Welcome to the Chair, Mr Davies; it is a great pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship.
After that brief hiatus, I am pleased to return to consideration of the Opposition’s amendment 11. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Weaver Vale and his colleagues for raising the important issue of climate change and the role of the new Building Safety Regulator. Because of the issues that we have with the amendment, I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept it, but I appreciate the opportunity that it affords us to set out the regulator’s new role in this area and the wider action that the Government are taking. I will focus on three areas of concern: the existing powers that the regulator will be able to utilise; the levers available elsewhere in Government; and the confusion that the amendment would, I am sure unintentionally, cause.
I can assure the Committee that the objectives of the Building Safety Regulator and its functions already give the regulator the remit it needs to focus on ensuring that our building regulatory regime takes the appropriate steps to mitigate the effects of climate change. The existing statutory objective around securing safety would cover safety issues resulting from climate change, including risks of overheating. I also draw the Committee’s attention to the regulator’s objective to improve the standard of buildings. Standards are defined broadly by clause 29, which we shall come to in due course.
Standards will include all the matters that can be dealt with by the building regulations. Section 1 to the Building Act 1984 ensures that building regulations can cover sustainable development, the protection or enhancement of the environment, and furthering the conservation of fuel and power. Paragraph 8(5A) of schedule 1 to the Building Act also allows for building regulations to cover flood resistance and flood resilience.
The Building Safety Regulator will be under a duty, under clause 5, to keep the safety and standards of buildings under review, including safety issues relating to the building, such as overheating or flooding. The regulator will be able to recommend to Ministers or to industry changes needed to buildings and building standards to mitigate those issues. Therefore, the regulator will already have an important remit to provide independent advice to Ministers and industry on ensuring that building standards are appropriate and mitigate the effects of climate change.
It is also important that the role of the Building Safety Regulator is seen alongside action that the Government are already taking to ensure that building standards are improved to tackle the challenge of climate change and ensure that homes are built more energy-efficiently and in a way that is better for our environment, as my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud and for West Bromwich West alluded to. The Government’s new future homes standard will mean that from 2025 homes built to that standard will produce at least 75% fewer CO2 emissions compared with those built to current standards. To pave the way to 2025, we are making changes now to part L of the approved documents to ensure that new buildings, both domestic and non-domestic, produce meaningfully fewer CO2 emissions.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I will come to later in my remarks. We want to ensure that the Building Safety Regulator has a clear remit and that its responsibilities are not confused or occluded by too much unnecessary verbiage.
The future homes standard will mean that homes in this country are fit for the future, better for the environment and affordable for consumers to heat, with low-carbon heating and very high fabric standards. We will be introducing a future building standard that will ensure that buildings that we use every day—cafés, shops, cinemas—will also be better built to ensure that they are more energy-efficient and produce fewer CO2 emissions.
I thank the Minister for assuring us that the building regulations will be amended to take account of climate change. He mentioned addressing the issue of the heating of buildings in the future being low carbon. Many of the flats built in the last 20 years in my constituency suffer from the opposite problem and are impossible to cool. Will the building regulations also take into account the cooling of residential accommodation and buildings for other uses to ensure that they stay within a reasonable temperature for human use?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for introducing that matter. She will know that we look frequently at issues such as the heating and overheating of properties, the sizes of windows and ventilation. These are matters for building regulation, but they are not specifically matters for this Bill or for the Building Safety Regulator.
The Committee should also consider the risk involved in giving the Building Safety Regulator an explicit objective focused on coastal erosion and flooding. That approach risks confusing the role of the regulator by giving it an objective to tackle issues where other Government bodies have been given the lead. The Building Safety Regulator does not have the levers that other Government bodies and agencies have to deliver that objective.
My right hon. Friend is being incredibly generous with the interventions he is taking. He has made a good point about the Building Safety Regulator not necessarily having the levers, but does he agree that it will be imperative for the BSR to ensure that it engages proactively with all the different Government stakeholders that do have the levers to pull, to ensure that, irrespective of the limitations it may have as a stand-alone organisation, it can still achieve the broader objective that this amendment seeks to articulate?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. Yes, we want the Building Safety Regulator to consult with its peers across the sector, including with other Government agencies. As we work our way through the Bill, my hon. Friend will see that that is an objective.
