Clause 141 - Crown application

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 21st October 2021.

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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)

The clause provides that the Crown is bound by parts 2 and 4 of the Bill, and by the provisions relating to the new homes ombudsman.

The Crown Estate manages an extensive property portfolio on behalf of the Crown, and that portfolio includes a number of in-scope buildings. The Duchy of Lancaster on behalf of Her Majesty, and the Duchy of Cornwall on behalf of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, also manage property portfolios that may include in-scope buildings. Some properties owned and occupied by Government Departments may include permanent accommodation, which could bring them within scope.

It is right that those buildings should be subject to the new regime we are setting up for existing buildings. This clause therefore provides that the Crown is subject to parts 2 and 4 of the Bill. This is in line with the approach taken in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which apply to the Crown. It will mean that the Crown will be an accountable person for in-scope buildings and, as such, will be bound by all the duties placed upon an accountable person. The Crown will also be bound by the provisions of the new homes ombudsman, so any Crown bodies developing new residential properties that are within the scope of that ombudsman may need to join the scheme as required by regulations, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North has mentioned in other contexts.

In line with long-standing legal and constitutional principles, the Crown as an entity cannot be subject to criminal sanctions. However, individual Crown servants can be, and that is provided for in clause 141(3) of the Bill.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

The Bill applies parts 2 and 4 to Crown buildings. Do the Government intend to extend the application of part 3 of the Bill to Crown buildings, too?

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

Clearly, there should be a consistent approach to the application of all the provisions of the Bill to the Crown. There is an existing power in section 44 of the Building Act 1984 to enable building regulations to be applied to the Crown, although it has not been brought into force. We have been looking at whether we should switch this power, but there are gaps in how it would operate. In particular, as drafted, the power in section 44 of the 1984 Act would not allow us to make regulations setting out the gateway requirements for work carried out by Crown bodies. We are working through the issues and what might be needed by way of new provisions in the hope that we can resolve these matters at a later stage of proceedings on the Bill. I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Planning)

I want to be clear that this clause has been included because of the new legal status of the Crown, not because it owns a number of historic buildings that include some residents and that may be within the scope of the Bill. I can think of other owners of historic buildings in which people live that may be within scope, such as the National Trust, English Heritage and museums. If we establish that the Palace of Westminster is a residential building, it appears to be out of scope. I would be grateful if the Minister could help me through that confusion.

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

I am sorry that the hon. Lady is confused. I appreciate that some of these matters are exceptionally dry and very technical, but none the less, they are extremely important. The Crown has a unique legal position in our country, as I have said. Because of long-standing legal and constitutional principles, it is not an entity subject to criminal sanction, but it does operate a very significant property portfolio, and in that portfolio there are in-scope buildings. That is why this clause has been included in the Bill, for the sake of specificity and clarity.

While the general principle of applying part 2 and 4 of the Bill to Crown buildings is right, we need to recognise that there may be some buildings where, for example, security or other operational considerations mean it would not be appropriate to apply the regime. In the draft statutory instrument on scope, we therefore proposed to exclude military premises, including barracks and buildings occupied solely for the purposes of the armed forces. Those will remain subject to the Ministry of Defence’s existing building and fire safety arrangements, which we believe to be strong ones. Clause 141 therefore ensures that the protections provided by the Bill are available to leaseholders, tenants and users of existing Crown buildings. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:15 pm, 21st October 2021

If the Crown commissions a new build above 18 metres or seven storeys, the new regime applies. Can the Minister expand on this scenario? If there is a serious fire that results in deaths, and those acting on behalf of the Crown are found to be culpable, who would be criminally liable? Would the Crown be exempt?

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

I will try to help the hon. Gentleman as best I can. As I have said, the effect of this clause will be that the Crown is regarded as an accountable person for in-scope buildings. The clause will cover the responsibilities of an accountable person, and it will ensure that they apply to the Crown. The Crown is also responsible for adhering to the provisions of the new homes ombudsman. In the event of a specific fire in a specific place, I imagine that it would be for the prosecuting authorities to determine where culpability lies. A range of measures are set out in the Bill and in existing Acts of Parliament to ensure that those who are culpable for criminality can be charged, tried and, if necessary, brought to justice. I hope that helps the hon. Gentleman with his question.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 141 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.