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Carbon Emissions (Buildings) Bill

Volume 723: debated on Friday 25 November 2022

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill creates a mechanism to boost United Kingdom construction while driving down our greenhouse gas emissions, which is key to delivering UK growth in a manner aligned with the country’s net zero targets. The proposal has come from the industry, which supports the Bill wholeheartedly. The industry is working to reduce these carbon emissions voluntarily, but it needs the Government to take the lead and accelerate the work that it has started.

The Bill tackles an area of greenhouse gases called embodied carbon. Every year, our buildings and construction are responsible for the emission of more than 150 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, fully a quarter of our country’s total carbon footprint. Two thirds of those emissions are due to the lighting of buildings, their power and their water—the heating and cooling—and bear the tag “operational carbon”, and the Government have taken bold steps to reduce them as part of the net zero strategy. The building regulations, under part L, effectively address the reduction of operational carbon. As a direct consequence of the regulations and, importantly, the decarbonisation of the electricity supply, it is anticipated that by 2035 the emissions related to the services side—the operational carbon side—of buildings and construction will have fallen to an almost negligible level.

That is fantastic news, and the Government deserve our praise for gripping the issue and creating a plan, enforcing it through regulation and then implementing it with the very significant reductions in operational carbon that we are already seeing; but what about the other third of building emissions? Where do those remaining emissions come from, and what plan do we have to deal with them?

That other third comes from our use of construction materials: their production, transportation and installation on our construction sites; their maintenance, refurbishment and replacement during a building’s life; and ultimately their demolition and removal at the end of the building’s life. That is 50 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year, which are called embodied carbon. Let me put that amount into perspective: it is greater than the emissions of all the United Kingdom’s aviation and shipping industries combined.

Let us think about how much effort we put into the control and planned reduction of those emissions. We have the sustainable aviation fuels plan, we have jet zero, and we have plans for corridors for emission-free shipping based on ammonia and hydrogen. We take all those plans very seriously, but what are the Government doing, and what are we doing as a nation, to deal with embodied carbon from construction? With 50 million tonnes of embodied carbon emissions a year, we might expect that the Government would already have plans to direct a reduction in line with our legally binding net zero targets.

The truth is that embodied carbon remains completely unregulated, and it shows from the data. Operating carbon emissions are dropping rapidly because of part L and the decarbonisation of our electricity supply, but the data on embodied carbon shows no current trend towards any reduction at all. In 1995, there were 43 million tonnes of greenhouse gas-equivalent emissions; by 2018, emission levels, far from reducing, had crept up to 49 million tonnes and were approaching 50 million.

The Environmental Audit Committee, on which I sit, reported on the issue in May. Its report, which I commend to the House, concludes that

“the single most significant policy the Government could introduce is a mandatory requirement”

to assess embodied carbon in buildings. Not only do we not regulate the reduction of embodied carbon, but we currently have no idea how much a construction or design will emit, because we do not require business constructors to calculate that amount.

To be fair to the Government, their net zero strategy sets out an intention to

“support action in the construction sector by improving reporting on embodied carbon in buildings and infrastructure with a view to exploring a maximum level for new builds in the future.”

In a similar vein, the Government’s construction playbook calls for carbon assessments on all public projects. However, it provides no details as to how that should take place or what an appropriate carbon emissions level is. With every school, hospital and road we build, a different approach is therefore taken to calculating overall carbon. That is hopelessly inefficient for the industry, and it costs the taxpayer more.

As is so often the case, the real world is moving at a faster pace than the Government. Major design firms that employ tens of thousands of staff are making voluntary commitments to calculate the carbon emissions due to their designs. Construction industry bodies such as the Royal Institute of British Architects have set out voluntary embodied carbon emissions targets. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has defined a methodology for calculating embodied carbon, but its ambition is hampered by a lack of regulation.

Voluntary industry targets remain just that. Every project that businesses work on has different reporting requirements and different carbon targets, costing them time and money. Regulation is needed to speed up the processes by identifying an agreed methodology and spreading acceptable practice throughout the sector, not just among the market leaders but in the long tail that any sector has, to bring everyone up to a minimum level of best practice.

Today, nearly 200 of the country’s leading developers, clients, contractors, architects, engineers and institutions have written statements of support calling for the regulation of embodied carbon. The Royal Institute of British Architects calls on the Government

“to introduce regulations that stipulate consistent assessment and reporting of whole life carbon, including setting specific targets for embodied carbon.”

NatWest, one of the leading investors in the sector, highlights the role of regulation as

“one of the key mechanisms that drive sustainable behaviour and action amongst investors, tenants, developers and home owners.”