The location of buildings is primarily an issue for the planning system. The Building Safety Regulator will have responsibility for the construction materials and the design, construction and occupation of buildings. My Department is responsible for planning, and I take that responsibility very seriously, hence our consultation on a planning reform Bill—
We want the Building Safety Regulator to have responsibilities with respect to gateway 1, and that will become clear to the hon. Gentleman as we address further clauses. I beg him to have patience, and he will see that there is a clear responsibility and involvement of the BSR.
We work closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on planning issues around flooding. However, the Building Safety Regulator is not designed to replicate or oversee the planning system. The planning system already ensures that the risks outlined in the hon. Gentleman’s amendment are considered in the decision-making process. Specifically, the national planning policy framework sets out that development plans should take a proactive approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change, taking into account the long-term implications for flood risk, coastal change and the risk of overheating from rising temperatures.
Tackling flooding and coastal erosion are also critical issues, as the hon. Gentleman rightly acknowledges. The Environment Agency supervises and works with other organisations to manage the risk of flooding and coastal erosion in England. It also directly manages flood risk from main rivers, the sea and reservoirs. It would therefore not be right for the Building Safety Regulator to replicate that important role. Tackling flooding and erosion is a priority for DEFRA and the EA, and the Government are investing £5.2 billion to build 2,000 new flood defences across the country over the next six years. That investment will better protect 336,000 properties from flooding and coastal erosion.
I welcome the opportunity to debate the action the Government are taking to mitigate the effects of climate change. That includes—as part of clause 3—creating a new Building Safety Regulator that will provide independent advice to Ministers on how building standards need to change to effectively mitigate climate change. I do not believe, however, that the amendment would have the effect that the hon. Gentleman wishes. It would confuse the role of the Building Safety Regulator, giving it an objective that would be hard to deliver when other bodies lead on crucial elements and are actually responsible for that objective. It would give the Building Safety Regulator responsibility without power, and I do not think that that is a sensible way to build agencies and undertake good governance.
The Building Safety Regulator will have the best chance of success with two clear objectives around the safety and standards of buildings, on which it has clear levers to deliver. In the light of those points and of the reassurances that I have provided, I hope that the Committee will recognise that the powers and objectives that we have set out for the Building Safety Regulator are sufficient to undertake the law as required, with respect to climate change. Other Government agencies, such as the Environment Agency, are also undertaking that important work. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
“(6) In this Part, ‘safety’ means risk of harm arising from the location, construction or operation of buildings which may injure the health and wellbeing of the individual.”
This amendment defines safety within this part of the Bill.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. For many of us in this room our homes have been a place of sanctuary and safety, but for far too many that has not been the case. We have remained in our homes to protect the NHS and save lives, but too many have been housed in cramped, damp, poorly designed and shoddily constructed homes. Their immediate environment has been polluted by the air they breathe, and they have lacked space, whether communal or recreational. We have an opportunity to apply the lessons of the pandemic, which we are all familiar with, particularly our constituents, to create safe and healthy homes and communities.
By broadening the definition of safety in this part of the Bill, the amendment provides an opportunity to speak about risks beyond high-rise buildings and fire, and would address housing health and safety issues the Bill’s title claims to address. The Town and Country Planning Association’s written evidence points out that health risks and harms such as air pollution, overheating and noise pollution, as well as more indirect issues, such as poor accessibility or walkability, insecurity, lack of access to green space and cramped living conditions, are not covered by the Bill but undermine people’s wellbeing and health and ultimately their safety. I therefore hope that the Minister will consider the amendment.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Again, I find myself being slightly repetitive. I do not disagree with the sentiments of the hon. Member for Weaver Vale. On this point, he and I will probably find a lot of common ground. However, the amendment strays slightly into the planning space—I almost get the impression that the hon. Gentleman is perhaps trying to tease the Minister to give us a sneak peak of what might be in the planning Bill in the Queen’s Speech. Our local planning authorities should consider these matters when they determine planning, and I know from the local councils I deal with that they do. They do have conversations when they look at the design of a particular development. They consider what impact it will have, whether there will be space to live, and whether people will feel they can live there meaningfully.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s belief that the amendment strays into planning, but it talks about the
“risk of harm arising from the location, construction or operation of buildings which may injure the health and wellbeing of the individual.”
