Clause 9 - Building Advisory Committee

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 16th September 2021.

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

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

With this it will be convenient to consider clauses 10 to 12 stand part.

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

I will speak first to clause 9. The independent review recommended that the Government should create a new structure to validate and assure guidance, oversee the performance of the built environment sector and provide expert advice. The Bill makes provision for the creation of a new building advisory committee to implement that recommendation.

The clause requires the Building Safety Regulator to use its powers under new subsection 11A(3) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to set up and maintain the new building advisory committee. The committee will provide independent expert advice on matters across the built environment and support the regulator in its role to keep the safety and standard of buildings under review, as we discussed on clause 5. It will also validate and assure technical guidance, such as approved documents, to ensure the guidance is fit for purpose. It will not advise on industry competence, which is the responsibility of the committee on industry competence, as the name implies. We will come to that committee and its functions in clause 10.

The Building Safety Regulator will appoint technical experts with a wide range of knowledge, skills and experience from across the built environment to provide it with advice. It may be helpful if I provide a short example of how the provision of advice may work. In carrying out its functions, the Building Safety Regulator may identify an emerging issue relating to buildings in part B of the guidance to the building regulations. That issue may need consideration and potentially some form of action. In assessing the issue, the Building Safety Regulator would ask the building advisory committee for advice on the matter. The building advisory committee would then consider the issue and provide the Building Safety Regulator with advice. The regulator can then assess that and use it to help make a recommendation for change, which could, for example, include amendments to guidance on part B of the building regulations.

The committee will also advise on other work that the Building Safety Regulator may from time to time ask it to carry out in support of the regulator’s functions. Clause 9(3) abolishes the Building Regulations Advisory Committee for England, which was established under section 14 of the Building Act 1984. The Government’s intent is that the building advisory committee will build on the work done previously by the Building Regulations Advisory Committee by having a wider remit with the strategic oversight to advise the Building Safety Regulatoron matters across the entire built environment.

The building advisory committee will be resourced by a range of independent and impartial members with a wide purview of the construction process, with technical knowledge and with demonstrable independence. The clause will play an important part in ensuring that the Building Safety Regulator has access to the support and expert advice required to enable it to deliver its crucial work.

I now turn to clause 10. The Government are committed to supporting the built environment industry to improve its competence, as the Committee has begun to hear. Dame Judith’s independent review challenged industry to show leadership and take responsibility for raising competence. It identified the need for a shift both in culture and in mindset. It found that the landscape for ensuring competence was fragmented and inconsistent—different disciplines have various routes for assessing competence, and they are not always clear or consistent. For culture change to be meaningful and lasting, the change needs to be led by industry, as only then will change be embedded in the industry’s culture.

Industry has been leading work to develop proposals for a competence oversight system. Those include an industry-led committee within the Building Safety Regulator to oversee improvements in competence and to ensure consistency across the industry. To implement that, clause 10(1) requires the Building Safety Regulator to establish the industry competence committee, to which I alluded earlier, and to provide support as necessary. Subsection (2) sets out the mandatory functions of the industry competence committee. Those include monitoring industry competence and facilitating its improvement, advising the Building Safety Regulator and others, providing guidance, and carrying out analysis and research on industry competence. Examples of how that will work in practice could include the committee convening stakeholders to enhance competence, providing a forum for industry to work collaboratively to monitor, refresh and review competence frameworks, and to drive competence more widely; or carrying out research and analysis to assess the effectiveness of the competence schemes operated in various sectors, and to see whether there are gaps that need to be addressed.

Under clause 10, the Building Safety Regulator may also set up sub-committees to consider specific issues or areas of interest, as it sees necessary. The clause will be instrumental in helping to drive up standards across the entire industry.

I now turn to clause 11. The independent review highlighted the importance of residents having a powerful voice, and the need to rebuild residents’ trust. To that end, the Bill includes major provisions in part 4 to give residents of high-rise residential buildings a much stronger voice in the safety of the buildings in which they live. The Government, however, believe that the voice of residents also needs to be heard by the Building Safety Regulator as it develops policies and systems that affect the lives and safety of residents of high-rise residential buildings.

Clause 11 is a vital step to ensuring that residents are able to have their voices heard and to influence policy at the national level. It mandates that the Building Safety Regulator must establish a residents’ panel. It is crucial that the residents’ panel brings the lived experience of residents into the heart of the regulator. That message came through quite clearly in the witness session evidence we heard in the last two sittings.

