self-certification schemes that are introduced by means of this legislation in order to apply those regulations. Most hon. Members welcome the advent of self-certification schemes, where they are appropriate—and certainly where they can reduce the amount of regulation and cost that is incurred by businesses.

With regard to this legislation, the main problem seems to have been caused by the Government's remarkable failure to consult with relevant sectors of the business community. As a result of that, there has been much disquiet. That is evidenced by the fact that 110 hon. Members have so far signed the prayer that constitutes early-day motion 1099, which stands in my name and those of other hon. Members.

The regulations cover four specific areas of work in the building trades: solid fuel combustion appliances and associated equipment; oil-fired combustion appliances and associated equipment; foul and surface water drainage; and replacement windows, or refenestration as it is sometimes rather grandly referred to—as opposed to defenestration, which was an excellent means of removing Governments. We wish to address only the last of those four areas, as

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there has been substantial consultation on the first three areas, and it is generally agreed that there is little problem with them.

It is with regard to replacement windows that the Government have fallen down in the consultation processes. This matter has been debated in Parliament: we are coming late to it, because it was discussed in another place on 13 May. Therefore, there has already been some debate between Ministers and Lords about the subject that we are discussing today.

To reiterate, we would all welcome a self-certification scheme that enables businesses to carry out their activities without their work having to be passed by building inspectors from local authorities. Therefore, a process of self-certification has the potential to be of benefit. However, what is extraordinary is the way in which the Government chose to undertake their responsibilities to consult.

Paragraph 9:1 of the regulatory impact assessment states:

    ''The representatives of small businesses were consulted''.

However, unfortunately, representatives of the wrong small businesses were consulted. For instance, the House Builders Federation was consulted, but one does not need to be an intellectual giant to realise that it is concerned with new buildings, and we are talking about replacement windows. That is not its members' core business—or its members' business at all. However, the Government failed to consult with either the Federation of Small Businesses or the Federation of Master Builders, both of which are directly concerned with a large number of replacement windows, and it is possible that that will be a growing trade as people become more aware of energy efficiency, which we hope will be the case, and therefore replace their windows, either on an ad hoc or on a programmed basis. It is extraordinary that the Government failed to consult those federations.

The Government's defence is that the major window companies were consulted, and there is no doubt that that was the case. Indeed, the fenestration self-assessment scheme, about which we shall hear more, covers the market leaders and the majority of glaziers throughout the country. It undertakes the majority of work. About 70 per cent. of domestic window replacement work is undertaken by members of the Glass and Glazing Federation. A large part of the industry was consulted, but thousands of small builders who inevitably undertake window replacement as part of their work were not consulted. Worse than that, the Government did not inform them that they proposed to introduce a self-certification scheme for replacement windows.

There was a clear consultation process over several years about the three other parts of the regulations, culminating in substantive agreements in 1999. However, at no time during those proposals were replacement windows cited as a potential subject for deregulation and self-certification. Since 1999, there has been no hint of that either. We are seeing the introduction of a self-certification scheme about which the Government have chosen to consult a substantial part of the replacement trade, but only those

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companies that are involved mainly with the complete replacement of windows in a dwelling, not the odd replacement of single windows that are often the province of the smaller builder. There was no statement given to the wider trade that the proposals would be introduced. We now have a fait accompli in respect of the introduction of the regulations. I am sure that it will be argued cogently that to reverse them now would create great chaos within the industry. I accept that it is not sensible to rip up what has been proposed and start again.

The Minister owes the Committee an explanation of why the Government were so deficient in the consultation process. We need to know how those processes will take place in future. There is a problem between the old Departments—the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions—which seem to have been involved in different ways in the process. Now that part of such responsibility seems to be with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, I have no confidence that matters will improve. We need to know how they will be managed.

It is most important that the Minister supports two views that were expressed by Lord Filkin in another place, who agreed that Ministers from the old Department and presumably now the new Department would meet representatives of small builders to consider their worries and to see whether improvements in the design of the self-certification scheme could be introduced in order to build on what already exists. The least that the Government can do is to try to mitigate the circumstances that they have created.

I refer now to the costs to the small trader. The argument for self-certification is that it is a cheaper as well as a more effective option and that, eventually, it will produce savings for the trader and, therefore, for the consumer. I hope that that will occur. However, I note that there is an estimated £150 cost for a small builder who enters the scheme, and attendant costs will be associated with future work.

The problem for small builders is that they will not be involved in only one self-certification scheme. Builders' nature means that they will turn their hands to a variety of tasks that are set by people who contract them. Many small builders will have to register with several self-certification schemes, which would mean that what is often a one or two-man operation would incur a substantial cost. That might make the builder uncompetitive compared with those whom we all want to drive out of the business: those often described as cowboy builders who want cash in hand. It has been argued that the regulations will help to make life difficult for such people due to the need for certification before the exchange of contracts when selling a house and because people will be less inclined to use builders who cannot produce certification because it would make their property less saleable in the future.

I accept that argument, but we grant no favours if we make the person who sticks by the rules less competitive than the person who rides roughshod over

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the rules. The situation is all right for large double glazing companies. They will have no problem complying with the regulations; indeed, they were principle consultees in the production of the regulations. The problem will be encountered by people who try to make a living though small-scale local building contracts. They will discover that they have additional overheads that might make them uncompetitive. Will the Minister examine whether there could be consolidation of the self-certification of different types of work in order to reduce bureaucracy and costs to a small trader who satisfies the conditions for the different types of their work?

If the Minister assures me that those two things will happen, I shall be less inclined to press the motion to a Division. Changes of regulations that improve energy efficiency in homes—that is the basis of the changes to the original regulations—and any self-certification scheme that reduces the need to involve local government bureaucracy and its attendant costs are good things. I want measures that help, rather than hinder, the small business man. As the Government did not consult properly, they have laid themselves open to the charge that they have failed in that respect. In fact, they have demonstrated that they do not understand the very trades that they are trying to regulate, which is an even more worrying aspect of the regulations.

10.49 am

 
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