Where, particularly in the construction or operation of buildings, are the planning issues? If a building is operating unsafely or the construction is unsafe, irrespective of the height or what the building is used for, the lack of safety is not a planning issue, but a construction issue.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, and I see her point, but I maintain the point that I made: we are slightly straying here. I see what she says, because if a building is fundamentally unsafe, of course the new Building Safety Regulator would need to intervene. I question whether we need the amendment to say that, though. I am concerned that perhaps these conversations are happening before time. Broadly speaking, although I agree with the sentiments behind the amendment, I just think that operationally—
We are all in agreement—including, very importantly, many of the witnesses who gave evidence—that the regulator sits correctly in the Health and Safety Executive. Health and safety are paramount under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. When I think about how buildings are constructed, including some buildings that we are all very familiar with—thousands of buildings up and down the country—I see that the impact on our constituents, residents and leaseholders’ mental health is tremendous. That is because of the built environment. The interplay between health, homes and communities is crystal clear.
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. One point that I would make, now that I have been able to gather my notes, is that clause 5 kind of addresses the issue. It says:
“The regulator must keep under review—
(a) the safety of people in or about buildings in relation to risks as regards buildings, and
(b) the standard of buildings.”
To pick up on the point that the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth made, the Bill already does that.
On the points that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale articulated very well on wellbeing and the need for homes that are placed so that people can live and thrive, from my experience those conversations are had at the planning stage and the determination stage. On the safety element, again I do not disagree with the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth. She is right that the regulator needs to look at that. From my reading of the Bill, clause 5 address that. Although the sentiments behind the amendment are absolutely right, clause 5 half deals with that, and we have a planning process that deals with the other half. From that perspective, we are already doing this within the structures in which we are already operating. Again, I agree with the sentiments, but operationally there are ways in which we are already doing it.
I have been struck by the outbreak of cross-party consensus on the content of this and the previous amendment. The dispute is about where it sits. If Government Members do not wish to see it in the Bill and we do not yet have a planning Bill to look at, I wonder whether the Minister might be able to provide some assurances that he would be willing to consider setting up an alternative mechanism that would be in between planning and housing, to look at precisely these kinds of issues that come up, as a form of horizon scanning.
On a slightly different note, which is slightly tangential to the amendment, we took evidence in our hearings, particularly from the Fire Brigades Union, on the need for a mechanism to do horizon scanning. I wonder whether that might be the place to take up these kinds of issues, and whether the Minister might be willing to provide assurances that he would consider such a proposal.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I do not think I was articulate enough when discussing the previous amendment, when we talked about the process of adding amendments. I feel strongly that legislation needs to be functional and clear, and that it should be implemented as swiftly and simply as possible. It has to be understood by lay people, even if they are reading it in a rush, as we have seen with the amazing witnesses who have come forward, having become building experts because they have had to look into issues in their own buildings.
I fear that giving the regulator a role and an objective to prevent the injury of the health and wellbeing of an individual is a recipe for challenge and confusion, even though it may be well meaning.
I will keep my intervention brief; you, Mr Davies, are seasoned in keeping them as such. The regulator is what it says on the tin: it is a health and safety executive, covering health and wellbeing and certainly safety. I actually disagree with the point that the hon. Member is making, quite eloquently and powerfully.
I will come to that intervention shortly, but I was just about to say that a quick google of the definition of the word “wellbeing” is quite telling. The top result notes that it is
“a state of being comfortable, healthy or happy.”
