Clause 63 - Regulations under section 62: procedure

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 19th October 2021.

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

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 64 to 67 stand part.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Clause 63 sets out that the Secretary of State must consult the Building Safety Regulator, unless advice or a recommendation has already been provided, before making regulations under clause 62. The regulations may supplement clause 62, exempt categories of building from the definition of higher-risk building, and provide definitions or alter the clause, apart from subsections (2) and (5). The regulator will oversee building safety and through that gain knowledge about the built environment. It is therefore only right that it is consulted before the powers in clause 62 are used.

Clause 63 also states that the Secretary of State must consult any other persons they consider appropriate before making regulations under clause 62. As the powers cover a few areas, we do not think it right to specify particular other people to consult. However, we recognise that there may be other appropriate people to consult before regulations are made, so we have included that general duty. The powers in clause 62 should not be used lightly and must be used in a proportionate way. This clause provides one of the checks on that.

Clause 64 provides extra checks. If the Secretary of State proposes to use the powers in clause 62 to add a category of building to the definition of higher-risk buildings, it stipulates that the Secretary of State must have received advice or a recommendation from the Building Safety Regulator, and a cost-benefit analysis must be undertaken and published. The Building Safety Regulator oversees building safety and is therefore in the best position to assess if a category of building should be higher risk. It is vital that the regulator’s advice be obtained if it has not already provided a recommendation if the definition of higher-risk building were to expand. To ensure that we are being proportionate in the measures we place on buildings, a cost-benefit analysis must be carried out. If the definition of higher-risk building were to expand, it is only fair and transparent that the analysis must be published.

Clause 65 provides for the Secretary of State to use regulations to disapply or modify clauses from part 4 of the Bill for a category of higher-risk building. We cannot predict incidents that may occur in the future, nor how the evidence base on risk will evolve. There may be circumstances in future where it would be prudent to include a different category of building within the definition of higher-risk building for the occupation elements for the new regulatory regime. In this case, it may not be appropriate to apply all the clauses within part 4 of the Bill to that category of building—for example, resident engagement duties in a non-residential building. The clause provides for that scenario. Any substantial change to the regime that we have so carefully thought through should be open to comment and scrutiny. That is why the Building Safety Regulator and any other appropriate person must be consulted, and it is why regulations to do that must be approved through the affirmative procedure by both Houses.

Clause 66 specifies when the Building Safety Regulator must make recommendations to the Secretary of State that a category of building should be added to the definition of higher-risk building for the purposes of part 4 of the Bill. Through its function to oversee building safety, the regulator will be aware of the risks to and in buildings, and the regulator should therefore be able to make recommendations based on that knowledge.

Any change to the definition of a higher-risk building must be proportionate. That is why the regulator can recommend adding a category of building to the definition of a higher-risk building only if it believes that a three-part test is met. First, it must believe that the level of building safety risk is greater in the proposed category of building than in buildings in general. Secondly, it must believe that if the building safety risk occurred there is the potential for it to cause a major incident in the proposed category of building. Lastly, it must believe that the occupation parts of the new regulatory regime should apply to the proposed category of building.

To ensure that the process is transparent, if the Secretary of State does not make regulations to put the regulator’s recommendation to add a category of building into effect they must publish an explanation. If the regulator considers that a category of building should no longer be a higher-risk building it must provide a recommendation to the Secretary of State. It would not be appropriate to continue to apply the occupation parts of the new regulatory regime to a category of building that should no longer be a higher-risk building.

Clause 67 provides for the Secretary of State to request advice from the Building Safety Regulator about the definition of a higher-risk building. The regulator will be able to provide expert advice. Therefore, the ability of the Secretary of State to request formal advice when considering altering the definition of a higher-risk building is vital. Any change to the definition of a higher-risk building must be proportionate, which is why the regulator can recommend adding a category of building to the definition of a higher-risk building only if it believes that the three parts of the test that I referenced when discussing clause 66 are met.

Similarly, if the Secretary of State requests advice about whether a category of building should no longer be a higher-risk building the regulator must provide it. To ensure that the process is transparent, if the Secretary of State does not make regulations to put a recommendation made under subclause (3)(a) into effect they must publish an explanation of why not.

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

I thank the Minister for his comments. We have some questions and points of clarity. On clause 63, who would the appropriate stakeholders and consultees be? On clause 64, the notion of a cost-benefit analysis raises important issues. Who bears the cost, and how will that benefit be measured? Could clause 67 include flood risk, for example? An early amendment that we tabled referred to climate change, as we march towards COP26.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

With regard to who to consult, the question would be: what is the circumstance in which we are seeking information? For the sake of argument, one example given in the explanatory notes is increased wind speeds. If buildings suffered as a result of that, we would need to consult structural engineers. Were it a different issue, we would need to consult a different group of people, so it is helpful for it to be an open category, and for the Building Safety Regulator, and probably the Secretary of State, to understand and determine from whom they would need to seek advice.

On the cost-benefit analysis, I suspect that we will come later in our discussions to who bears the costs in various circumstances. Clearly that will depend on the leasehold arrangements that are in place in that particular building. Given that we have seen changing climate conditions, flood risk is certainly one of the things that could be considered in the future, depending on how weather conditions change in the coming years.

I conclude by saying once again that the powers in clause 62 should not be used lightly. They must be used proportionately, and clause 63 provides one of the key checks on that. Combined with clauses 63 and 65 to 67, and with parliamentary scrutiny, clause 64 ensures that using the powers in clause 62 to expand the definition of a higher-risk building is done appropriately and in a transparent way.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 63 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 64 to 67 ordered to stand part of the Bill.