Building (Amendment) Regulations 2002

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Several hon. Members rose—

The Chairman: Order. Our business has to conclude by midday, so I ask members of the Committee to be brief so that everyone can make a contribution to the debate.

11.38 am

Patrick Mercer: I am sorry if the Minister's responsibilities seem opaque but, as far as windows are concerned, they are thoroughly transparent. Sorry, I had to say that. I do not wish to frame the hon. Gentleman any further. I noticed the glum look on the face of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) when he said that windows were likely to impose further costs on him. I will have a word with your predecessor, Mr. O'Brien. He thinks that that will be helpful.

I want to draw the Minister away from reading the runes of the building industry to the building yards in north-east Nottinghamshire. My constituency used to depend on two things: agriculture and manufacturing. Both industries are in terrible decline. Perhaps that

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was why the Labour Member of Parliament for my constituency was so convincingly seen off at the previous election.

So many manufacturing firms and farmers in my constituency are now having to diversify. A most notable example called Robert Sutton is probably known to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw. He has diversified in a big way. He is converting farm building and other types of buildings, and trying to make a little profit as his farming declines. His builder, who is working on a building close to me, is John Ford. I took the liberty last night of speaking to him at some length. Mr. Ford does everything; he is a master Jack-of-all-trades, if that is not a contradiction in terms. He is fitting windows to an old building, and has to fit each one individually. He is also fitting a Klargester, which is something that mulches sewage. It comes with pipes and all sorts of things that I do not understand. He puts all them in by himself. He is putting a new roof on, and is fitting a new heating system to what will be a fine building.

When I talk to him about how self-regulation and self-certification will affect him, his response is simple. He regards himself as a craftsman, and does all those jobs very adequately. He knows that in every one of those disciplines—namely heating, windows, drainage and plumbing—either he or the man employing him, Mr. Sutton, will be required to pay further sums. That will add to his costs as a small builder, and, indeed, to those of the farmer, who is desperately trying to diversify into some other business. ''I simply don't understand,'' was Mr. Ford's phrase.

I should like to underline the point so ably made first by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome and secondly by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold. Mr. John Ford's biggest worry is that the regulations will drive trade out of the hands of craftsmen like himself, and into those of cowboy builders. He is not a politician; he has no axe to grind. He is a simple horny-handed son of toil, a builder, a man trying to earn a living. He realises that money is being taken out of his pocket and that of the farmer who employs him. He sees no way out from the fact that the cowboy will prosper at the expense of the tradesman, the artisan and the small business man endeavouring to scrape a living in difficult circumstances in north-east Nottinghamshire.

Interfire is a new firm in Newark that was set up by a man who worked for a ball-bearing manufacturer in Newark and was made redundant and a farm worker who had also been made redundant. Those two gentlemen mostly fit wood-burning stoves. I telephoned them this morning to talk about the regulations involving the heating equipment testing and approval scheme and the Oil Firing Technical Association for the Petroleum Industry. I said to them, ''What's this all about? How is it going to affect you?'' The answer was, ''We simply don't know. It's complicated and ambiguous, and all we know is that it is going to cost us money.'' They said that the Confederation of Registered Gas Installers, or CORGI—the scheme, not the dog—was just fine. There was a huge degree of confusion.

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I mention that in order to make the point that the regulations are not understood. I pray and beg that the regulations are properly advertised and understood by small business men upon whom constituencies such as mine depend. In summary, the regulations are not understood, and will cost both the local authority and small business men dear. I simply do not understand where the benefits of the scheme lie. I foresee many problems, but nothing that will help and support my constituents.

11.43 am

John Mann: I stumbled inadvertently into the debate, having seen the statutory instrument. There is a building boom in north Nottinghamshire; most of it seems to be on my property at the moment. The craftsmen are mostly from the constituency of the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer).