The UK’s largest active asset manager, abrdn—it is spelled rather strangely—believes that

“the requirements to report whole life carbon, and set informed limits on embodied carbon, would help the real estate sector to decarbonise.”

Barratt Developments, one of the big four providers of homes in the residential sector, says:

“We have been calculating the embodied carbon of our homes for over ten years now…We are also developing requirements for our supply chains to support this process”.

Similar sentiments come from corporate leaders such as Landsec, British Land, Lendlease, Willmott Dixon, Sir Robert McAlpine, Laing O’Rourke, Morgan Sindall and ISG—I could go on. Industry bodies, such as the Construction Industry Council, the Chartered Institute of Building, Timber Development UK, importantly, the Concrete Centre, and, equally importantly, the Steel Construction Institute, also support that approach. Industry already has the tools necessary to respond to the Bill; regulation would simply unlock the final door to enable existing mechanisms to run smoothly.

What are other countries in Europe doing? France, Sweden and the Netherlands already have embodied carbon regulation in force, and the Netherlands, the market leader, has had its in force since 2012. Finland, Denmark and Norway are in the process of introducing it, and the European Commission is considering proposals to roll it out across the whole of the EU. So, why are we not?

Despite the Government recognising that they need to act, and despite the industry agreeing and setting out a widely supported solution, the Government seem to be beset by hesitation. Their response to the Environmental Audit Committee stated that they intend to consult, and undertake “parallel stakeholder engagement”, some time in 2023, on what its approach to embodied carbon should be. That was to a report published in May 2022. When the cost of inaction is 50 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year, where is the dynamism of Government? Where is their sense of urgency?

My Bill would enable the Government to catch up on the issue, directly amending the building regulations. It will require the reporting of carbon on significant building work, both new projects and refurbishments, from 2023 in the large-building, non-domestic sector, and by 2025 for housing in developments of more than 10 dwellings. It will then move to introduce limits on the embodied carbon emitted through construction from 2027—something that can be ratcheted down over time, in line with our net zero targets.

That strategy, of “report first, limit later”, follows the precedents set elsewhere in Europe, and makes the transition towards zero-carbon construction easier while sending a clear signal that legislated limits are coming. Similarly, to assist small and medium-sized enterprises, the Bill introduces those requirements only for major projects—those greater than 1,000 square metres of useful internal area or responsible for the construction of 10 new dwellings.

A clear policy signal on the direction of travel is what the industry needs to accelerate its development and the large-scale use, and more efficient use, of lower-carbon products. Just as how the policy statement that vehicles will not be sold with an internal combustion engine post 2030 has transformed the car manufacturing market, the construction industry needs that kind of market signal to invest in lower-carbon alternatives and take the next step to the wider adoption of what are currently niche products. By sending a clear policy signal from Government to industry, we will enable the sector to grow ahead of time. We must signal the road map to the end of high-carbon construction in the United Kingdom to enable the building industry to take the needed steps towards zero-emission construction.

Is it really too soon to move, as the Government suggest? In their response to the EAC report, the Government identified three workstreams before they want to take a decision. First, they want to continue understanding the actions that industry is already taking and the impact. Secondly, they are watching the outcomes of the Greater London Authority’s planning policy requirement “with interest” and, thirdly, they are

“looking at international policy examples.”

I have already demonstrated that my Bill is the outcome of industry consensus and that it follows the “report first, limit later” approach adopted internationally. So the only additional consideration is an assessment of the use of the planning policy by the Greater London Authority in its London plan to require measurement of embodied carbon as part of the planning process, yet even here there is a consensus that regulation via the building regulations is the right approach.

During the Environmental Audit Committee evidence session, the principal strategic planner for the GLA’s London plan was asked in terms what role building regulations could play. Her answer was explicit. She said:

“We would agree…it is something that the Government should regulate. We think it should be part of building regulations”.

Even the GLA, whose planning policy approach the Government apparently see as a potential alternative to the use of building regulations, agrees that building regulations are the right way to go. There are of course very sound practical reasons for that. Detailed decisions on materials will not have been made at the date of a planning application, so only vague guestimates of carbon intensity and emissions could be used at that stage. It is at the point of construction that meaningful figures can be generated, which is where planning control comes in. In any event, we do not expect planning officers to assess the properties of, for example, rooftop insulation as part of a planning application. That kind of technical assessment is the job of building control and the same applies in respect of embodied carbon.