As Members know, one man or woman’s happiness and comfort is another man or woman’s woe. A quick search of “wellbeing” hashtags across Instagram is even more illuminating as to what makes people healthy, happy, and feeling that the “wellbeing” box is ticked. My overarching view is that we do not want to be too prescriptive to the regulator.
I relayed this point to my right hon. Friend the Minister earlier. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very important that the regulator should not be siloed in its approach to building safety? While I agree with the point that she is articulating about the broad definition of welfare, does she agree that it is going to be important to ensure that the regulator is looping in with different agencies and organisations, so that it can take a holistic approach to its objectives?
I absolutely agree with that point.
As I said regarding an earlier amendment, the definition of the requirements and the core functions as set out to the Building Safety Regulator will require it to go out to a range of different agencies. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale made a point about the Health and Safety Executive. I am a member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions. The Health and Safety Executive is world-leading in many ways, and is going in and out of businesses looking at, for example, issues surrounding covid. It is very much people-focused, and I believe that giving the regulator the absolute ability to determine safety is important. I do not think that the amendment is necessary; I think it could end up creating more confusion and issues, particularly surrounding what health and wellbeing means to individuals. As such, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Davies. The Minister has said that this Bill will bring in a new era for building safety, but will it? I agree that it is better than nothing—it is definitely an improvement on the legislative framework that we have had until now—but I am concerned about all of the gaps where people are working in, living in and occupying the many buildings that are outwith the scope of the Bill as currently drafted. That is why amendment 10, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale, needs to be in the Bill. As many witnesses have told us, the safety of a building depends on a range of factors, including its location and what it is used for. If a tower block is located underneath the arrival path of an airport, for instance, that is a safety issue as well as a planning issue. As we will see in later clauses, so many occupants and so many types of buildings are excluded from this Bill. It is called the Building Safety Bill and, in my view, a building safety Bill should be about making all buildings safe.
It is not clear whether the Bill will protect students in student accommodation. We all remember when fire ripped up the sides of The Cube in Bolton, so are student residences protected? Are care home residents covered by the scope of this Bill; will they be protected if a fire rips through their building or up its sides? Of course, care home residents are, almost by definition, among the least mobile in our communities, perhaps superseded only by occupants of hospital beds. They cannot move quickly in the case of a fire, and my understanding is that they are excluded from the scope of the Bill.
Children in their schools and, as I said, the staff working in and people visiting any of these buildings are also excluded. And what about residents occupying dwellings in existing buildings that are dangerous in some other way? I mentioned the Paragon in my constituency. Inspections following the post-Grenfell cladding removal found that the building was basically about to fall down. It was an approved building system built a little over 15 years ago and, as I said, the flammable cladding had already been removed.
Subsequent clauses limit the scope of the Bill to residential buildings over 18 metres in height. Let me remind the Committee of another residential building. It was only four storeys in height and had no flammable cladding, but fire ripped through it in 11 minutes once it had taken hold. That was Richmond House in Worcester Park, and that was post Grenfell too; I do not think it had even been occupied when Grenfell went up.
Our amendment would amend the Bill’s scope to define safety as meaning the
“risk of harm arising from the location, construction or operation of buildings which may injure the health and wellbeing of the individual.”
I have just been talking about fire, but of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale has said, safety means a range of other things. It can mean overheating, lack of ventilation, the risk of a building falling down, badly fitted fixtures and fittings, and so on. I think the amendment would do the right thing by defining the Bill’s scope in a way that reflects its title. I am going not only by my own views, but by what many of the witnesses told us in their evidence.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West that I should not be led down the path of discussing the planning Bill, for two reasons: first, that feast is yet to be enjoyed by the Committee and other Members of the House; and secondly, Mr Davies, I am sure that you would quickly draw me back to the path of procedural righteousness. However, I can say that in terms of the design of buildings, their space requirements, the infrastructure and the built environment that is there to support them, there are means to ensure that the wellbeing of residents is supported and enhanced. We will, I am sure, say more about that specifically when the planning Bill comes before us.
