Building (Amendment) Regulations 2002

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Mr. Johnson: I shall be as brief as I can. This is a very important debate, and the more that I have listened to it, the clearer it has become. This is one of those occasions when we are impinging directly on people's livelihoods in the building trades. I admire very much what my hon. Friends have said, as well as some of what Labour Members said.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, I want to draw on my own personal experience very briefly. We had a cowboy builder—a man who had suffered a very brutal and deceptive hair transplant operation, but the iron had entered his soul and he decided to swindle us in return. I tried to chase him down for some money. When I finally tracked him down at his father's address in Tunbridge Wells, he said that his son was on a long fact-finding mission to Canada, where he has been ever since, as far as I know. I wonder what, if anything, this measure will do to protect people such as me and my wife from cowboy builders such as him. Of course the answer is that it will do absolutely nothing, but it is presented as a measure not to protect the consumer, but to stop the emission of greenhouse gases.

Even if we accept the greenhouse science, the Minister's extraordinary claim that these regulations will prevent 1.4 million tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere is extremely unlikely simply because they will not lead to the installation of fewer leaky windows. That follows a strong belief that this measure is not actuated by any desire to fulfil our obligations under the Kyoto protocol. I am afraid to say that it is a stitch up, as the Minister should know, between the Government and the Glass and Glaziers Federation, which will administer a lucrative and onerous scheme to its own advantage, as has been suggested. Of course those suspicions are fuelled by the fact that, as has been said repeatedly, the Government so signally failed to consult the Federation of Master Builders, all 13,000 of whose members are directly involved, or the Federation of Small Businesses. That seems extremely eccentric if the Government wish to introduce such regulations.

The nub of the matter is that, if people want to replace their windows, they have to seek council approval, which costs £100, or join Fensa, which costs £370. Will such a measure deter cowboys? Self-evidently, it will not because the consumer will not have the faintest idea whether the person who installs his windows is a member of Fensa, Mensa or anything else. Good firms will be unnecessarily burdened. Struggling firms, such as those that hon. Members have described so eloquently, will be penalised and risk going under. People who are so rash as to try to install

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windows themselves will be in the absurd position of having to go the council to ask permission, prospectively or retrospectively, and to pay for that.

This is the 4,623rd regulation that has been introduced by the Government in the past year alone. It is nothing short of a window tax. It is the first time since the age of William and Mary that such a tax has been imposed on the British people. It is a great error and it should be defenestrated forthwith.

11.55 am

Mr. Heath: We have had an extremely interesting and illuminating debate. My only observation when listening to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw was that, at least in this corner of the Room, we feel a degree of poverty in our fenestration. We are clearly window-poor compared with the hon. Gentleman.

What has come out of the debate is worry about the content of the regulations. That is not the substance of the regulations that we are discussing, nevertheless it is a relevant consideration. Great concern is felt about the way in which they will operate. There is specific anxiety about the lack of consultation. It was interesting that the Minister was clearly briefed to talk about absolutely anything else other than consultation with the builders. He kept returning to the three elements within the regulations. We all said that we were not interesting in discussing them because we were content with them, but his brief clearly suggested that that was safe ground and that he should stay on it.

I am grateful to the Minister for reiterating the Government's position that they are willing to meet the Federation of Master Builders. That is useful, and I hope that it will happen in the near future, so that the federation's views can be expressed. I am also grateful to him for saying that he will consider the possibility of consolidating the self-regulation schemes to reduce costs to the people working in the industry and to the consumers. That is a sensible approach. However, throughout his comments he was loathe to say anything about the glaring omission that is at the heart of the prayer that we tabled and at the heart of so many comments that have been made today—the fact that we have building regulations and a means of administering them that has not taken account of the views of the builders. That is the key consideration. The fact that the Minister was not willing to apologise for the lack of consultation, which is patent within the history of the exercise, or to say that there was a way in which to improve future consultation procedure, suggests that it is proper for us to press the matter to a Division, and I suggest that that happens.

11.58 am

Mr. Leslie: In the two-and-a-half minutes that remain, I shall try to deal with some of the points that have been raised. I thought that I had sufficiently addressed the consultation aspect, especially with regard to part L and the principle of self-certification, and that undertaken by Fensa, so I shall respond to the hon. Members for Newark and for Henley about building control and building regulations in general. I understand what was meant by farmers diversifying

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and so on, but converting buildings has been covered by not only planning regulations, but building regulations. That has been so for probably longer than I have been alive, so there is nothing new there. I accept what was said about publicity, consultation and understanding of the regulations and I shall reconsider that.

I turn now to cowboy builders and the point raised by the hon. Member for Henley who, unfortunately, slurred the Glass and Glazing Federation. I hope that not too many members of the federation will be queueing up at his surgery, but that is a matter for him. The new regulations will help to reduce the number of cowboy builders and encourage competent firms that need to be identified to be registered. They will also reduce the burden of inspections on local authorities, so that they can focus their resources on rooting out such builders.

I hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw said about conversions, but building regulations must ensure safety and competence when changes are being undertaken. I am happy to meet the Federation of Master Builders. I accept what my hon. Friend said about the solar energy industry and I shall continue dialogue with it, especially about

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photovoltaic technology. I shall also continue consulting the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, which deals with matters that are close to my heart. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes, 7, Noes 6.

Division No. 1]

AYES
Dalyell, Mr. Tam
Davies, Geraint
Leslie, Mr. Christopher
Mann, John
Meale, Mr. Alan
Smith, Llew
Woolas, Mr. Phil

NOES
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Doughty, Sue
Heath, Mr. David
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Mercer, Patrick

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

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

        Committee rose at one minute past Twelve o'clock.

        O'Brien, Mr. Bill (

        Chairman

        Brazier, Mr.

        Clifton-Brown, Mr.

        Dalyell, Mr.

        Davies, Geraint

        Doughty, Sue

        Gilroy, Linda

        Heath, Mr.

        Johnson, Mr. Boris

        Leslie, Mr.

        Mann, John

        Meale, Mr.

        Mercer, Patrick

        Smith, Llew

        Woolas, Mr.

 
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