Clause 7 - Proposals and consultation relating to regulations

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 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)

I should, by way of preamble, say that this is a rather technical clause. It sets out to specific Departments how regulations will be made in respect of parts 2 and 4. Schedule 5 inserts the equivalent provision into the Building Act 1984. These procedures therefore apply to all regulations relating to building regulation in England and the new regulatory regime in occupation.

The purpose of the provisions is twofold. First, they ensure that before regulations reach Parliament, the view of the expert independent Building Safety Regulator has always been taken. Secondly, they ensure that there is always an appropriate level of consultation before regulations are made. The only exceptions to that procedure are for regulations made under clauses 30, 59, 62 and 65 —we will get to them eventually—which prescribe building safety risks, define the buildings that are in scope of the new regulatory regime and allow clauses in part 4 to be disapplied for categories of high-rise residential buildings. Those regulations are exempted from the procedures in clause 7 and the Building Act equivalent clause because they have their own distinct procedures. We will get to those in due course.

The Building Safety Regulator has been established to oversee the safety and performance of buildings, and ensure that residents are safe in their homes. To achieve that, it will use its technical expertise and its expert committees and residents’ panel to provide independent advice to the Secretary of State on changes to regulations. It is, therefore, appropriate that this clause gives the Building Safety Regulator, as independent regulator, a formal right to propose regulations to the Secretary of State and sets out the process it must follow when doing so. It is also appropriate that where the Secretary of State brings forward regulations of his own initiative—and he may—he must first consult the expert independent regulator.

The Government also recognise that expertise will not stop at the doors of the Building Safety Regulator. It is critical that there be wider consultation on proposals for new regulations too. That point was made by other members of the Committee during consideration of earlier clauses. Therefore, this clause ensures that, whether it is the Building Safety Regulator or the Secretary of State who initiates the proposal for new regulations, they must first consult appropriate persons. That might be a full public consultation or a more targeted consultation, depending on the subject matter.

That process is consistent with the approach taken with health and safety regulations, where the Health and Safety Executive has, for more than 40 years, taken a proportionate approach to consulting parties before submitting proposals to the Secretary of State for consideration. As is the case now, the Secretary of State will make the final decision on what regulations will be made, after the benefit of expert independent advice.

Clause 7, alongside the equivalent Building Act provision, ensures that regulations will be made only after expert independent advice from the Building Safety Regulator. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:30 pm, 16th September 2021

We welcome the provisions in this clause—certainly the extensive consultations. I note that the residents’ panel is mentioned. I have a couple of questions. Who will the residents’ panel be made up of? Will it be genuinely representative, with a broad field of representatives?

On the discretionary nature of the consultation, whether it is about the Secretary of State or recommendations from the regulator to the Secretary of State, the clause refers to relevant Departments and Parliament, and it would be good to see something firmed up there. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on those matters.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I urge the Minister not to focus too extensively on residents’ panels, as that issue comes up in clause 11.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

I want to pick up on clause 7(4)(b), which says that the Secretary of State must consult other persons as he or she “considers appropriate.”

The evidence the Committee received was divided. Those in the industry praised the Government for their extensive consultation, with the draft Bill being improved as a result. We also heard pleas and cries of anguish from residents and the Fire Brigades Union, who said that for many decades they have been shouting into the wilderness, hoping that someone would listen. Might the Minister reflect on that? Although it may be appropriate for the Secretary of State to choose who he or she wishes to consult, there may be others who also need to be consulted and who need to be heard. I hope that is reflected in the clause or elsewhere as the Bill continues its passage.

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

I will not dwell overmuch on the residents’ panel, because you are quite right, Mr Davies, we address the panel in clause 11. Suffice to say that, be it relevant Government Departments or the members and composition of residents’ and other panels, we do not want to be prescriptive in the Bill.

We have to recognise that as time passes compositions of groups or committees may become redundant and—I will use this word again later on in my remarks—they may even ossify. It is right that the Secretary of State should have the flexibility, like the Building Safety Regulator, to react to and reflect on the scenarios of the future, whatever they may be, which is why we want the clause to retain its flexibility. The key objective of the clause is to ensure that the view of the expert, independent Building Safety Regulator, with all of the inputs that the regulator may collect, is provided and is always taken, before the regulations reach Parliament. Therefore, there is always an appropriate level of consultation before regulations are made by Ministers.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.