When the Government say that they want to consult on their approach on measurement and reduction of embodied carbon, we may be beginning to wonder who else is there that they are intending to consult. The sooner we start this process, the sooner we can reduce our emission of 50 million tonnes of carbon every year. My Bill will reduce the construction industry’s carbon footprint, while sending certainty to UK industry that investing in decarbonisation is economically sound. It will bring economic growth and it will save the taxpayer money by standardising the decarbonisation process. The Government have great ambition to decarbonise. We all support it, and they should be commended for their ambition and for the many actions they have already taken in this field. The construction industry has the appetite, tools and skills to match that ambition. We have here a tremendous opportunity to make a significant impact on the UK’s carbon emissions and ensure that the UK remains a global leader by regulating embodied carbon in construction. I commend this Bill to the House.

It is pleasure to be called to speak for a third time today, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wish to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) on introducing his Bill. As I have said many times on a Friday, I know only too well what a privilege it is to come out in the ballot and have the opportunity to guide a piece of legislation through Parliament. I had that pleasure in the previous Session and although I know it can be a frustrating process, it is also a hugely rewarding one, and I thank him for using this opportunity to raise this important issue.

The Bill would amend the Building Regulations 2010 to place new requirements related to embodied carbon on:

“(a) the erection of any building,

(b) the extension of any building, and

(c) the carrying out of any work to or in connection with any building or extension”.

“Embodied carbon” is the sum of carbon dioxide or green gas emission released during the life cycle of a product or service. For buildings, that could include extraction, manufacturing, transporting, installing, maintaining and disposing of construction materials and products. I know that work has been undertaken to develop a global approach to embodied carbon. In June 2021, a coalition of Governments and organisations, led by the UK and India, launched the industrial deep decarbonisation initiative. The IDDI aims to develop shared approaches to embodied emissions reporting and definitions for green steel and cement to drive public and private procurement. These working groups will deliver guidelines, comparison mechanisms and digital tool solutions agreed by member Governments no later than 2024.

The Government continue to take forward work to mitigate carbon emissions through measuring and reducing the embodied and operational carbon of the buildings and infrastructure they fund, and within the construction supply chain. I welcomed that when the net zero strategy was published in October 2021, it stated:

“Government aims to support action in the construction sector by improving reporting on embodied carbon in buildings and infrastructure with a view to exploring a maximum level for new builds in the future.”

It is hugely important that we continue this work. Will the Minister tell us what progress her Department is making on this?

In my hon. Friend’s Bill, embodied carbon is defined as

“the total greenhouse emissions and removals associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole life cycle of an asset”.

Whole-life carbon is defined as

“the sum total of all asset related greenhouse gas emissions and removals, both operational and embodied, over the life cycle of an asset including its disposal”.

Under the measures in my hon. Friend’s Bill, the Secretary of State will be required to approve the methodology, means of expression, reporting platform and tools for carrying out whole-life carbon assessments of building work. Where a new building or multi-building development with a total useful floor area of over 1,000 square metres is erected or where building work takes place in any such building, the whole-life carbon emissions of the works will need to be calculated and reported. The day before the work starts at the latest, the local authority will need notice of the CO2 equivalent, a list of specifications to which the building work is to be undertaken, and a reference to the location on the reporting platform where the whole-life carbon emissions for the building work have been reported.

Within five days of completing the work, the person carrying out the work must update the local authority on those measures following construction. The local authority will authorise their approval and that the conditions have been met by way of a certificate. I understand that the Bill will also require the Secretary of State to approve target CO2 equivalent upfront embodied carbon emission rates, which would set requirements for the building work.

I am very concerned about carbon emissions from our homes, but we cannot be concerned with new builds only. Only a few months ago I led a Westminster Hall debate on energy efficiency of homes in the north, where 26% of carbon emissions come from our homes. If we are to tackle climate change and meet net zero, we have to do something about that 26% in addition to all the other things that we are doing.

In the north, we have a higher percentage of older properties than the rest of the country. Twenty four per cent. of all homes in the north were built before 1919 and 41% were built before 1944. Despite all the housebuilding going on around the country, the UK’s housing stock as a whole is generally older than in the rest of Europe. Older homes are largely beautiful, characterful homes that provide us with the backdrop to constituencies such as mine, but they cause serious issues when it comes to energy efficiency and carbon emissions. Decarbonising homes and making them more energy efficient has the potential to offer parts of the long-term solution to fuel poverty, insulating homes better and reducing the reliance on fossil fuels to heat homes. Less money spent on wasted energy is less money spent. It is a win-win for our homes, their residents and the environment.

