Building (Amendment) Regulations 2002

[back to previous text]

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The proposals are controversial and far-reaching. They would amend building regulations to require self-certification for all those who replace windows, roof lights, roof windows and doors to all buildings.

I declare an interest because I am a chartered surveyor. My profession will undoubtedly have to sort out some of the problems that the regulations present. Fees will be charged for that, although sadly I doubt that many of those fees will come my way.

I start where the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) started. This morning we received a serious charge from the Federation of Master Builders about poor consultation. It is a substantial body whose comments are serious and deserve proper consideration. It states:

    ''We believe that the consultation process prior to the drafting of Statutory Instrument (SI) 440 was inadequate. Instead of limiting consultation to Building Regulations Advisory Committee and specialist associations, the consultation should have been much wider to include the representatives of the tens of thousands of construction firms that work in the general building trade. The FMB and FSB were not consulted. Together, these two Federations represent at least 20,000 firms, or around 20 per cent. of the total that are involved daily in the types of work covered by the SI.''

That seems to amount to a major failing on behalf of the Government to consult those who will be affected.

According to the Library brief, in Scotland

    ''Under Section 4 of the Building (Scotland) Act 1959 a class relaxation direction has been proposed for between three months and eighteen months in respect of windows, doors and roof lights being replaced in existing''

Column Number: 8

buildings

    ''or installed in alterations or extensions to existing''

buildings. It continues:

    ''This is in order to give the relevant industry sectors time to comply with the more stringent U-values in Column B of Table 1 to Technical Standard J3.2 of the sixth amendment to the Building Standards (Scotland) Regulations 1990, which will take effect from 4 March 2002.''

Why is the Scotland Office prepared to give its industry between three and 18 months to adjust to what are very far-reaching proposals while we are considering a proposal that the Government rushed through and which came into effect on 1 April? The Minister needs to answer that charge. That seems an extraordinary way of doing business. The fear is that that will be used as a precedent in future to rush through further regulations.

I have several detailed points to put to the Minister. Phil Davies of Davies & Tate, a firm in Kent that has been supplying windows to the trade for 25 years and installs them, wrote to the Department to say that small companies are finding life extremely difficult since the regulations came into force. The price and supply of coated glass is proving to be a major problem. Davies & Tate sales are down 25 per cent. since 1 April. The year-on-year business of a major supplier, Griffin Windows, is down 11 per cent. since 1 April, and its sales are down 600 a week. The statutory instrument is having a major effect on the industry.

The statutory instrument tells us that the Department has carried out a regulatory impact assessment. I suspect that the regulations will cost the industry, and above all, sadly, the consumer, a great deal of money. We need to know precisely what the benefits will be. How much will the regulations cost the industry, consumers and local authorities, which will have to administer the regulations?

The scheme involves self-certification and Fensa, but in some cases, the scheme will not apply to a particular window, and building regulations will have to be applied for. The fee will have to cover those situations.

Who will police the regulations? I assume that the local authority will, so we need to know how much it will cost them. If, as I am certain, it will cost over and above the fees, will the Minister guarantee that they will be fully reimbursed, or is this another example in the long catalogue of Government requirements on local authorities that are not properly funded?

As I said, the scheme is self-certified, but an issue is associated with it that relates to insurance. I understand that all those people wanting to be registered with Fensa must also have the Fensa quality assured insurance. We have heard from the Quality Assured National Warranties and Insurance Guarantee Association, which states:

    ''In this category, it is a minimum requirement of FENSA membership that guarantee insurance is offered to every customer. The DTLR have not advised how this offer must be made as there are inherent dangers in doing so. The regulatory authorities who oversee the insurance industry i.e. the General Insurance Standards Council and the Financial Services Authority state quite simply that any person or company who offers or advises on any insurance product must be registered with either authority. In view of this anomaly whereby you potentially break the law by

Column Number: 9

    offering insurance, you conversely break the law if you do not, many contractors have decided to automatically build the Guarantee Insurance into the contract price.''

—thereby increasing the costs of registration still further. The letter continues:

    ''By giving the insurance cover, you avoid any doubt regarding offering, selling or advising upon any aspect of insurance. It also avoids any concerns regarding premium collection etc. If you automatically give your client insurance on all contracts, the premium will be £10 plus 5 per cent. . . . Alternatively, if you decide to only offer the insurances, the premium will vary between £12 and £15 plus''

insurance premium tax. The insurance element alone costs some £10 a window, so one can begin to see that the scheme will be very expensive on behalf of the insurers.

Indeed, costs will be increased for small businesses. Installers of new windows in existing houses need to register with Fensa, which will cost £100. They will then need to pay an annual membership fee of £50, an inspection charge of £100, a vetting fee of £200 and a revetting fee, if required, of £50. Surely, the only way for businesses to absorb such costs is to pass them on to the consumer through price increases. That is exactly what will happen. Will the Government tell us what the benefit will be?

How will the regulations be policed? A body of opinion believes that if any builder—one self-employed man, perhaps—has to go through the regulations and charge more for the windows that he installs, cowboy builders will be encouraged. Will the Minister tell us how he will stop them? Will we have an army of window snoopers going round the country looking for windows that have been installed in houses? When they have found them, for how many years after the event will it be possible to enforce the regulations? What will be the penalties? We need answers to those questions.

I tabled questions to the Government in preparation for this Committee, long before the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) made his prayer. One of the concerns is who will supply the glass, because it seems that Pilkington's K glass is the only readily commercially available glass that meets these regulations at the moment.

