Clause 51 - Information gathering

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 23rd 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 debate clause 52 stand part.

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

I will try to be brief. Clause 51 relates to local authorities gathering information about particular projects supervised by registered building control approvers where that project has become the responsibility of the local authority. Under the current system, approved inspectors are under no explicit duty to provide information about their casework to a local authority; only the owner of the building can be asked to provide information. There can be problems where an approved inspector ceases to operate or leaves a project unfinished, or indeed both.

In such cases, either the local authority or a new approved inspector will pick up the building control function, but it can struggle to obtain the information on the work completed thus far. In practice, that can result in delays to projects and a risk that building work continues without adequate oversight. It also means a stop-start approach to building control enforcement and more work for the local authorities trying to access that information, which are sometimes unsuccessful.

The changes introduced by the clause require registered building control approvers—or former ones, if they have ceased operating—to provide local authorities with information relating to their building work. Failure of the registered building control approver to comply with a request made by a local authority will be a criminal offence, which is newly provided for in the Bill. Registered building control approvers will also be under a duty to provide copies of that information to their clients.

Together, the measures will ensure a smooth transfer of information from registered building control approvers to local authorities where there is a change of building control provider.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

I come from somewhere with multi-tier authorities and a very small district council which is responsible for planning. Should we be concerned about the measures being burdensome for local authorities?

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

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. We always apply the new burdens doctrine when applying new responsibilities to local authorities, and I am sure that will be the case here.

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

As he is on his feet and complying with your adjudication that one should stand to intervene, Mr Efford, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby.

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

Thank you, Mr Efford; it is pleasure to know that there is a fellow taxi driver in the room. I didn’t realise you were an ex-cabbie—that makes two of us.

On the issue of local authorities, and the point that the hon. Member for North Devon has just raised, will the Minister ensure that local authorities actually have the funding to ensure that what he is outlining can work within this system?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 2:45 pm, 23rd September 2021

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. As I say, when we apply new responsibilities to local authorities, it is usual practice to apply the new burdens doctrine and thereby determine what further support local authorities might require. Incidentally, last year local authorities received their best funding settlement in 10 years. The Government are committed, through the spending review process, to ensure that this Building Safety Bill, the regulations that flow from it and the organisations and officers created by it are also adequately funded. Having made that point to the hon. Gentleman and the Committee, I commend the clause to the Committee.

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

Briefly, I am sure these clauses are welcome; information sharing will be vital to the new landscape of building safety. The introduction of an electronic portal—I might refer to the Minister’s previous profession and experience in IT—will result in greater systems efficiency, but will require some investment in hardware, systems, development and training. Could the Minister touch on that?

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

I will keep my comments brief, to keep in line with the culture across the Committee so far. To complement what the hon. Member for Weaver Vale just said, I had hoped to intervene on my right hon. Friend the Minister’s point about consistency of process. The portal in clause 52 is welcome, but the back-office processes required to ensure that that is usable and feasible will clearly be important. We have been discussing this duty to share information throughout the Bill, but it is particularly highlighted by clauses 51 and 52. Clearly, for that to succeed, we must be able to ensure that it can be done in the way that we would require.

The point that I really want to press on my right hon. Friend the Minister is that we should ensure that we have that consistency of approach. Perhaps he could reassure us that his Department will work with local authorities to ensure that, in respect of these clauses, we can get that consistency? As hon. Members have said, operational delivery is the one thing that this might fall down on. I am also heartened to hear what he said on the funding point, but, as this progresses, it may need a somewhat flexible approach.

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

I certainly do not want to prescribe how a portal might be built. That is not for a Government Minister to do—certainly not for one who is a former IT consultant. To respond to my hon. Friend and to the hon. Member for Weaver Vale, we will work closely with the Building Safety Regulator to determine how a national portal will be established and maintained. We will bring forward further information in due course; we are working closely with the shadow regulator, and will inform the House when we have more information about how the portal will operate.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 51 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.