Clause 138 - Liability of officers of body corporate etc

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 21st October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

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) 3:00 pm, 21st October 2021

The purpose of clause 138—rather as clause 39 does for the Building Act 1984—is to make it clear that where individuals who control a corporate body participate in committing criminal offences under parts 2 and 4 of this Bill, they, too, are criminally liable for those offences. Many of the persons who will have duties under the new regime will be corporate bodies—legal persons, as they are known—rather than individuals, who are often known legally as natural persons. Any corporate body operates only through the actions of its employees, controlled by its managers and directors. Therefore, if there is an offence by a corporate body, there is likely to be some measure of personal failure by those in positions of seniority.

This liability is already provided for in a number of other pieces of legislation, including notably the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974; the Committee has heard me speak about that in previous sittings. The end result is that directors and managers are just as criminally responsible as the company where either they have made decisions that led directly to the offence being committed, or they have been negligent in allowing the offence to occur.

We have addressed similar points that were raised in debates on previous clauses. If there is one director of a company, it is likely that two prosecutions—for both the company and the director—would be brought, although in practice there would be one case to answer. If the company had dissolved, the company itself would not be liable for prosecution, but that would not prevent a prosecution from coming forward against any one or a number of the managers or directors of the company who were there at the time the offence was committed.

The potential for criminal liability of directors and managers reinforces the duty of those who direct the actions of companies to uphold and promote building safety throughout the operations of their companies—again, inculcating the culture that we want to see. The Government consider that this is a key contributor to our stated purpose of embedding building safety at all levels of the industry, contributing to residents both being and feeling safe in their homes. I commend the clause to the Committee.

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

I want to draw out a point that the Minister referred to. In the construction sector, as has been mapped out in the journey of the Bill so far, special delivery vehicles or special purpose projects are set up and then dissolved. How would this provision apply to the individuals and directors involved? We welcome this clause, which is a real step forward, but we just want to draw out that point.

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

I am happy to help the hon. Gentleman. In my previous remarks, I may have said, “if a company folds”; what I hope I said was that if and when a company dissolves, the dissolution of the company does not prevent an individual—a senior person, a manager or a director—from being liable for offences if they were there at the time the offence was committed. I hope that that confirms the issue that the hon. Gentleman rightly draws out. We are essentially in agreement, and I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 138 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.