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Building Regulations (Energy Rating Information) (Amendment) Bill

Volume 590: debated on Monday 1 June 1998

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7.30 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of the Bill is to make more effective use of the existing requirement for all new and substantially converted homes to have an energy efficiency rating.

The benefits of energy efficiency are well understood. Apart from the immediate benefit to the consumer there are significant benefits to the environment. As a Government, we are committed to a reduction in greenhouse gases, a commitment recently renewed at the Kyoto conference, and well insulated homes can make a significant contribution to our targets. A good energy rating could also influence the prospective purchaser of a property and it is important that this information should be available when the decision is made. That is the objective of the Bill.

Energy rating for new homes was introduced by the previous administration in response to a Select Committee report recommendation. The scheme established a standard assessment procedure which rated houses on a scale of from 1 to 100 for energy efficiency. This SAP was introduced by way of the Building Regulations (Amendment) Regulations of 1994 and required that, among other things, all new homes created by building or by a material change of use, should be the subject of a calculation of their energy rating and that notice of that rating should be certified to the local authority. But, surprisingly, there was no requirement to give the information to prospective purchasers.

Clause 1 of the Bill inserts new paragraphs (3A) and (3B) in the relevant building regulations, namely regulation 14A of the 1991 regulations which was itself inserted by the 1994 regulations. I am sorry if that sounds complicated, but regulations often do.

New paragraph (3A) requires the energy rating to be, first, displayed in the building so that it can be easily seen by the prospective occupant; secondly, given to any agent who has been instructed to sell the home; and, thirdly, given to any prospective occupier.

New paragraph (3B) specifies that the person on whom the duty is placed is the person carrying out the work or, if different, the person for whom the work is carried out. This is important as it puts the duty on the developer rather than on each individual builder.

Subsection (2) inserts identical new provisions in the Building (Approved Inspectors etc.) Regulations. This covers the situation where the role of building inspector is being carried out by an "approved inspector" rather than by a local authority inspector. Clause 2 provides a defence of "reasonable steps" having been taken to carry out the duties imposed by the Bill.

Clause 3 contains the title, commencement and extent. It will be seen that the Bill does not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland as the law is different there. However, it is hoped that the Bill can be extended to those countries as soon as possible. The honourable Member for Swindon South tried recently to introduce a similar Bill in another place, but it fell foul of a government review in progress in the department and would have complicated the issue of the review. This is a similar Bill to the one which the honourable Member sought to introduce. It is a simple attempt to give house purchasers what is for them important information on energy rating. I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will indicate that the Government support the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—( Baroness Nicol.)

7.35 p.m.

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to support the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in moving this Private Member's Bill. In another place I had the fortune to come top of the private Members' ballot, moving successfully all stages of the home energy conservation legislation. This Bill complements everything that we sought to do. If we are to succeed with energy efficiency, we need, first, to give people information and to educate them on the importance of energy conservation and energy efficient buildings. Secondly, we need to give them the facts and figures to be able to make decisions on how to achieve that.

The Bill is ideal. As the noble Baroness said, it seems strange that when the measure was introduced for new buildings, it did not cover all buildings. I half understand that because for older buildings there are housing programmes to improve properties that are not up to a certain standard. That may partly be why the measure was not introduced for all buildings: the Government might have seen it as a noose around their neck with people asking for extra money not just for home improvements but for energy efficiency measures. That is an enormous task and governments like to target their money effectively.

However, the Government should not be worried about that aspect. The Bill merely gives people information. It may be used as a stick with which to beat the Government, but so be it. They do not have to respond, although many of us would be pleased if they did so.

Energy efficiency makes sense not only as regards the environment and sustainability but also health. I understand that the Government are looking at building regulations in a wider sense. I understand the Government's problems regarding fitness standards. They are undertaking research on the issue, and research is also being undertaken outside government on the relationship between health and the state of energy efficiency in buildings. Programmes have been put into practice. If energy efficiency is improved in high-rise flats where many people are on low incomes, the greatest benefit for those people is in the quality of health. I hope that the Government will consider seriously all the research in this area. I hope that they will look favourably on this Private Member's Bill.

Bills have been introduced which have sought to enable purchasers of property people to obtain an SAP rating. A Private Member's Bill sought to require an SAP rating to be given when mortgages are taken out. I sought to persuade building societies of that when I was in another place. I was disappointed that the societies were unable to see that it was in their interest to encourage people to have lower heating bills through greater energy efficiency, in particular at a time when people were falling behind in payments on their mortgages.