I praise the work that the Government have done so far to tackle this issue. The heat and buildings strategy was published in October 2021. The social housing decarbonisation fund has awarded £179 million and the local authority delivery scheme is helping to improve energy efficiency. I also welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement in the autumn statement of a new ambition that, by 2030, the UK will have reduced energy consumption from buildings and industry by 15%, as well as the continuation of the £6.6 billion of energy efficiency funding promised in this Parliament, and the promise of a further £6 billion from 2025, which would amount to a doubling of current annual investment, with the formation of a new energy efficiency taskforce to help to direct the new funding.

Some progress on decarbonisation and retrofitting is under way, but we still have a long way to go. We need to tackle the huge costs currently associated with making our homes more energy efficient. We cannot achieve decarbonisation while it remains financially unviable for homeowners, private landlords and housing associations to pay for the work. Will the Minister therefore outline what more can be done to decarbonise our existing housing stock as well as ensuring new housing is energy efficient?

Back to the construction of new builds, which is the focus of the Bill. The Government plan to publish a future homes standard and future buildings standard in 2025. They will set new standards for how new homes and buildings should be constructed. The future buildings standard will ensure that new buildings are zero carbon-ready, with high energy efficiency and low carbon heat. As a first step towards implementation, I understand that the Government introduced an interim uplift to energy efficiency standards in June 2022 so that new non-domestic dwellings will be expected to produce 27% fewer carbon dioxide emissions. Will the Minister outline what progress has been made towards that?

Timber has the lowest embodied carbon of any mainstream building material. I also know that the net zero strategy states that the Government recognise the potential to reduce embodied carbon through material substitution where appropriate. The strategy commits the Government to work with stakeholders, including the Green Construction Board, the Construction Leadership Council, the Home Builders Federation and the Federation of Master Builders to develop a policy road map to increase the use of timber in construction in England. Naturally, with timber construction, we must also take into account considerations on fire safety and structural matters, but, as the Government have already said, there are key opportunities for the safe growth of timber use in low-rise buildings using traditional and certain modern methods of constructions, and in a wide range of commercial and non-residential settings. We should take advantage of those opportunities. I welcome the Government’s commitment to take a number of steps outlined in the net zero strategy to increase the use of timber construction. The steps include financial support to develop innovative timber products—the woods into management forestry innovation fund and the timber in construction innovation fund—and working with Homes England and delivery partners to explore ways to increase timber use in the delivery of housing programmes.

In conclusion, this is a very interesting Bill. We must keep to our target of reaching net zero by 2050, and I fully agree that we must do more to ensure that the construction of new buildings results in as low a level of carbon emissions as possible. I strongly encourage my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland to continue to push the Government on this issue and to continue to have discussions on this issue, because what the Bill proposes is definitely worthy of strong consideration.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson). Like him, I will speak for the third time today. I hope I will be able to speak at slightly greater length than on the previous Bill, but I am very glad we have got to this Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew). He is not only a doughty champion for the people of Broadland, as we have seen in this place but a consistent champion for the environment in everything he has done. That is what the Bill is doing today. It demonstrates that the Conservative party is on the side of the people who want to make net zero a reality and who want to decarbonise our buildings. The Bill is concerned mostly with commercial buildings because of their size, but we also want to decarbonise our homes. We had some of the same discussions earlier, when debating the Electricity and Gas Transmission (Compensation) Bill presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), on the low carbon future we need to work towards. Decarbonising is absolutely vital for the future.

In that context, I would like to draw attention to some local data. I am pleased that, from 2010 to the start of this decade, total emissions from the building sector in my local area of Newcastle-under-Lyme have fallen by 42%, which is almost exactly in line with the national average. In the commercial sector, they have been reduced by 56%, from 77,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2010 to 34,000 tonnes in 2020. In the public sector, they have been reduced by 46%, from 28,500 tonnes in 2010 to 15,500 in 2020. As my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland said in his opening remarks, however, embodied carbon is completely unregulated, and that is what the Bill seeks to address and what we are discussing in the debate. His concept of whole-life carbon and the clauses to address that in the Bill are vital. There is no sense in our measuring just what happens on an ongoing basis; that is a bit like looking at a deficit without looking at the debt. If we are incurring a huge debt through concrete or anything else when we build something, we need to take that into account.

My advice to the Government is that, on principle, we should consider applying that more broadly when we think about decarbonisation, because it is a valid criticism of the Government that, although we have been the most successful country in the G20 at reducing our carbon emissions, we are offshoring them. We need to think about that and, therefore, about whether we are doing the right thing by the environment when we do not give permission for a coal mine in this country or for offshore oil and gas. It might be the right thing by our numbers, but the Bill makes the point that we cannot look at one number in isolation—we need to look at the whole ecosystem and life cycle, as my hon. Friend talked about.