The hon. Member for St Albans raised the question of the Building Safety Regulator or some other body having responsibility for horizon scanning. I can assure her that the Committee will see when we get to clause 5 that the Building Safety Regulator does have a responsibility to horizon scan. I will say more about that in a moment. She also asked whether I would consider another body or agency to do the work of identifying and enhancing wellbeing. I am always happy to receive proposals, but they have to be sensible, coherent and worked through, and of course they also have to pass the test of Her Majesty’s Treasury, which is generally called upon to pay for these things. However, if she makes a proposition, I will look at it.
I am grateful to Opposition Members for raising the Building Safety Regulator’s statutory objective focused on securing people’s safety, and for ensuring that the Committee has had an opportunity to debate the meaning of safety in that context, but I cannot accept the amendment. It is unnecessary.
The existing objectives of the Building Safety Regulator are broad enough to cover the key aspects of wellbeing and safety. Further, the proposed change could have the unintended effect of undermining the focus of the Building Safety Regulator on preventing another tragedy like Grenfell—a goal I am sure the whole Committee shares.
On wellbeing, I draw the Committee’s attention to the regulator’s objective to improve the standard of buildings. This is a broad objective and it sits alongside a crucial new oversight function which we will consider in greater detail when we reach clause 5, as I said to the hon. Member for St Albans. The oversight role means that the Building Safety Regulator will monitor the safety and standards of buildings and make recommendations to Ministers and to industry on changes to building standards.
Building standards are defined broadly in the Bill and would include building regulations. Section 1 of the Building Act 1984 allows building regulations to address “welfare and convenience” as well as health and safety, so the Building Safety Regulator can already consider issues such as access, damp—an issue raised by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale—and heating, which affect welfare and go beyond simple physical safety.
I further reassure the Committee that the Building Safety Regulator’s objective on safety already covers all types of risks to safety that flow from the building, whether they relate to its location, construction or management. Therefore, the amendment is not necessary to ensure that the regulator’s objectives cover building standards relevant to wellbeing, and safety issues resulting from a whole range of matters linked to the building are already properly covered. The amendment could also have unfortunate unintended consequences by seeking to redefine safety to include wellbeing.
Setting up a new Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive is critical for delivering the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review and for taking the action necessary to prevent a tragedy like Grenfell Tower from ever happening again. The Government believe that Parliament should give the new Building Safety Regulator a clear objective on safety. The Government consulted on including a statutory objective focused on safety, and it received overwhelming support, including from the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government and stakeholders. The amendment would add a definition of safety to the regulator’s statutory objective and other clauses in part 2 of the Bill that is broader than the word’s meaning in everyday language.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud googled “wellbeing” and gave us its meaning. She also mentioned its meaning on Instagram. I am not on Instagram, but I am prepared to believe my hon. Friend’s confirmation of the broad meaning of the word. The amendment expands the definition of “safety” to a degree to which I do not think we can accept.
Our assessment is that introducing the concept of wellbeing into the safety objective of the Building Safety Regulator’s function to facilitate safety in high-risk buildings makes the provisions less clear. The Building Safety Regulator should have a clear priority to secure physical safety and take the actions necessary to prevent another tragedy like Grenfell, and we are concerned that broadening the focus to include wellbeing would risk undermining the clarity of the statutory objective and dilute the regulator’s clarity of mission.
It would also risk confusion, because the regulator’s objective in clause 3 and its broad function in clause 4 to facilitate safety in high-risk buildings would define safety with wellbeing, while other critical provisions of the Bill, such as those in part 4, would not. That would make the Bill less coherent. It would make the regulator’s role less clear if it were to seek to fulfil its safety objective and role under clause 4 while implementing a part 4 regime looking at safety in a different way. If the Building Safety Regulator’s role were unclear, that would make its challenge even harder and could risk the development of a new system that is less proportionate and adds unnecessary costs and inconvenience for leaseholders and residents. The Government do not want to confuse or extend the Building Safety Regulator’s role at the risk of imposing extra costs and extra works on residents and leaseholders. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale will agree to withdraw amendment 10.
