Clause 44 - Default powers of appropriate national authority

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 23rd 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)

I will speak a little to this clause, because I think it bears some scrutiny. The Government are committed to driving up the standard of building control. Clause 44 strengthens the powers in relation to failing local authorities by giving the Secretary of State a new power in England to make an order to transfer building control functions of a failing local authority to another local authority. Currently, the Secretary of State only has the power to transfer the functions of a failing local authority to himself.

The clause should be read in conjunction with clause 41, and in particular proposed new section 58Z7 of the Building Act 1984, under which the regulator will be able to recommend that the Secretary of State makes an order to transfer the functions of a failing local authority building control department. Where such a department has consistently failed to meet the required standards and that is putting the safety of persons in or about buildings at risk, the Secretary of State could, for example, transfer only the management of the building control function to another local authority. That would mean that senior officers or managers from another authority would manage the failing building control department to return it to full compliance. Once the performance issues of the failing authority have been addressed, the Secretary of State will consult the regulator and revoke the order, returning the building control function to the local authority.

The clause makes a number of consequential and clarificatory amendments to sections 116 to 118 of the 1984 Act, including amending section 118 of the Act to allow for the variation or revocation of an order by the appropriate national authority to return the transferred functions to the original local authority. The Secretary of State must first consult the Building Safety Regulator and make additional provisions to deal with the transfer and discharge of any liabilities through the revoking or new order.

The amendments in clause 44 are important for improving the competence of building control teams, and I commend the clause to the Committee.

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

I will be brief in my remarks to the Minister. I am just looking for some clarity and reassurance. The Executive and the Secretary of State obviously hold a lot of power here. What checks and balances will be built in, regardless of the political complexion of the Secretary of State?

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

Just to clarify, the present law allows the Secretary of State to transfer only to himself the power to take on the functions of a failing local authority. In terms of checks and balances, what we are trying to do is allow the Secretary of State greater discretion to transfer to another appropriate local authority the authority to discharge those functions on behalf of the failing local authority while it is brought back into competence. The effect is to ensure that another local authority—possibly one that is closer to the one that has failed or is similar in terms of the housing stock, and that has a greater degree of historical success in dealing with such issues—can perform the role of the local authority.

As I said in my concluding remarks, we have also ensured that any liabilities—in other words, any costs incurred by the local authority that is taking on the responsibility—can be properly recovered by that local authority, so that it is not out of pocket as a result of taking on those responsibilities. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues appear to support the clause, and I commend it to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 44 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 45 and 46 ordered to stand part of the Bill.