Clause 41 - Regulation of building control profession

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 23rd September 2021.

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Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 12:30 pm, 23rd September 2021

I beg to move amendment 18, in clause 41, page 50, line 24, at end insert—

“(7) Section 91B of this Act (cooperation and sharing of information between Welsh Ministers and other authorities) applies as if references to the Welsh Ministers included references to a person to whom the Welsh Ministers have delegated functions under this section.”

This amendment provides that section 91B of the Building Act 1984 (inserted by Schedule 5 to the Bill) applies in relation to a person to whom functions are delegated under section 58Y as it applies in relation to the Welsh Ministers.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 23 to 34.

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

This group of amendments deals with duties to co-operate and information-sharing powers between Welsh Ministers, fire and rescue authorities, local authorities and fire inspectors. Schedule 3, which we debated and disposed of on Tuesday, already contains very similar provisions for England. To reiterate, that schedule creates statutory information-sharing gateways and duties to co-operate between the Building Safety Regulator and other relevant public bodies. Furthermore, it allows local authorities and fire and rescue authorities to share information about building safety and standards and issues across all buildings, including buildings outside of the higher-risk regime regulated by the Building Safety Inspector.

Amendment 29 places duties to co-operate on Welsh Ministers and creates information-sharing powers for them, enabling them to work with other Welsh statutory bodies—fire and rescue authorities, fire inspectors, and local authorities. Sharing of information and co-operation are key elements in delivering the improvements that the Bill proposes. For Welsh Ministers, those duties and powers relate to their functions under part 2A of the Building Act 1984. Amendment 18 addresses the need for Welsh Ministers’ duty to co-operate and power to share information to be cascaded down where their functions in respect of building inspectors and/or building control approvers are delegated.

Amendment 25 removes the limitation on co-operation and information sharing between Welsh fire and rescue authorities, local authorities and fire inspectors, so that it is no longer restricted to higher-risk buildings only. Those bodies will work together across the whole range of buildings in Wales.

Amendments 24, 28 and 31 clarify that the duties to co-operate and powers to share information apply to Welsh fire and rescue authorities, as defined by amendment 33, and fire inspectors, defined by amendment 30. Amendment 34 mirrors clause 26, which we have already discussed and voted on. It confirms that information sharing under this provision must comply with the data protection legislation, so that people’s privacy rights are overridden only in certain specific circumstances. Amendments 23, 26, 27 and 32 make the consequential changes necessitated by the substantive amendments.

I am sure that Committee Members have followed all those amendments very closely, and I commend them to the Committee.

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

Again, these are very technical but necessary amendments, which ultimately simplify and unify building control legislation, processes and procedures, and enforcement.

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

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support. I commend the amendment to the Committee.

Government amendment 18 agreed to.

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

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

Dame Judith’s independent review raised serious concerns over the lack of a level playing field for approved inspectors and local authority building control. There were different statutory and non-statutory processes leading to incoherence, confusion and complexity in the system.

Clause 41 establishes a new registration and oversight regime to provide consistency across the public and private sector, and creates a new, unified building control profession. The new registration regime will raise standards in the sector and enhance public confidence by requiring a minimum level of demonstrated competence to provide building control services on different types of buildings. For the first time, individual building control professionals, whether in the public or private sector, will have to register with a regulatory authority. That is the Building Safety Regulator in England and the Welsh Ministers in Wales.

We intend for the registration process to involve the demonstration of competence against a shared framework. Registered professionals, who will be called “registered building inspectors”, will need to adhere to a common code of conduct. We will now be able to hold individuals accountable for professional misconduct or incompetence. That is the foundation for clause 43, in which we set out certain activities and functions that building control bodies can carry out only by using a registered inspector.

Together, these clauses will change the way building inspectors work with and for building control bodies, giving the consumer greater assurance that an experienced professional will be checking their building against regulations. We are introducing an updated registration regime for private sector building control bodies, currently known as approved inspectors. They will have to register with the regulatory authority to work as a registered building control approver and will be held to professional conduct rules. We are introducing sanctions and offences for misconduct to ensure that those organisations that supervise building works are held to high professional standards.

Clause 41 also allows the regulatory authority to delegate those registration functions to another body. We are introducing a new framework for the oversight of the performance of building control bodies, levelling the playing field for local authority building control and registered building control approvers. The regulatory authority will be able to set the operational standards defining the minimum performance standards that building control bodies must meet. It sets out the reporting requirements that will enable the regulator to collect information to assess and analyse the performance of building control bodies and make recommendations to drive up standards. It gives the regulatory authority investigatory powers when building control bodies breach the operating standards, and a series of escalating sanctions and enforcement measures to address poor performance issues.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

This is, obviously, a necessary and very technical clause, setting out a strong new regime of how we can improve competence levels and accountability in the building control sector. I wonder if he could clarify how the regulator will deal with poor performing building control bodies?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 12:45 pm, 23rd September 2021

We want to make sure that such a body has the right sanctions available to it. We want to give it a robust set of powers to investigate performance and, where appropriate, impose escalating sanctions. In the most serious cases, the powers will include the cancellation of the registration of the building control approvers. It will mean potentially the effective taking over of the function of a local authority building control by appointed officers from another local authority. We want to give the regulator the tools to ensure that building control bodies are improving safety and performance, driving up standards, and that, where they themselves are not performing, there is a means by which sanctions can be applied. Clause 41 is essential to creating a more robust and competent building control sector, and I commend it to the Committee.