Turning to clause 3, legislation to create arm’s length bodies typically provides for a small number of clear objectives for the new body to give clarity on its purpose and mission—hence our concern about amendments 11 and 10. Such legislation often provides guidance on the principles to follow when regulating. The Government believe that it would be valuable for Parliament to set the new Building Safety Regulator clear objectives so that it knows what it is aiming to achieve in undertaking its functions and the principles under which it will deliver its operational work.
The clause proposes two crucial objectives for the new regulator. As I and other hon. Members have said, we must learn the lessons of the Grenfell fire and the independent review on safety that followed it. Our reformed building safety regime needs to ensure that residents are safe, and feel safe, in their homes. The first objective, therefore, is that the Building Safety Regulator must exercise its functions in a way that secures the safety of people in and about buildings in relation to the risks arising from those buildings. That objective covers the safety of people either in a building or in the immediate vicinity of a building who could, for example, be struck by falling masonry. We consulted on including a statutory safety objective, and there was overwhelming support.
The Building Safety Regulator’s second objective is about improving building standards. The regulator’s role will not be limited to safety; it will, as I indicated, become the Government’s key independent adviser on setting building standards. The regulator will improve competence levels and accountability in the building control sector by leading the creation of a unified professional and regulatory structure for building control. The regulator will work with industry to drive up the competence of those working on buildings.
When delivering those crucial functions, the Building Safety Regulator’s role will go well beyond safety. It will also need to consider environmental standards, sustainable development, and power and water, to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West alluded. Therefore, it is important that its objectives are not limited only to safety but include improving the wider standards of buildings. That second objective would be fulfilled, for example, through the Building Safety Regulator providing expert advice to Ministers to change a building standard or take steps that lead to more consistent compliance within an existing standard.
This objective is about improving the quality of construction, delivering better and safer buildings for users and ensuring that the Building Safety Regulator’s statutory objectives extend to environmental standards. Clause 3 also sets out principles of regulatory best practice to which the regulator must have regard when delivering its main operational functions. Under the principles, operational activity should be consistent, transparent and accountable. That can be secured by grounding operational activity in published policy and guidance, and publishing performance metrics about how the activity was undertaken. Critically, the principles set out that the Building Safety Regulator will be proportionate and will target activity where it is really needed. In July, the Government published independent expert advice on medium and lower-rise blocks, which demonstrated the extreme risk aversion from parts of industry and what that has left leaseholders facing: costly and disproportionate bills for remediation.
I am confident that the Health and Safety Executive will be a proportionate regulator. I want it to be a proportionate regulator of high-rise residential and other in-scope buildings, focusing its regulation on what is necessary to save lives. We selected the HSE after independent advice, and due to its more than 40 years’ experience of delivering robust but proportionate regulation. I believe it is appropriate that Parliament should give the Building Safety Regulator clarity that it should deliver in a proportionate and targeted way by putting those principles on the face of the Bill.
The conversations we have had about EWS1 relate specifically to the users—the lending sector—that use the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors EWS1 form, which of course is not a Government form, to determine whether a building requires external wall system works or remediation. I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that we have had very good conversations with the lending sector and the risk sector, which recognise that the use of EWS1 has got out of proportion, and that it really should not be used in the way it has been used on a very large number of buildings. I do not think that issue is specific to the clause at hand, so I will say that and leave it there.
These building functions are the functions given to the regulator under this Bill, the Building Act 1984 and regulations made under the two pieces of legislation. The building functions cover an additional Health and Safety Executive function, which future regulations define as building functions and certain related functions under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The building functions can also be added to by regulation. For example, regulations under planning regulation making the Health and Safety Executive a statutory consultee at planning gateway 1—that answers one of the Committee members’ questions—could be added to the building functions.
This clause ensures that the Building Safety Regulator will focus on resident safety and improving building standards, while acting in a targeted and proportionate way, and I commend it to the Committee.