The Bill therefore requires that the residents’ panel must contain actual residents of high-rise residential buildings. The panel may also include organisations that support and represent residents, and owners of flats in high-rise residential buildings who may not live there at the time. The Building Safety Regulator will be able to seek the advice and support of the residents’ panel on a wide range of issues.

The Bill also requires that the residents’ panel must be consulted on matters that are likely to be of particular importance to residents of high-rise residential buildings. Specifically, the residents’ panel must be consulted on the Building Safety Regulator’s strategic plan and its system for handling residents’ complaints, and on crucial guidance relating to residents’ engagement, rights and obligations.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West 4:00 pm, 16th September 2021

I am sure we all agree that the inclusion of residents’ panels is absolutely vital. Does the Minister agree that the panels should be composed of the broadest possible range of residents? That would ensure that we do not have very small groups of residents who are not necessarily representative of the broader spectrum of those affected.

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I entirely agree. We want to be as broad and as inclusive as possible. We also want to ensure that residents and the groups to which they belong—expert groups and support groups—all have the opportunity to be represented on such a panel so that it is really broad and inclusive, and can provide sensible and coherent advice to the Building Safety Regulator.

The Health and Safety Executive recognises the importance of resident engagement—as we heard in Sarah Albon’s evidence a week ago today—and the challenge involved in ensuring a diverse membership that secures resident confidence, which is the point my hon. Friend just made. The Health and Safety Executive has already brought together a group, including residents, to plan for and advise on the setting up of the residents’ panel. Building on that, the Health and Safety Executive intends to bring together a residents’ panel on an interim basis ahead of legislation, so that it can benefit from residents’ advice on its shadow Building Safety Regulator work.

The Government believe it crucial that residents have a voice in the work of the Building Safety Regulator, and that the Building Safety Regulator is able to call on the insight and expertise of residents and their associated groups. The residents’ panel is an important step to ensuring that strong resident voice. In our consideration of clause 20, we will turn to further provision for wider resident engagement by the Building Safety Regulator. Having a residents’ panel in place will make certain that residents are able to contribute to key policy changes made by the Building Safety Regulator that relate to them and their homes. That will also empower the regulator to call on the expertise of the panel for insight and support wherever it deems that necessary.

I may have been a little premature in claiming that clause 11 was my final gambit in this particular outing, because I have to speak to clause 12. The Government believe that it is vital that the work of the Building Safety Regulator is supported by strong input from technical experts and residents, and that the regulator works closely with industry to support improved competence. We have just discussed clauses creating three committees that are intended to support those objectives: the building advisory committee, the committee on industry competence, and the residents’ panel.

Given the importance of engagement in those areas, it is right that the Bill does not rely simply on the Building Safety Regulator’s general power to set up committees. Instead, we have placed those committees in the Bill, giving an opportunity for them to be debated. However, placing the detail of a regulator’s committee structure in the Bill, as opposed to the committees themselves, carries considerable risks. We want the Bill to embed and last. Over a period of time, the committees could become ossified, to use the word I used previously. Their membership might become out of date. Their purposes might no longer be focused on the key building regulatory issues of the day.

In other words, we might end up with the right committees for the early 2020s, but the wrong committees to support the Building Safety Regulator to deliver expertly, sensitively and effectively in the early 2030s. By that point, the scope of the high-rise regime might be different, as might the types of people affected by the high-risk regime. Industry might have tackled the competence issues identified in the independent review, and be ready to fully take the lead on competence, with more responsibility.

The strong advice from the Health and Safety Executive, as an experienced and expert independent regulator, is that the Bill should include some flexibility to adapt the Building Safety Regulator’s committee structure over time. The names remain in the Bill, but the structure allows the regulator some flexibility. Clause 12 allows the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations to amend or repeal the provisions setting up the three statutory committees by regulations.

It is not unusual for Ministers to be involved in setting the strategic direction for a regulatory body. The Health and Safety Executive already works to a plan agreed by Ministers under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The 1974 Act, like the Building Safety Bill, gives the Health and Safety Executive a formal ability to propose changes to Ministers that would require regulations. HSE has more than 40 years’ experience delivering as an independent regulator, while advising Ministers on matters that could require changes made through regulations.

The power in clause 12 is a particularly important regulation-making power. It is crucial that the power is always used to adapt and improve the building safety framework. Therefore, the Bill provides substantial safeguards for its use.

Under Clause 7, no regulations can be brought forward unless they are proposed by the independent regulator or the independent regulator’s expert advice has been taken. There must also be appropriate consultation on proposed changes. Any regulations brought forward by the Secretary of State must then be approved by both Houses using the affirmative procedure, which will ensure that Parliament maintains oversight over the committee structure.