My hon. Friend is right to focus on embodied carbon, which is the sum of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions released during the whole life cycle of a product or service. That is not just the manufacturing part, which is dealt with here. It is the extraction, transportation, installation, maintenance and, ultimately, disposal, because all buildings have a life cycle and most will not last forever—happily, we are in one that has lasted longer than most.

My hon. Friend is right to look at the whole life cycle and he is right that the industry would benefit from the greater efficiency and reduced operating costs that the transparency that he seeks through his Bill would introduce. The reduction in the 33 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year that arises from materials that are currently wasted would definitely benefit society as a whole. The construction sector is the biggest producer of waste in England and accounts for about two thirds of the country’s total.

If I may get on my hobby horse, that waste ends up in sites such as Walleys Quarry in my constituency, which is notorious for the local stink that is caused by construction and demolition materials that end up in landfill. I know that is not just my experience. We need to reduce the total amount of waste and one way to do that is to have the transparency that the Bill seeks to introduce. That is also, of course, what young people want; I was rather touched when my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) talked about his daughter’s birthday today. We have to look at what young people want for the future and make sure that we in this place are building—literally, in this case—a better, brighter, net zero future where we do not have to worry about carbon dioxide emissions or the warming of the planet.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broadland talked about what the Government need to do, and I am looking forward to hearing what the Minister has to say; I welcome her to the Dispatch Box for the first time. He mentioned that the Government have workstreams that they want to look at and he posed a rhetorical question about how much more consultation there needs to be. We often find in this place that there is always time for more consultation and there are always more opinions that can be sought, but he is right that the time for action is drawing near upon us. I am persuaded by his arguments, which is why I am glad that he has brought the Bill to the House.

My hon. Friend’s fundamental point that we have to consider the whole life of something—its building and life cycle—is a sound principle that we ought to take into account in all our decisions. Too often, we are guided by statistics, as we sometimes see in other sectors as well, such as immigration, and we are drawn to a headline number that we want to minimise or maximise. Actually, the route to good government is to think about things in the round, as a whole and in the long term. That is what the Bill seeks to do, which is why I hope that it makes progress and the Government engage with what he is trying to do.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell). I wholeheartedly agree with his points about offshoring; he is absolutely spot on as always. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) has made three cracking speeches today and scored a hattrick of his own.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) for bringing forward the Bill; he knows that he has my full support, although I gently point out that we in Scunthorpe are not overly worried about the precedents set in Europe. It is right that we have a discussion about the wider impact of buildings on our carbon output, beyond their day-to-day energy consumption.

As the long title of the Bill highlights, a building does not just emit carbon when it is operational, but from the moment an architect is asked to design it to the day it is demolished. The Bill sets out two ways to advance our national mission to reduce emissions, and I want to ask some questions about the proposals in the hope that it will be helpful to my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland.

First, the Bill mandates the reporting of the whole-life carbon emissions of a building. Whole-life carbon assessments help us to put a numerical value on the impact of a development. It is also a statistic on which developers can compete with each other, hopefully driving down emissions across the sector. However, I am keen to understand how that requirement will fit in with existing criteria for buildings—something that hon. Members have raised this afternoon.

The national planning policy framework already sets out that new developments should help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through their location, orientation and design, in line with the emissions obligations in the Climate Change Act 2008. Using those guidelines, local planning authorities then put forward a local plan, against which planning applications must be considered. Indeed, my excellent local council—probably the best council, in fact—North Lincolnshire Council, released its local plan this month, and it contained standards that encourage developers to reduce whole-life carbon emissions. The plan states that all developments should maximise the reuse or recycling of materials in new construction, and make the best possible use of existing building infrastructure. According to the plan, that should be done by minimising the use of non-renewable and unsustainable finite resources, during both construction and use. Hypothetically, if every council was as good as mine, and every planning proposal in the country was tested against standards like those, developers would already need to show that they are minimising carbon emissions through their building materials.

Mandatory reporting should only be introduced if there is a strong case for saying that local planning authorities do not put enough weight on whole-life emissions when considering applications. In short, it is important that we justify our introducing the Bill.

There are many ways to skin a cat; that is the nub of my hon. Friend’s speech. However, the logical time for a detailed assessment of the whole-life carbon of a building and its construction materials is when those materials have been finalised. That is not typically at the planning stage. Yes, there will be an outline of the building, but the detailed decisions on what materials will be used are not yet made. As a result, and as happens in the Greater London Authority—its planning policy takes a similar approach—guesstimates are made of the whole-life carbon impact. Later, when building control is involved, we can get accurate calculations.

