Clause 55 - Appeals

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 23rd September 2021.

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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 consider that schedule 6 be the Sixth schedule to the Bill.

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

Briefly, clause 55 relates to changes to appeals under the Building Act 1984. We propose to move certain appeals, which are currently heard by the Secretary of State, to the regulator. These appeals relate to the use of certain materials, the refusal to relax building regulations, and a registered building control approver’s refusal to give a plans certificate. The regulator will oversee the performance of building control bodies in England, so it follows that appeals of local authorities and registered building control approver decisions will now sit with the Building Safety Regulator.

Clause 55 also moves appeals of various building matters from the magistrates court to the property first-tier tribunal. We believe this will create a high level of expertise within the first-tier tribunal, and we intend to establish a specialist unit within it. Cases on important matters, such as the use of products and fire and safety risk assessments, will be heard by that first-tier tribunal specialist unit. Over time, a body of case law and precedent will emerge, leading to increasingly informed and rapid rulings. The full details of this clause are found in schedule 6.

Schedule 6 contains amendments to the Building Act 1984 that relate to appeals and other determinations. I have previously mentioned that appeals and determinations under the Act in England will now be undertaken by the Building Safety Regulator or first-tier tribunal. We want to align the appeals procedure for all building control decisions in England to sit ultimately with that tribunal, and to accommodate the Building Safety Regulator’s position as a new building control authority with oversight of building control bodies.

Paragraphs 2 to 8 move appeals on the use of certain materials, refusal of relaxation of building regulations and refusal by a registered building control approver to give a plan certificate from the Secretary of State to the regulator. Paragraphs 9 to 28 transfer functions from the magistrates court to the tribunal in England, along with minor and consequential related amendments. Finally, paragraph 30 creates new provisions for appeals where it is disputed whether proposed work is higher-risk building work. That is to say that a person who intends to carry out the work can appeal a local authority’s view that their building is in the scope of the higher-risk regime. These are, again, technical but important items, and I commend them to the Committee.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

I will keep my comments brief. I appreciate that this is a technical clause, as my right hon. Friend has articulated well, but I will make a few brief points. Broadly speaking, I support the clause. It is right that we have people with the expertise to determine appeals. We must ensure that that is done in a way that provides public confidence, so people know that appeals have had due process.

As someone who has interacted with these systems in the past, may I make a plea to my right hon. Friend? It is all well and good setting up systems such as this, but can we please ensure the process works? It may be hindered if we put things into new bodies and new units in the judicial system, and then people have the frustration of going through the rigmarole of processes that do not work or dealing with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service systems that may not function to the best of their ability. We want to ensure public and industry confidence that when an appeal is made, it will be dealt with in an appropriate, timely and cost-effective manner, and the rules and regulations will be followed.

I concur with my right hon. Friend when he says that he hopes a body of precedent and case law will build up in this area. Clearly, there is existing precedent, which I hope judges who are learned in this area will pick up on. He has had a shopping list of requests from me today, but I ask him to ensure that there is appropriate guidance and real engagement between the Department, the Ministry of Justice and the judges who will sit within this tribunal. It is important that there is consistency in the process, and that it ultimately instils confidence.

Whenever we set up an appeals process such as this one, it is vital that we ensure that it can work. The clause has my full support. It is right to ensure that these technical appeals are dealt with by people who have the right skillset and knowledge, but let us ensure that the process works so that the really good intentions behind clause 55 are realised as we would expect.

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

My hon. Friend has provided me and my officials with not so much a shopping basket as a shopping trolley of requests. Perhaps an Ocado delivery will arrive at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities very soon.

I will clarify my remarks to help my hon. Friend, because he is quite right. When I said that over time a body of case law and precedent would emerge, I should have said that over time a further body of case law and further precedent, built upon what already exists, will emerge, and that will lead to increasingly informed rulings. Having listened to you and your rulings, Mr Efford, I now commend this clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 55 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6 agreed to.