These substantial safeguards ensure that clause 12 will be used only as intended, to provide flexibility so that the Building Safety Regulator can learn from experience, ensure that the way in which it engages stakeholders reflects regulatory best practice, and improve, and for other purposes. The approach reflects more than 40 years of Health and Safety Executive experience. Since 1974, HSE has witnessed major changes in the profile of British industry. When it was formed, we had a significant steel industry and coal industry. Things have of course changed since then, as has the governance of industry, and we must recognise that the challenges that face high-rise residential dwellers at this time may also change, and the Building Safety Regulator must have the flexibility to accommodate those.

The committees on which the Health and Safety Executive can now call represent a rich mix of advisory and stakeholder-led bodies, each geared to the needs of the respective industries. Clause 12 creates an important flexibility to ensure that the Building Safety Regulator can refresh and improve the way in which it engages stakeholders, always reflecting best regulatory practice. Any material changes must receive the active support of both Houses of Parliament.

I believe that all these clauses, taken together, represent a very significant step forward in expert engagement with the Building Safety Regulator, and give proper facilities and flexibility for it within the usual and proper safeguards of Parliament. I commend them to the Committee.

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

Again, we broadly accept and welcome clauses 9, 10, 11 and 12. On clause 9, my main question to the Minister is about the panel of the building advisory committee. Who makes up that committee? What checks and balances will ensure that those in the industry responsible for this mess—the toxic landscape of the building safety scandal—do not have a chair at the top table, so to speak? I seek clarity on that point. On the interrelation between the residents’ voice, which we will come to when we debate later clauses, and the building advisory panel, it may be that some residents are experts in the building and construction industry.

On clause 10, which relates to industry competence, I was struck by the evidence of a broad array of stakeholders, who spoke about the cultural shift to professionalise the industry. I was particularly struck by the comments from Justin Bates, who was right to argue that it is difficult to legislate for a cultural shift; it will take time—a generation. The leadership, the drive, the regulation and, importantly, the accountability will prove to be a nudge factor, so I again welcome those aspects of the Bill.

Clause 11 speaks of the residents’ voice, which is a good thing. Grenfell United has been an incredibly strong advocate of the legacy of that tragedy. That is essential. If we look at the ITV and ITN work of Dan Hewitt, we see that there are big issues relating to the residents’ voice in the social sector and the private sector, so that is a welcome development. I ask the Minister, if it is possible today—it may not be—to expand on who will make up that residents’ panel. Will it truly be grassroots to the top table of all sectors? I take the point of the hon. Member for West Bromwich West that there could be some who are experts in the field. There are also training issues that would help to bring that voice to life.

The one concern that I have about clause 12—I think the Minister has answered this—is that a large amount of power is being given to the Secretary of State in relation to the nature of these committees, regardless of political persuasion in the future. Sometimes there could be a conflict of interest—there could be conflicting personalities. The Minister seemed to suggest that checks and balances would be hardwired into the system, in terms of accountability, in both Houses of Parliament.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his, I think, warm welcome of these clauses and proposals. He asked me a number of questions. With respect to clause 9, he asked who would form the building advisory committee. That committee will be appointed by the Building Safety Regulator itself. It will be formed of independent and impartial players, so it will not be a group of hand-picked ministerial appointments.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for clause 10. He asked who will form the residents’ panel. As I said earlier, we want to ensure that that panel is as wide a representation of dwellers in high-rise properties as it can be, and we will work closely with the Building Safety Regulator and HSE to make sure that a wide variety of panel members is included. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept that I am not going to specify now exactly how they are to be found, because we have to work that through, but we already have a regulator in shadow form working with residents. We will make sure that that work flows through into the real world of the Building Safety Regulator and its advisory committees.

Ministers usually try to answer questions as accurately as they possibly can when Opposition Members get to their feet and quiz them on the minutiae of matters before a Committee.

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

Indeed: the Opposition are there to quiz, question and probe. The responsibilities that the Secretary of State has with regard to the composition of the committees, the Building Safety Regulator, and HSE in general differ in no way from the existing responsibilities that Ministers have, so we are not trying to create a new beast. What we do want to do, of course, is to make sure that Parliament has appropriate oversight. That is why, as I said in my remarks, any changes to the structure of committees will be made through the affirmative procedure, so both Houses will be able to have their say on any material changes to the committees we have identified and put on the face of the Bill.

In conclusion, I thank the Committee for its consideration of these clauses. I think they are very important clauses for the Building Safety Regulator to have at its disposal, so I am grateful, and I commend them to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 10 to 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.