My hon. Friend makes a really good point, but I think he would agree with me that the ethos behind what councils such as mine are doing is exactly in line with what he aims to achieve through the Bill. To reiterate, it is important that we justify clearly why this Bill is needed, because it will cost time and money, and it is an extra hoop that we will be asking businesses and individuals to jump through.

The Bill also rightly acknowledges that the Secretary of State would need to approve a national methodology for whole-life carbon assessments. Right now, public works projects and programmes are required to have a whole-life assessment as part of the tendering requirement, but contracting authorities are encouraged to create their own specific guidelines on how that is presented, or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland mentioned, to use the guidelines released by the Greater London Authority.

If we are to ultimately pass that requirement on to private developments, the top-down direction on the appropriate methodology needs to be addressed. We need to ensure that we do a decent job of that. The industry is generally familiar with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors whole-life carbon assessment, but the availability of other guidance risks creating inconsistency.

I know that the Government have plans to hold a consultation in 2023 on how best to mainstream the measurement of embodied carbon, and I would be keen to know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland has explored the options available. He is an expert on this subject and could make a really valuable input to that. As he said, other countries in Europe have begun legislating for whole-life carbon assessments, and I hope that those will prove an inspiration, and will help us not to fall into any pitfalls that other countries have fallen into.

The Bill may lead to limits on embodied carbon, including carbon emitted in the acquisition, assembly, maintenance and end-of-life disposal of building materials. I know the Government are considering that, as stated in their response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on costing carbon in construction. If we created embodied carbon limits, we would have to consider a number of factors. First, the limits would need to be relative to not just the purpose of the building, which is obvious, but the size of the development.

However, if larger developments can reduce emissions through economies of scale but smaller ones cannot do that as easily, there may be perverse outcomes for the property market. This legislation would also favour larger developers who have the capacity to better absorb emissions reduction costs. It is important to be wary of how this could affect small and medium-sized enterprises in the industry, given that we aim to increase our housing supply.

I am curious about how the Bill would address the impact of location choice on emissions. For example, should a residential or commercial property receive relief from the embodied carbon limits if the choice is made to locate it on a public transport network—for example, near to a railway or bus station? Large employers may prevent hundreds of car journeys a day if they set up shop on an easily accessible site. To take that a step further, could we find ourselves using plans for a railway station, bus route or metro in our constituency as a lever during the planning process and the calculation of those emissions?

My hon. Friend the Member for Broadland will not be surprised to hear that I also have questions regarding the steel industry. Members understand that steel is a carbon-intensive product to make. The future of the steel industry will inevitably at some point be around decarbonisation, finding greener ways to make steel and mitigating the impact of production, but while that process takes place, the adoption of embodied carbon limits on development may affect demand for steel if they do not appropriately recognise steel’s value of recyclability.

Steel is one of our most sustainable materials due to its immense durability and the capacity to reuse it—it is almost endlessly recyclable and can be repurposed. Any definition of embodied carbon has to appropriately weight that value against the carbon emitted during the production, and has to consider the lifespan and quality of the materials that we are able to produce in this country. As my hon. Friend will know, we make the finest steel in the world.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way a second time. On the question of steel, she is absolutely right. If enacted, the Bill would be a great opportunity for British steel. As she will know, about 50% of all steel used for construction in this country is imported. Given the additional carbon emissions that result from the transportation of a very heavy and bulky product, British Steel and steel producers in her constituency—

British Steel and other steel producers, including the one in my hon. Friend’s constituency, already have plans in place to reduce the carbon intensity of their products before 2035 and 2055 by as much as 80% by reusing scrap metal instead of exporting it abroad for reuse. Does she agree that the Bill gives impetus to this developing new sector in the steel industry, rather than restraining it?

I agree that we need to be extremely careful about the transportation of materials—my hon. Friend is absolutely right—but therein lies a challenge. To work through the restrictions in the Bill, we would need a level of confidence when we imported materials, be they steel or anything else. We would need confidence about how much carbon has gone into the steel; trust in the people who made it; and to know how far it has come, where the fuel for the ship has come from and how the steel in the ship was built. He is right that there are opportunities for steel, but if he is seeking to persuade me solely on the terms that he mentioned, he has not quite managed to do so.

That brings me to my next point: we need to discuss whether we have that level of assurance. Inevitably, many of the products that go into the buildings of the future will come from abroad, and we need to understand that. As always, companies in this country will play by the rules, but my hon. Friend knows that that is not always the case across the world.

