Clause 98 - Duty on regulator to enforce Part

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 19th October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 99 to 101 stand part.

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

Clause 98 places a statutory duty on the Building Safety Regulator to enforce the provisions of part 4. As per the clauses we have already discussed, part 4 is concerned with occupied buildings. Among other things, it defines a building safety risk and it defines and places duties on the accountable person in relation to risks in their building, including duties regarding resident engagement.

Alongside clause 4, part 4 also makes it clear that the Building Safety Regulator will be the responsible regulator for the higher-risk building regime during occupation. The reason for placing the duty to enforce breaches of that regime in the Bill is, I hope, self-explanatory. It cements the position in law of the new Building Safety Regulator.

Clause 99 introduces a power for the Building Safety Regulator to ensure compliance with the new regime where a higher-risk building is occupied, through the use of compliance notices. The new regime imposes a range of new requirements for the management of higher-risk buildings, particularly on the new position of the accountable person. The accountable person has a significant role in ensuring that residents are kept informed with important building safety information and, most importantly, kept safe in their homes.

These compliance notices will provide the Building Safety Regulator with effective tools to enforce the relevant part 4 requirements where contraventions have occurred or are likely to occur, and will be available as urgent action notices with shorter deadlines where people in or around a building are at risk of imminent danger, where immediate action is required.

The use of compliance notices will also afford accountable persons the opportunity for correction before formal prosecution action. Nevertheless, the possibility of a custodial sentence upon conviction for breaching a compliance notice is designed to incentivise the accountable person to comply with their requirements and will further support the Building Safety Regulator to ensure that duties under part 4 of the Bill are being met.

The provision complements clause 37, which makes provision for the use of compliance and stop notices during the design and construction of a building, although there is no provision for stop notices in clause 99. Together, the clauses ensure building control authorities will have consistent enforcement tools available to them during the entire lifecycle of a building.

The compliance and enforcement measures in the Bill are appropriately tough. It is not enough that there is an accountable person for a building; the new regulator must be certain that the accountable person is carrying out their duties and responsibilities as they should, in line with the regime. The design of the new regime and the related requirements in part 4 of the Bill are only part of how we are making buildings safer. The most perfect regime could be created, but without oversight and enforcement, it would completely fail to function.

Clause 100 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations where necessary to ensure that compliance notices issued to accountable persons are as effective as possible. Examples of matters that the Secretary of State can make regulations about include the form and content of notices, or the amendment or withdrawal of notices. The provision allows for amendments where different regulatory bodies may need to be informed of compliance notices, where the period for compliance may need to be extended or where any other change is deemed necessary.

The flexibility the new regulations afford will allow the Building Safety Regulator to issue compliance notices that directly respond to the contemporary needs of the industry. The requirement on the Building Safety Regulator to inform relevant bodies where compliance notices have been issued will be important in ensuring that buildings of concern are on the radar of the relevant authorities. That will align regulatory action across those bodies to avoid the overlap of enforcement action and ensure that each regulatory body is taking appropriate action within its jurisdiction to enforce compliance.

Moving on to clause 101, more than four years ago the Grenfell Tower fire made clear to all of us the consequences that can occur when building safety requirements are not complied with. We have discussed in respect of previous clauses in this part why the Bill creates the new position of the accountable person to deliver safety for residents and others in and around higher-risk buildings. We have also discussed the various duties that this part of the Bill imposes on accountable persons and the provisions of the previous couple of clauses for enforcing those duties by means of compliance notices.

This clause underpins the new regulatory regime for occupied higher-risk buildings, reflecting the potential gravity and consequences of not adhering to the part 4 duties. It makes it abundantly clear that, where any of the duties are breached and have the potential to cause death or serious injury to those in or around the building, the Building Safety Regulator will not have to go through the compliance notice process but will be able to prosecute an accountable person straightaway.

That is in line with the enforcement principles that we set out in our consultation document in 2019 and in the Health and Safety Executive’s published enforcement principles—[Interruption.] I give way to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby.

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

I have a simple question: what would have happened to who, if that was applied to Grenfell? That is the first part of the question. The second part is whether a two-year sentence is sufficient if we look at the context of Grenfell.

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

There are two things I would say. First, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment regarding Grenfell, not least because, as somebody who listens to the BBC podcast every week to follow the proceedings, we are still a long way from the conclusion and completely understanding what went wrong and what the consequences of that were to be. It would be inappropriate for me to comment—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will let me answer his second point before he comes back with a third, that would be very helpful.

Regarding compliance with these notices, the total purpose of the Bill is to intervene at the earliest possible opportunity. I fully appreciate that the hon. Gentleman would say, because of the parallels he is drawing with Grenfell Tower, that two years does not seem an appropriate sentence, but, given that we are talking about intervening before things have gone wrong—somebody identifying a problem, seeing that an accountable person has not addressed it appropriately and therefore taking action at that point—I think two years is an appropriate sentence.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Just for clarification, if people wish to intervene on the Minister, it is for the Minister and not the Chair to agree to that intervention. I take it from the Minister’s sedentary position that he was giving way to Ian Byrne.

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

Thank you, Chair, for your patience in bringing us through this process, because some of us are new to this.

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

I am not specifically asking about Grenfell per se, but an example like Grenfell that could happen again. That is what I am trying to draw out: is two years sufficient, and would the legislation target the people who would potentially be responsible for another Grenfell?

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

The entire purpose of the clause, as I say, is to avoid our ever ending up in a position where we have another Grenfell. Therefore, the idea that the accountable person now completely understands their responsibility, and that that is set out in legislation, is increasing in and of itself the focus on safety within the sector. We are seeking to prevent any occurrences by focusing minds and ensuring that even in this new, stricter regime, if people are still prepared to be reckless and ignore the legislation, a custodial sentence can, and hopefully in certain circumstances will, follow. I completely understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes.

That is in line with the enforcement principles that we set out in our 2019 consultation document, and in the Health and Safety Executive’s published enforcement principles. Those documents set out that minor infringements will normally attract informal action, which will be escalated as necessary. More serious breaches will probably attract more formal action, such as compliance notices. The most serious breaches envisaged by the clause will normally attract immediate prosecution. An offence can carry a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or 12 months’ imprisonment if tried in a magistrates court, and an unlimited fine and/or two years’ imprisonment if tried in a Crown court. Either court may also issue a level 1 fine of £200 for each day the default continues after conviction.

The measures will help to ensure compliance with our new regime, and they reflect our strong stance on breaches and enforcement.

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

What assessment have the Minister and his Department made of the effectiveness of section 21 notices under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974?

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

In all honesty, I am not sure of the answer to that question. However, I would be reassured by the fact that the Building Safety Regulator, in its shadow form—[Interruption.]

Committee suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

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

I offer the hon. Member for Weaver Vale the assurance that section 21 notices—and whatever else he thinks should be considered as part of this process—will be considered, because the Building Safety Regulator sits within the health executive, and all the knowledge on that subject sits in that department.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 98 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 99 to 101 ordered to stand part of the Bill.