John Stevenson: I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to new clause 3 on the compulsory installation of solar panels on all new residential properties. I have long held an interest in this topic, having questioned Ministers, written articles and held a Westminster Hall debate a number of years ago. Needless to say all were to no avail.
I wonder how much better many people’s energy bills would be had compulsory installation been introduced when I first proposed the idea. However, it is to the future we must look. House building and construction will clearly be significant in achieving the goal of a net-zero environment.
We must also be aware of the potential cost of trying to achieve net zero, and any policies therefore need to be innovative, practical and realistic so they do not damage our economy and individual finances. It is for this reason that I tabled my amendment. Quite simply, making solar panels compulsory in all new builds will create an immediate market. Whether 100,000 or 300,000 housing units are built each year, it will create a sizeable market that is, to some extent, guaranteed. With the knowledge of that certainty, businesses will undoubtedly rise to the challenge, set themselves up and invest. We would then see many businesses, up and down the country, installing solar panels. Repair and maintenance businesses would thrive, too.
With such a large market, and with competition, I anticipate that the cost of solar panels would continue its downward trajectory, ensuring that the cost of new houses does not rise disproportionately. There would also be a benefit to those seeking to install solar panels on their existing homes, as costs would drop and many more businesses would offer that opportunity. Most importantly, innovation would kick in and solar panels would become far more efficient and, I anticipate, more aesthetically pleasing. Why not have solar-panel tiles on every new build?
Richard Bacon: I was recently told that there is a five-year waiting list in Norfolk to have a thatched roof replaced—waiting lists may be shorter elsewhere. Of course, there are thatched new builds. Does new clause 3 cover thatched new builds? Would anyone who wanted to commission such a new build have to cover its thatched roof in solar panels?
John Stevenson: That is an interesting one, to say the least. I would certainly leave businesses to be innovative in their approach to dealing with that.
I am aware that there is a lot of support for my proposal and I genuinely believe it is sensible and practical. However, I understand the Government’s perspective on a number of issues. I give them credit for their principled policy of moving housing towards zero-carbon-ready homes. As our energy provision changes, homes must be adaptable and ready for the introduction of new technologies and new supplies of energy.
I appreciate, although I do not wholly agree with, the Government’s view that they should remain technology neutral. I am not entirely convinced by that argument, as any housebuilder can do what they want in ensuring a property is zero-carbon-ready, as well as having to include solar panels. However, I acknowledge that the Government have increased the uplift in the energy efficiency standard, which should lead to 30% less CO2 emissions—something that must be welcomed as a further step forward.
I support the Government in their decision to look at solar permitted development rights, particularly with regard to commercial buildings; that decision has much to commend it and is a sensible development. I am still, of course, disappointed that the Government have still not accepted my amendment. Although I have had a Westminster Hall debate, written articles and asked questions on the topic, I genuinely feel there has not been enough debate and consideration of my amendment and its implications in this House.
I am grateful for the support from Conservative Back Benchers and indeed the support of Ministers, albeit privately. I am a little surprised that there has not been greater support from the Opposition, but that may be because the issues have not been as well publicised and debated as they should. There will, however, be an opportunity for further such debate in the other place when they consider this Bill. I would like to think that their lordships will look clearly and closely at the amendments tabled in this House but not divided on, which will include this amendment—I know there is genuine interest in it in the other place.
I will not push this amendment to a vote today, but should the other place, after further debate, conclude it is worth pursuing, I would certainly want this House to have an opportunity to express its views on the amendment, in whatever form it comes back to the House. I look forward to the Minister’s comments and observations and, very importantly, the debate that will be held by their lordships.