Concrete is another sector that could face problems, if sustainability advantages are not weighted properly. I have a fantastic firm in my constituency, Techrete, which I am very proud of. It has contributed to a number of buildings across the country and the world. There have been 600 projects in the past 37 years, and I will draw your attention to a small number that you may have seen, Mr Deputy Speaker, because they are all quite close to where we are. The projects include King’s Cross station, the Olympic village and The Broadway on Victoria Street—if you walk out of here and look to your right, Mr Deputy Speaker, before you get to M&S, you will see that building. They also include Victoria Square, the Heathrow Express tunnel—we probably made the steel for the rails in that tunnel as well, and if we did, it will be the finest steel in the world—Wembley Park and University College London Hospital. On the South Bank, on the other side of the river, there are some buildings that we made, and there is also the Tottenham Hotspur stadium, Westfield shopping centre, the Imperial War Museum, St Bartholomew's Hospital, the V&A and the lettering at Arsenal.

I start by putting on record my sincere condolences to Wales for their loss today, and I wish England the best of luck for their match against the USA later. We will all be very much cheering them on.

I sincerely thank my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) for introducing the Bill, and for his incredible efforts to raise awareness of embedded carbon in construction. He is a fantastic champion for all things environmental, and has been right from the point of his election; protecting the local environment was part of his election plan, and he has been a great champion for the measures that we are discussing through his work on the Environmental Audit Committee.

Given the schedule that we are on today, our time would be best used by allowing the Minister to reply in full, but I congratulate the hon. Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) on his Bill. We support it. I agree with his proposition that industry would welcome further regulation in this area, and I wish him well in his endeavours in this field.

I completely echo the shadow Minister’s sentiments.

As hon. Members will know, the Government considered closely the Environmental Audit Committee’s report, “Building to net zero: costing carbon in construction”, and its recommendations. In our response, we were pleased to set out details of our work in this area, including our plan to consult next year on our approach to measuring and reducing embodied carbon. As we made clear in that response, reducing embodied carbon in construction is critical to meeting our net zero target. I think that all of us across the House can agree on that, but we disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland about the exact mechanisms and timings for achieving that. That is why, I am sorry to say, the Government cannot support the Bill today. It is not because we disagree with the Bill’s aims, but because ambitious work is already well under way in this area. Passing the Bill ahead of that work would risk adverse effects on our housing supply, on small and medium-sized enterprises and, given the reach of our construction industry and supply chains, on other sectors of the economy.

That said, although we are not supporting this Bill, I am incredibly grateful for my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm, and for keeping this topic at the forefront of our minds. The Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who is responsible for local government and building safety, and officials in my Department are keen to work collaboratively on this vital agenda with my hon. Friend. I know that the Minister is happy to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland to talk through the detail of his work.

On embodied carbon and the work being undertaken, my hon. Friend has already outlined the process for calculating whole-life carbon, so I will not go into that in too much detail, but we do know that the focus until now has been on reductions in operational carbon. As that process happens and we reduce the amount of operational carbon in construction, embodied carbon emissions will start accounting for more of a building’s whole-life carbon emissions. He is therefore absolutely right that we must act with the construction industry to address the issue now. Equally, we cannot be naive about the scale of the challenge ahead of us.

Reducing embodied carbon is exceptionally difficult across the built environment—not just in buildings—which is why the Government have been planning ahead to tackle those emissions head-on. The industrial decarbonisation strategy and the transport decarbonisation plan, for example, set out how large sectors of the economy will decarbonise, and the England trees action plan looks to increase the production of timber, which can be used to replace higher-carbon materials in construction when safe to do so. As those policies take effect and industries that supply construction decarbonise, we expect that in turn the embodied carbon emissions of buildings will fall.

We recognise that those efforts alone will not be enough. As pointed out by both the Climate Change Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee, our choice of materials and how we design and construct buildings will also need to change dramatically.

I hope the Minister agrees that we are already taking steps in that direction, and that the future homes standard and the future buildings standard will be a great leap forward in how we set standards for new buildings to be constructed and ensure that new buildings are zero carbon-ready and efficient.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who I know is incredibly passionate about construction, building and all things planning and will continue to help champion the agenda in the coming months and years.

I think many in industry would agree that, as hon. Members across the House have highlighted, one of the biggest challenges in tackling embodied carbon right now is a lack of data, because consideration of embodied carbon is relatively new compared with operational carbon for both industry and Government. Without enough information at product and building level, industry cannot make decisions about design and construction, and the Government cannot establish the right benchmarks or targets, either.