In one of the answers to those questions, the Government said that they were aware of three alternative firms, but I am not aware that those firms are yet able to supply the glass commercially to meet these regulations. I have a copy of a letter that states that the price of Pilkington's K glass mysteriously increased by 8 per cent. on 1 April—precisely the day on which these regulations came into force—so it seems as though Pilkington may be using its monopoly position to extort money from the consumer. The Government need to keep that carefully under review, and if they find that that monopoly position is being abused, they will need to do something about it.

Why did not the Government consider using the simpler kite mark system instead of these complicated regulations? The British Standards Institution told me that it would be absolutely confident that it could produce a kite mark that would do exactly the same job as these regulations. If 10 years ago, when the Government introduced safety glass to stop children

Column Number: 10

falling through windows—a huge and tragic danger—they were perfectly happy that that problem could be solved by using a kite mark, why on earth cannot the problem of U values and insulation be solved with a simple kite mark system?

One of our correspondents has said that the only proper way to find out whether people have complied with these regulations is to remove the window and carry out laboratory tests on the frame, the glass and how the glass has been installed in the frame. There is no proper way to find that out when the window is in position. So why on earth are not windows sold with a simple kite mark system? The British Standards Institution has assured me that that could be done perfectly satisfactorily.

Having criticised the Government for not consulting properly, I should like to deal with another issue. There are 20,000 builders, many of whom, even now, may not be aware of these horrific regulations. How will the Government advertise these regulations and ensure that builders have a chance to comply with them? May I give the Minister an idea: why do we not place in every builders merchant—B&Q and the rest of them—a simple notice to alert builders and consumers who might purchase windows to the existence of these regulations? That would be a simple and good first step to alerting the general public about their existence.

I return to this costs business because this whole issue revolves around costs. I asked the Government what the costs would be. One of the slightly anomalous written answers that I received from the Minister's predecessor, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) stated:

    ''The cost for all installations of new windows in existing buildings through the need for installers to obtain members of the Fenestration Self-Assessment Scheme was estimated at £1,715,000, against savings of £91,885,000 in the first year.''

The cost to the consumer will be £1.75 million, but the Government estimate that the saving will be £91 million, and I should like the Minister to explain how the Government justify that curious figure.

The answer went on to say:

    ''There will be no cost for applying for regulation permission, as none of those registered with these schemes is required to give a building notice and pay a fee''.—[Official Report, 22 April 2002; Vol. 384, c. 44W.]

That is a semantic playing with words. If circumstances dictate that either the installer is not registered with Fensa or is unable to comply with the Fensa requirements—for example, the building may be listed and the window may be a particularly difficult one—he will have to apply for building regulations consent and there will be a fee. I should like the Minister to confirm that.

I come now to listed buildings. In an answer to a different question on 22 April, the Minister's predecessor said:

    ''For building work comprising replacing windows guidance on compliance with the Building Regulations is given in Approved Documents L1 and L2. This includes guidance on what is reasonable provision for listed buildings. In addition to this, my Department has been working closely with English Heritage on a new publication advising on making reasonable energy efficiency provisions in conservation work. The publication is aimed at

Column Number: 11

    building control inspectors as well as builders, and I understand it will be published soon.''—[Official Report, 22 April 2002; Vol. 384, c. 43W-44W.]

Perhaps the Minister could tell us when that document will be published.

The Minister might also pay particular attention to the fear that the regulations will drive through windows and doors that are not appropriate for listed buildings. I shall give one example. The character and vernacular of many Georgian buildings is especially retained by the thinness of the glazing bars. Thicker glazing bars will be required to meet the regulations, because one cannot install double-glazed units with those thin glazing bars. The Minister needs to consider such matters of detail carefully.

We have discussed how the regulations will be enforced. Will the Minister clarify how the provisions will work when a house is sold? As I understand it, every new window, door, roof-light and so on will have to have a certificate when it is installed. Theoretically, when a house is sold, the householder will have one or more of those certificates for windows replaced after 1 April. Will the Minister confirm that that is how he expects conveyancing to take place?

Will the local authority become involved in seeing those certificates? As I know from having practised in that field, damp certificates, which are very useful in conveyancing, are often the last document available because they have been lost, and yet they are an important guarantee. We need to know how the system is going to work. It is all very well to have a Fensa installer, but what happens when he installs a window and a DIY enthusiast, or another builder, makes an alteration to it, replacing the damp-proof course, for example? Would it make a difference if the window were taken out? Several details of the regulations need to be well and truly examined.

A person could completely re-wire and re-plumb his house and re-tile the roof. He could be electrocuted, drown or fall off the highest point of the building, and there is no regulation to cover that, yet we have a regulation to install a new door or window in every building. Does the Minister think that we will need regulations to cover electricians, plumbers and re-tilers in future?

I shall quote again from the company in Kent, Davies and Tate plc. Mr. Phil Davies has been a supplier to the DIY and independent fitters and the small builders' trade for 25 years. He says:

    ''surely logic dictates that this convoluted scheme has been created in such a way as to benefit financially the GGF, Pilkingtons and insurance companies and, yet again, at the expense of consumers who will, ultimately, have to pay for it whether they are having windows installed by a fitter or doing it themselves!''

This is an unwarranted regulation that goes too far, which is being introduced by the control-freak Government, with its army of window snoopers who will go around looking for new windows and doors.

11.9 am

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 18 June 2002