Clause 5 - Duty to keep safety and standard of buildings under review

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 16th September 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review recommended the establishment of a new system oversight structure, which should include oversight of the performance of the built environment. In our public consultation, the Government sought views on what statutory objectives are needed to guide the regulator’s broader regulatory remit, which included promoting building safety and the safety of people in and around buildings.

To meet that objective, we proposed that the Building Safety Regulator should have a function to oversee the building safety system. That would include activities such as monitoring and driving improved performance across the building safety and wider regulatory system; advising on and preparing proposals for changes to building regulations, as needed; overseeing the development of appropriate technical guidance, either preparing guidance directly for approval by the Secretary of State or validating and quality assuring technical guidance for the construction industry; advising industry and Government on research into new or emerging risks; and working with other regulators and enforcement bodies to achieve safety and other outcomes for buildings.

Clause 5 gives effect to that function and places a legal duty on the Building Safety Regulator to keep the safety and standards of buildings under review. As proposed in our consultation, the Building Safety Regulator will work with the construction industry, any interested parties such as the British Standards Institute, technical experts and committees to make recommendations to Government on changes to guidance and regulations. It will also work with industry to identify and share best practice, to drive cultural change and improve standards.

The regulator will review standards and collect data from building control bodies and other information sources such as residents panels, research and any other forms of sector intelligence from other national regulators or enforcement bodies, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud suggested. That information will be used to analyse current and emerging risks to building safety and performance.

An important element of the oversight structure is the new building advisory committee, which will be established in the Building Safety Regulator to provide expert advice. The Building Safety Regulator will work with its building advisory committee to review the safety of buildings constructed using specific methods or materials following incidents of structural failure. Following the review, if the Building Safety Regulator considers that an amendment to building regulations is needed, it will make that recommendation to the Secretary of State following a public consultation.

We will discuss the building advisory committee in more detail when we consider clause 9, but overall these activities, taken together, will be an important function of the regulator. They will enable the regulator to review and monitor the safety and standards of buildings, and propose changes when they are needed. This function is an important one and I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Clause 5 gives building safety regulators the flexibility to monitor the safety of buildings and the standard of builders, thereby allowing the building advisory committee, which the Minister referred to, and essentially the regulator to respond quickly to emerging systematic failures in the industry, which certainly has not been the case in the past, with external wall systems and cladding systems for example, rather than there just being a drip-drip of evidence. We therefore welcome the clause and it will certainly add transparency to the system.

I have one question for the Minister. Beyond the consultation with residents that he mentioned and a recommendation to the Secretary of State, what engagement will there be with parliamentarians?

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

I, too, welcome the clause. I think it is representative of the broad intention in the Bill for there to be collaboration, because collaboration will be a really important part of this story as we move forward. I know how it complements the building advisory committee, which we will talk about more broadly later.

It is really positive that there will be this ongoing review. That is absolutely what is needed and it is right that it will be done in a way that brings together all of the stakeholders who are qualified to review the safety of buildings and review these regulations, and ensure—this is a point I touched on in an earlier contribution—that with the pace of change as we move forward, we ensure that the homes we build in the future are indeed safe and indeed places that people can live in without fear.

We heard in the evidence sessions—it was a point made by all the witnesses we spoke to—about the importance of collaboration, conversation and talking. To echo some of the comments by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale, it will be important to ensure that within the building advisory committee there is breadth of expertise. That is the one point that I will press on my right hon. Friend the Minister. As this process continues, we need to ensure that there is a true breadth of expertise, from fire specialists, surveyors, members of local authorities and, to some degree, parliamentarians too, as well as from residents, to ensure that we bring in the full range of the landscape and ensure that the Bill is as comprehensive as it can be, because there is a real opportunity here to do something that I do not think we do very often, which is to review these landscapes regularly and ensure that they meet the needs of the people who know this situation through their lived experience.

This is a really positive clause that will provide real opportunities, so I wholeheartedly support it. However, as with many measures in the Bill, we must ensure that when it comes to the operation of this measure, it works.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the Committee for its consideration and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West for making it clear that we want the Building Safety Regulator to have a wide ambit, and the opportunity to consult with a variety of players and reflect upon their advice.

I hope that the hon. Member for St Albans sees the opportunity that this measure provides to the regulator to horizon-scan and consult, and reflect upon information received, and thereby give the Secretary of State, or indeed the sector, sensible advice.

The hon. Member for Weaver Vale asked a question—possibly a leading one—about what the engagement and involvement of Parliament will be. That rather reflects an amendment that I think the hon. Member for St Albans tabled today about parliamentary consultation, and it may have some bearing on clause 7, which we will come to eventually.

Let me tell the hon. Member for Weaver Vale that Parliament has a variety of means—as you know more than many of our colleagues, Mr Davies—to ensure that the Executive is held to account, that questions can be asked and that answers will be given. I am sure that Parliament, if it feels that it does not have a way, will find a way of engaging effectively with the Building Safety Regulator.

This is an important clause, which everyone can and should support. It places a legal duty on the regulator to keep the safety and standard of buildings under review. It will enable the regulator to review and monitor the safety and standard of those buildings, and to propose changes to the appropriate authorities when needed. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.