Clause 33 - Dutyholders and general duties

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 21st 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 (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Clause 33 relates to amendments to schedule 1 to the Building Act 1984 to enable building regulations to require prescribed appointments and to impose duties on those appointed and other relevant persons.

We agree with recommendations 2.1 and 2.2 of Dame Judith’s review, which ask that key roles and responsibilities in the procurement, design and construction process are specified. Clause 33 contributes to their implementation. It is only right that those who commission building work and who participate in the design and construction process take responsibility for ensuring that building safety is considered throughout the project, thereby ensuring that residents are safe and, importantly, feel safe.

The amendments to the 1984 Act create a power that we will use to make regulations that will identify and place duties on those involved in the procurement, design, construction and refurbishment of all buildings. The duty holders will be those people or organisations who commission the building work and undertake the design and construction or refurbishment building work. In other words, they will be clients, principal designers, designers, principal contractors and contractors, and all other persons involved in the work.

These are the key roles that are most important in initiating, overseeing or influencing activity to ensure building regulations compliance throughout the procurement, design and construction phases. Duty holders will be required to actively consider and manage building safety risks throughout the process, to ensure that designs, if built, comply with building regulations requirements as well as the building work.

Draft regulations have been published alongside the Bill. The Committee may find the draft Building (Appointment of Persons, Industry Competence and Dutyholders) (England) Regulations 2021 useful for more detail. The draft regulations set out the framework of duty holders and their duties. The main duty holders will be the client, the principal designer and the principal contractor. However, everyone undertaking design or building work, including designers and contractors, will also have duties.

The duty holders will need to have systems in place to plan, manage and monitor the design work and building work, to ensure they co-operate and communicate with each other, and to co-ordinate their work. The regulations also require duty holders to have the relevant competence—the skills, knowledge, experience, behaviours, and organisational capability—to undertake work, and to ensure that those they appoint are also competent to carry out that work. We will discuss that in more detail when we come to consider clause 34.

The regulations made under clause 33 will hold to account all involved in building work, making them responsible for the work they do and the decisions they make, ensuring those buildings are safe for those who live and work in them. I commend clause 33 to the Committee.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

Clause 33 is just common sense, really. It is ultimately about ensuring that those people who are appointing people, or those organisations that are making appointments to do work, are doing so in a way that is right and safe. I am conscious that I should not stray on to clause 34, but it is about ensuring that they appoint people with the ability to do the work and to perform those basic duties that we would expect.

I am slightly surprised that we need clause 33, to be honest, because to me it is common sense that if we were going to appoint people to do a job, we would make sure they could do it properly in the first place. None the less, we have seen, and we have heard in the evidence, that it is needed. It is probably a sad indictment of the market and the industry we are dealing with that we need to specifically prescribe in legislation that people who are appointed to do the work can do so in the way they need to, and that we will require building regulations to specify what that looks like.

I turn to the general duties as specified in new paragraph 5B. A lot of this stuff would appear to be relatively straightforward; it is just about ensuring that people are undertaking the work in the right way. I will not make too many comments on industry competence, because I appreciate that that is addressed further on, but, broadly speaking, for many of these clauses it will be interesting to see the regulations that follow and how that is prescribed.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

Is the hon. Gentleman wondering, as I am, about professional indemnity insurance and the ability of all duty holders to secure that?

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

That is a good question. What will be needed is a broader conversation with the industry, and the evidence from the Association of British Insurers was about that industry engagement. What we are trying to do with this legislation is to bring about cultural change, so that cultural change must be holistic. As part of that, we must be open to having those conversations with insurers and with all parts of the sector. I am just thinking about these duty holders, and the point raised by the hon. Gentleman is about remembering what the sector is.

Obviously, it is not just the firms that are building or constructing these developments: it is the insurers, the subcontractors and the people who provide the materials. The sector encompasses all those people as well, so how far do we extend these duties? Again, these are questions that we are going to have to deal with, perhaps through secondary legislation: how far do those appointments go? What do they look like? Who are we appointing? Who are we applying them to?

Those are all academic questions that I do not wish to tempt my right hon. Friend the Minister to answer today, because I appreciate that we will go into further detail about them, but I think that the point made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby triggers a further conversation that is definitely worth having. Broadly speaking, though, clause 33 is about doing what many of us would consider to be common sense, and for that reason—although it is quite surprising that we need it—I fully support it and hope that it becomes part of the Bill.

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

To reiterate, the effect of clause 33 is that those who commission a building, design it, construct it, and may refurbish it will be required to make formal appointments, so that everybody knows what everybody else’s role in this is, and proper and effective enforcement action can be taken against them.

A principal designer has to be appointed, and the role of that designer is understood; a principal contractor is appointed, and the role of that contractor is understood. The new regulator will be able to hold the principal persons to account using the range of enforcement tools that we have discussed, and we have also discussed the mechanisms for funding them as effectively as possible. Local authority building control will also have a range of enforcement powers, so although this clause may be common sense—as my hon. Friend has suggested—it is an important mechanism for codifying building safety, while also making sure that there is sufficient flexibility in the law to take account of future changes in circumstances that the House of Commons may wish to rapidly respond to through secondary legislation, rather than writing all the law on the face of the Bill.

Although clause 33 is possibly common sense, and although it is yet another rather dry and technical clause, I reiterate that it holds everyone involved in building work accountable for the work they do. It makes them responsible for the work they do and the decisions they make, which will ultimately help to ensure that golden thread of information and the safety of buildings. As such, I commend it to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 33 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.