We need to push for energy efficiency measures on all fronts. We need people to understand why those measures are necessary, and to be given the information on how to achieve them. That is why I am happy to support this Private Member's Bill today. I wish the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, every success.

7.39 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for the introduction of the Bill and her explanation. I wish I had spoken to her before this evening rather than wading through the regulations to find out precisely what it meant. The noble Baroness was able to explain it to your Lordships' House in a much shorter time than it took me to research it.

It seems to be a relatively straightforward matter and one which, I am sure, is worthy of support from all Members of your Lordships' House. My understanding is that it still only applies to new build and conversions of buildings into dwellings. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, I read with some concern about the difficulties that the Government have had in persuading building societies to incorporate these ratings into their mortgage valuations, although I am bound to say that before we take steps to insist upon that we need to ensure that this will not add in any way to the cost or delay involved in getting a mortgage and consequently purchasing a property. This seems to me to be a modest measure and one which we should support.

7.41 p.m.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Baroness Nicol for the introduction that she has given this debate. As my noble friend has explained, the Bill defines "responsible person" and requires that person to have a written notice of the SAP rating displayed in the dwelling for certain defined periods, given to the selling or letting agent at the time of instruction, and given to the purchaser or occupier. It would provide in the Building Act 1984 that evidence of having taken reasonable steps to comply with these requirements would be a defence against prosecution for failure to comply.

First, we are encouraged by the strong interest in energy conservation and carbon dioxide abatement that the history of this Bill exemplifies. Julia Drown, MP, introduced, as my noble friend said, similar proposals earlier this year in another place and here we see an improvement. I congratulate my noble friend and her Bill's sponsors. Similar determination by others involved in the construction industry and elsewhere will be helpful in meeting the targets for abating carbon dioxide emission that we set ourselves in our manifesto and those to which we are now committed following the Kyoto Summit.

The proposed changes to the regulations would help to make prospective purchasers and tenants more aware of the energy efficiency of dwellings. We are persuaded of the merits here and support the Bill's aims in principle. Therefore, I am very grateful to my noble friend and her sponsors for putting forward ways in which this wider availability of information might possibly be brought about.

However, we have some reservations. These have ultimately led us to conclude that the Government cannot support this Bill's further progress. We are concerned about the proposal to amend the primary legislation in this way because it might jeopardise the use of this defence against other alleged contraventions. We have misgivings about the proposal to define "the responsible person" for the specific purposes of this Bill, again because of the wider implications for the regulations of assigning responsibility for building work. We also think that there are drafting anomalies in the definitions of the proposed periods for displaying, or otherwise making available, the SAP rating that might make them impractical in some cases.

Although these issues may perhaps turn out to be merely drafting points, we think they are too complex to be resolved in the remaining time for Private Members' Bills in this Session. We have a further important reservation. It is common practice for the Government, when proposing amendments to the building regulations, to subject them to wider consultation before finally deciding on how to proceed.

However, we, therefore, propose a different course. We propose to work with the Bill's promoters to resolve the difficulties that I have mentioned. Our intention will be to make amending regulations introducing new provisions into the building regulations. These will have similar aims of increasing accessibility to the SAP rating information. Following the appropriate consultation we would aim to make amendment regulations in the first half of next year.

I have listened to the debate so far and will listen to the further debate in your Lordships' House with interest, and as I have said, the Government will be receptive to further approaches on these matters. As I have also made clear, we believe that it would be unwise to proceed with this Bill.

7.44 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful for the support from the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, and the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. I am a little disappointed in my noble friend's response from the Front Bench. I find it difficult to understand how such a simple matter should require wider consultation, and I am also puzzled by the reference to the complications that might be caused by the defence mechanism that we offer.

However, I feel sure that the sponsors of the Bill, the Association for the Conservation of Energy, will be very pleased that the Government are prepared to take a more positive line on the requirements of the Bill, even if it is not going to be exactly what they wanted.

As my noble friend gave a long and fairly complicated answer, I would like the opportunity to study what my noble friend has said and, therefore, I hope that I can ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading so that we may return to it on another occasion.

Before I do that, I wonder whether my noble friend can give any indication of how long she would expect this consultation process to last before we can move to what is after all a fairly simple result.

My Lords, it is usual practice to allow a three month period for such consultations, and legislative processes are not generally rapid. As I indicated in my earlier statement, we hope that the consultation will not add, as a result of the legislative processes, to the timescale involved, and we would aim to make amendment regulations in the first half of next year.

My Lords, I find that encouraging but, nevertheless, I ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading so that we may all study what has been said and perhaps return to it later.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.