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

As the Minister says, this will raise the bar and raise the standards of building control throughout, as recommended by Dame Judith Hackitt and the review. It will do so through its process procedure and, very importantly, enforcement and deterrent. One of the concerns the Opposition raised with other clauses is the potential to have a two-track approach to building control with buildings below 18 metres. What assurances can the Minister give that that will not be the case and that standards will be raised in buildings that are below 18 metres, say, from 11 to 18 metres?

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

I, too, welcome clause 41 and its effect on the Building Act. I want to raise a point with my right hon. Friend the Minister around clarity. We will effectively have two bodies in England and Wales that will deal with this. In England it is the regulator itself and in Wales it is Welsh Ministers. I would be grateful if he will confirm that he will ensure that his Department will keep that discussion ongoing. The importance of the clause, as with the rest of the Bill, is to ensure consistency. We talked in previous deliberations about cross-border work. We need to ensure that the professionals who would sit within this regime have consistency and are conducting work across the English-Welsh border to ensure that we keep the market going and continue to meet those home building targets.

I agree that the Bill is long overdue. As the hon. Member for Weaver Vale pointed out, it is about raising standards and ensuring that the profession knows what is expected of it. There is a broader point to be made on communication: making sure the points contained within clause 41 are communicated clearly, not just within the profession but more broadly. We have talked about how the impacts of making these regulatory and standards changes need to be communicated with the sector and with training providers, but they need to be communicated with the industry more broadly. If that is not done, we might have a situation in which people enter the industry without necessarily being clear about where they need to be. I would therefore ask the Minister to be sure that his Department continues to engage.

Considering the issues, the measure is long overdue. It is common sense and something that any other regulated profession would do. There is detail about the power to have investigations, and again we need to ensure that that system works and that the regulator is in place for that, in particular for proposed new section 58H—that system must flow properly. Sanctions, too, must be proportionate. The clause is a significant one, so I will not go into every single element of it, but will the Minister ensure that its implementation is reviewed and that we continue the discourse on it, notably on proposed new section 58I on sanctions for professional misconduct?

The regulator must ensure that it continues those discussions of what is appropriate. As we have touched on in other deliberations, circumstances change and things develop. I reiterate that to the Minister, and I ask him to ensure that his Department continues those communications, that the expectations of the industry are communicated and that under the mandate of clause 41 the regulator continues its conversations with Welsh Ministers, so that we can have consistency—that will be key, given its cross-border nature. We must ensure that the clause is implemented so it is how we want to see it work. I am sure he will, but I will be grateful for his reassurances.

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

I am happy to give those reassurances to my hon. Friend. We will need to take care as we plan the transition to the new regime. I assure him that in our discussions with Ministers in Wales, with other Departments and with the Health and Safety Executive we are exploring appropriate transitional arrangements to ensure that the building control sector moves smoothly and safely from one uneven playing field to a more even one, in an orderly way, as I said.

The hon. Member for Weaver Vale asked about the new registration regime. In the clause, we are attempting to create the oversight and the regime that will provide consistency across the public and private sectors, creating a new unified building control profession for all buildings in the sector. The new regime will not only raise standards in the sector, but enhance public confidence by requiring a minimum level of demonstrated competence to provide building control services on different types of buildings. One can imagine that with a high-rise, higher-risk building, the competence levels that the Building Safety Regulator requires could be higher than or different from those for other buildings. We might come to that in later clauses.

In the meantime, I hope that the Committee will agree that the clause is vital to create a more robust and competent building control sector. I commend it—

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

Or I will commend it shortly, after I have given way to the hon. Member for Brentford.

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

Brentford and Isleworth, to be precise, but I thank the Minister for being so generous in allowing my intervention. The submission from the Local Authority Building Control group welcomed this aspect of the legislation and the clause. It expressed one concern, which I am raising as a question, about CICAIR—Construction Industry Council Approved Inspectors Register—which is designated by the Secretary of State to register and provide the oversight of approved inspectors. Has the Minister taken on board its recommendation that immediate action is taken to strengthen the audit process of CICAIR to include the requirement for external independent technical auditing in advance of the Bill being enacted? It wants to do that in order to improve current performance and standards.

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

I am happy to work with CICAIR. We work with it to ensure that, for example, registration fees are proportionate. We will set out more details of that later. Fundamentally, we want to ensure that the registration and regulatory oversight process is sensible. I am happy to have further discussions with it and my officials about any appropriate audit trail. I am sure that the Building Safety Regulator—presently in shadow, but as it builds its approach—will also want to have those sensible discussions.

I will accept no more interventions and conclude by saying that the clause is essential to create a more robust and competent building control sector. I commend it to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 41, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Before I call the Government Whip, may I say to Members that it is customary to stand in your place if you want to indicate to the Chair that you wish to speak? I am not an auctioneer. I was a London taxi driver, so I am good at spotting various gestures, but it would be helpful if you could stand in your place.

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

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.