Clause 38 - Breach of building regulations

Part of Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 23rd September 2021.

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Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West 12:00 pm, 23rd September 2021

I, too, welcome the clause. I wish to raise a couple of points with the Minister about the defences under proposed new section 35(2) of the Building Act, relating to instances where duty holders believe wrongly that another duty holder has reported an incident. It will be

“A defence to the offence of failure to report where the person being prosecuted was not aware of the occurrence which gave rise to the requirement to report”.

I want to ensure that the scope of the defences is as tight as it can be. Clearly, there is a balance to be struck. We are fully aware that incidents happen; human failure can happen and we cannot eliminate that, so we have to take account of that within the regulatory framework, but we need to tighten the circumstances where this defence can be used. I am conscious that there is a risk that developers will see this as an opportunity to do some finger-pointing and say, “It wasn’t me. It was him,” or, “No, he missed that and I missed that.” I know that is not the intention behind the defences under clause 38, but can my right hon. Friend the Minister assure me that there will be appropriate guidance on implementation and enforcement of the provisions of clause 38, which is really important?

We have an obligation to follow through on what Dame Judith Hackitt noted in her report, particularly about the regulatory landscape. Ultimately, we do not want people who have not done right by the people we are trying to protect to find some way of getting round things. I know my right hon. Friend has worked hard to ensure that does not happen, but given that the broader point of the clause is to send out a message, particularly through custodial sentences, that breach of building regulations is serious—we are dealing with human life, as we saw with Grenfell—I want to get some reassurance from him that he will tighten that up.

I welcome the enforcement period extension. I think that is right. My right hon. Friend touched on that in his comments, so I do not need to repeat that. If he can give me those reassurances, I will be immensely grateful.