Clause 28 - Service of documents

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 21st September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 29 stand part.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Clauses 28 and 29 are quite short, and concern how documents will be validly served by the Building Safety Regulator. Clause 28 is a technical provision, setting out how documents will be validly served, whether physically or electronically, on and by the regulator, in connection with its functions under parts 2 and 4 of the Bill.

It may assist the Committee if I point out that service of documents under the Building Act 1984, as amended by part 3 of the Bill, is dealt with in section 94 of that Act. Section 94 is itself amended by paragraph 58 of schedule 5 to the Bill, to modernise it and take account of the regulator’s role as a building control authority. We are amending an amendment to another Bill. The effective provisions of clause 28 essentially mirror what is already in the Building Act, but updated to reflect changes in practice since 1984.

Turning briefly to clause 29, this provides key definitions used in part 2 of the Bill, and provides for a specific place within part 2 as a helpful index of the terms contained within it.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Without pressing the Committee further, I shall conclude my remarks there and commend it to the Chamber. The hon. Lady may wish to make a speech.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

If you put it in the form of a speech, then I am sure the Minister will have the courtesy to respond to you.

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

Again, we have moved on considerably since 1984. If we take our minds back to 1984—I notice that some probably cannot—we have since seen the development of emails and various other things. This certainly brings those provisions up to date, with the narrative descriptions contained in clause 29. I will give way to my hon. Friend and colleague.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Planning)

I thank my hon. Friend, and it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I wanted to pursue the question, which I raised with the Minister last week, on the definition of a residential building. Is it anywhere where one sleeps overnight—whether temporary, permanent, or one’s sole residential home? I listed a series of residential spaces that do not come under the definition of a normal tenancy or leasehold property, such as student accommodation, other forms of residential licences, hotels, guest houses, and so on. I wondered whether my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale could pursue this with the Minister in his contribution, referring to subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b) of clause 29.

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

I thank my colleague for her intervention. I am fairly confident that the Minister will oblige by furnishing her with an answer, if not now then soon.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

I am sure that many on the Committee are wondering what on Earth I could have to say about the service of documents. I would, of course, have given way to the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth. I was hoping to rise to put an important question to the Minister, but I am glad that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale was able to help the hon. Lady.

I know this is an incredibly technical clause, but I speak from some painful experiences around service of documents in my previous life. While it might seem straightforward and we look at the clause and think, “OK, fair enough. It is very prescribed and descriptive”, I must say that having explained how service of documents works to numerous people, that is not the case.

My right hon. Friend the Minister articulated incredibly well how it will function. On the face of it, it is straightforward. We look at subsection (2) on how documents may be given and think, “OK, that seems pretty straightforward to me”. I implore him—I hope I am not going astray, Mr Efford, but I am sure you will tell me if I am—that we must ensure this is communicated to the people who will be utilising it. These are people who may not have a lot of experience of how documents are served. They are not doing this all day, every day. From my past life, I know the pain of having people who do not have the experience and are trying to do this themselves, and it causes issue after issue.

One thing that may come out of this, which touches on some of my previous comments, is around the idea of data share and co-operation. Without sounding flippant, the documentation we served and the information that would be exchanged using the process will be an important part of a vital regulatory process. It is vital that we ensure that is communicated as clearly as possible and the individuals who use the processes laid out in clause 28 understand how that operates. I do not want to see circumstances where legitimate problems and concerns are delayed because of a misunderstanding or issue with the process.

I reiterate my concern that if we do not ensure the provisions of clause 28 are translated down in a usable way to individuals, we run the risk of processes we have built up to now and have deliberated in previous clauses not being as effective as we would like.

I am glad that the clause understands that times have moved on. Gone are the days when things were couriered round. Email has been revolutionary. I remember from my professional life having to run round to another firm’s office to serve stuff. I was the junior so I made tea and served documents.

I am happy to see an understanding that the provision can be amended under subsequent regulations too. We have to be conscious that time and technology moves on, and we must ensure the process can continue and still function as things progress. While this may seem to be a very technical clause—I hope I have answered the question as to why on Earth I am speaking on this particular point—it underpins the importance of this process. Ensuring that the service of documents is done in a clear way and that those who utilise the process, from the large corporations down to the individual, understand how it functions properly will be key to ensuring that everything we have done up until now functions appropriately. I am heartened by the Minister’s contribution and he was very clear. I am glad to see that, as with most clauses in the Bill, there is a degree of flexibility in clause 28, and it is a vital part of this important Bill.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West. Let me assure him that it is our intention through the clause to ensure that neither he nor anyone else has to jump on their moped and serve papers in a rather more 1984 way than they may ordinarily have to, given that now, as the hon. Member for Weaver Vale rightly identifies, email and modern methods of communication allow for a much more speedy and clear way of serving documents. We want to ensure that the law reflects that.

On the questions raised by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth about in-scope buildings, I do not want to stray on to other amendments and clauses unduly, but let me to try to help her by reminding her of what I said last week. In-scope buildings are high-rise residential properties of seven storeys, or 18 metres, or more. Other in-scope buildings include care homes of the requisite threshold and student accommodation, for example, because we have said that such properties need to have two or more dwellings. She offered a list of other potential properties. I think she mentioned hotels, which are covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and which tend to have a number of entrances and exits, and fire doors. Equally, prisons are covered by the 2005 order. I think there are seven immigration centres in the country, and none of them meets the height threshold that we have set out.

We have tried in all circumstances to act in a proportionate way that follows the advice and direction given to us by the independent review and Dame Judith Hackitt’s 53 recommendations. That does not, of course, preclude future changes to the Building Safety Regulator’s responsibilities. We have outlined how that may be done, and I am sure that we will go on, in further clauses, to do more of that. I hope that gives the hon. Lady some clarity on her question, which she managed, if I may say—tongue in cheek—to shoehorn into this clause. It is a skill not unknown to many of our other colleagues. I think that you have been guilty of that, Mr Efford—or rather, you have demonstrated the skill—in another context.

I remind the Committee that the clause essentially mirrors one that is already in the Building Act 1984. It updates it to reflect the changes in practice, as well as technology, since 1984, while clause 29 defines key definitions used in part 2 of the Bill, which we will further come to. They are technical clauses, which have none the less generated some interesting and, if I may say so, skilful debate, and I commend them to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 28 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(Scott Mann.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.