It is generous of the Minister to give way. Given that data is what the Government need, does she not agree that the format of the Bill, which is to report now—deliver data—and decide later, in 2027, serves the purpose of providing the data that the Government need so they can make an informed decision as part of the Bill?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his contribution. I know that was the intent of the design of the Bill—we have discussed that before today. The important thing to note is that we will be consulting not just on how we reduce embodied carbon but on how specifically we go about gathering that data, because that data collection will be so important in ensuring that we can decarbonise embodied carbon. I hope he will appreciate that that is one of the reasons why we are keen to consult before we take any further action.

I want to quickly highlight some of the contributions made by hon. Members across the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) raised some fantastic points about broader decarbonisation and asked some questions about decarbonisation within existing housing stock. I know that we are pressed for time, so I will write to him with some further details on that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) was absolutely right to highlight that the Government are on the side of those who want to decarbonise. For all the rhetoric, this Conservative Government’s action on decarbonisation has been exemplary, and some of the small examples highlighted by hon. Members during this short debate have really shown that. I note that he mentioned the ever-famous “Stop the Stink” campaign, about which he is so passionate, and it would be remiss of me not to mention his incredible campaigning on that.

Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) talked about the planning framework as being incredibly important on the decarbonisation agenda. She is absolutely right, and I congratulate her and North Lincolnshire Council on their brilliant progress on that. It would be remiss of me not to thank her for her stellar work in championing the British steel industry and, in particular, the steelworks in Scunthorpe in her own constituency, on which she has been and is an incredibly passionate campaigner.

I will conclude, in the hope that others may make a brief contribution, and in the hope that my short speech has explained some of the system’s complexity and why the Government cannot support the Bill today, even though we empathise with the sentiments and ambition underpinning it. We are concerned that passing such legislation now could bounce the industry into making changes for which it is not fully prepared. In the current context, at a time when the SMEs that depend on this industry are struggling and facing a hard time, the industry may not be able to afford these changes. We do not want to run the risk of negatively affecting the industry and the market in ways that we do not intend, which is why consulting seems like the most practical and sensible solution.

I reiterate my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland for all his dedicated work in introducing this Bill. Again, I make it crystal clear that the Government’s opposition to the Bill is in no way a dismissal of the seriousness of the issue or of our commitment to tackling it. Officials in my Department are working with many of the supporters of this Bill to carry on the essential work of measuring and reducing embodied carbon in construction.

Together, I believe we can adopt the right approach that lets industry and markets properly prepare for change, while not letting up in our fight to tackle carbon emissions, to win the race to net zero and to build the cleaner, greener homes and buildings this country needs.

It is a pleasure to follow the Minister. This is the first time I have spoken in a debate with her at the Dispatch Box.

I am sure the whole House agrees that the need to tackle climate change and reduce carbon emissions is of critical importance. In 2019, I was proud to stand on a manifesto that committed to reaching net zero by 2050. I strongly believe in the need to invest in green energy and infrastructure while finding new and innovative ways to cut carbon emissions.

The Government’s 10-point plan to bring about a green industrial revolution is a critical part of the plan to decarbonise our economy. Part of this plan involves carbon capture, usage and storage, and I welcome the Government’s £200 million investment to become a global leader in this new technology. Moreover, the Government’s net zero strategy has set the UK on a path towards lowering our reliance on fossil fuels. We are investing in green energy, helping businesses transition to green energy and, most importantly, helping to secure our energy security long into the future. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this is now vital.

More locally, in my beautiful Milton Keynes North constituency, we are proud of our decarbonisation efforts, particularly in transport. Over the past year, Milton Keynes City Council has received more than £800,000 of Government funding to install public electric vehicle charging points. I am especially proud that Milton Keynes is one of the best places to drive an electric car, but there is more work to be done.

We need to explore all avenues for reducing carbon emissions as we take this country forward. As of now, buildings are responsible for approximately 30% of our national emissions, so this is an area in which we can make great strides. However, I welcome the fact that the Government have already made an important commitment to reduce emissions from public sector buildings by 75% by 2037.

We need to find more ways to ensure that our infrastructure is fit for the future. As we embark on levelling up the country, we need to ensure that the buildings we construct allow us to achieve the ambitious targets we have set ourselves. This Bill rightly addresses the issue of embodied carbon—the emissions produced by a building’s materials. As of now, the UK’s built environment contributes a quarter of our total greenhouse gas emissions, and that raises important questions about how we construct our buildings. I welcome the intention of this Bill. By establishing limits on embodied carbon emissions in building construction, we are taking steps towards a more sustainable construction sector.

Research has shown that among common building materials, timber has the lowest embodied carbon, as my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) pointed out. Where appropriate, using more timber in building construction is certainly an option, but it needs to be part of a well-rounded approach. That way, we can make positive strides towards a low-carbon economy.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Rebecca Harris.)

Debate to be resumed on Friday 9 December.