The bane of my life is the tendency towards modern building methods and building inspectors. That tendency is so great that a 200-year-old building, which has stood perfectly adequately for all that time, according to building inspectors now requires a steel and concrete reinforced strut to ensure that it does not fall in. It is not falling in, and it has not fallen in, but that requirement is the result of various calculations that are made to meet modern building methods, which are highly inefficient and of significantly poorer quality. I can emphasise that by pointing out that it is the installation of UPVC windows—and, before them, of PVC windows—rather than the quality of the windows themselves that is always the problem, as are gaps between frame and brick that allow the draft to get in, but building inspectors will not be checking that at any stage in the future. I have a window that was blacked-out 150 years ago, and I presume that if I were to black-out another window and replace it, that would avoid these regulations.

I have two concerns, the first of which is about roof lights. It is welcome and encouraging that people in this country are converting attics, lofts and outbuildings, to create more accommodation: the density of population, and the desire of people for more living space, make that a fundamental development. For people who live in a small terraced house—of which there are many in my constituency—the creation of extra living space through the use of roof lights and conversions is an important opportunity. I seek an assurance from the Minister—whom I do not envy for having taken over this portfolio—that this matter will be looked at, so that we can ensure that nothing will be done to reduce the number of conversions and the willingness of people to convert what is, in effect, dead space in their property to increase its living space, because the alternative to that is simply to build—and to build more on what would otherwise be green space.

I turn to a point that involves a constituent and close neighbour of mine, Mr. Lee Fulcher. He was the union convener at West Burton power station for 25 years, but he is now retired. In his free time he makes windows—a small number of them, and only on order to local people. He estimates that the costs of

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registration mean that it will not be worth his while to maintain that business. Many craftsmen are entering retirement, and this country should wish to maintain their skills. Indeed, I hope that, as a part of the ongoing pensions programme, we will be encouraging them to do small amounts of craft-based work, so that they can generate more income.

I wonder whether the Minister might visit my constituency? We hold a Labour party garden party at the end of July at my property, to which Mr. Fulcher is invited, as he is a good supporter of the party. If the Minister were to accept the invitation, he would have an opportunity to look at what this legislation is about at first hand, because every aspect of these regulations relates to building works on my property, from the solid fuel to the oil installations.

I ask for two commitments from the Minister that have not been asked for, and which do not appear to have been part of the consultation—which I was glad to hear began in 1997, because that means that its genesis pre-dates the election of this Labour Government, which should be put on the record.

I wish the Minister to consult further with the solar energy industry, because building regulations do not allow various forms of solar energy to be used. There is a lack of logic in the current situation, with regard to some of the restrictions that are put on the solar energy industry in its use of what would be the equivalent of roof lights. That must be looked at.

I also wish the Minister to consult with the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings. That organisation is made up of crafts people, and therefore it is an even more expert body than English Heritage with regard to the impact of these regulations—and other potential regulations. They come from the big business-led building regulations world, which needs to be addressed in a much wider debate and considered at greater length in the future. I hope that the Minister will give a commitment that, at some stage, we will have a full debate on building methods and the loss of craft skills in this country.

Mr. Brazier: We are all looking forward to visiting the hon. Gentleman's stately home when he has finished fitting it out. Does he think that any aspect of these regulation as they relate to windows will be a good thing?

John Mann: It is not a stately home, but a small, modest farm. As it is in north Nottinghamshire, I swapped it for a three-bedroom terrace in Hertfordshire, having been elected as a Member of Parliament, and I got £20,000 change, which shows the wisdom of living in the north of England. The accommodation in Bassetlaw represents by far the best value for money in any price range than that anywhere else in the country.

My final point is that the regulations are appropriate in relation to solid fuel and oil systems. The kind of arbitrary, made-at-home oil and solid systems that I have seen—I have just had one removed from my property—are not in keeping with current knowledge on health and safety. It is sensible to have coherent regulations that are thought through and

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result from proper consultation, so I ask the Minister to give a commitment to consult further the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and the solar energy industry.

11.51 am

 
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