Clause 144 - Regulations

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 21st October 2021.

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Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 3:15 pm, 21st October 2021

I beg to move amendment 39, in clause 144, page 146, line 24, at end insert—

“(8) But the Secretary of State may not—

(a) lay before Parliament a statutory instrument under subsection (6), or

(b) make regulations in a statutory instrument under subsection (7)

(9) That condition is that the Secretary of State has consulted—

(a) fire safety experts,

(b) leaseholders and their representatives,

(c) local authorities, and

(d) safety and construction industry bodies”.

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to consult with stakeholders before making regulations.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I apologise for not being ready—I have some rather urgent constituency things coming in that have consumed my mind for the past few minutes.

There has been a lot of talk about how much detail is in the Bill and how much information is not in it. When we took evidence, a number of people said that they had worked closely with officials in the Department and they were hopeful that that would continue. They also emphasised the importance of scrutinising any legislation that came through via statutory instrument.

I think the purpose of the amendment is fairly obvious. Any statutory instruments that are laid should receive proper democratic scrutiny by Members of this House, the public, leaseholders and everybody in industry. It is self-explanatory. I hope that hon. Members will see it merits and I look forward to the Minister’s assurance that the Government are looking to ensure proper democratic scrutiny of any statutory instruments laid under the Bill.

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

I thank the hon. Member for St Albans for tabling the amendment, which we support. This culture change in building safety—making people safe in buildings in the here and now, and in the future—requires consultation with the maximum number of stakeholders to help shape legislation and regulations going forward. This is a very common-sense amendment; it strengthens the Bill.

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

I thank the hon. Lady for introducing the amendment and the hon. Member for Weaver Vale for his comments. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to consult with specific stakeholders before making regulations.

I entirely understand the hon. Lady’s intention and I agree with the principle that there should be appropriate consultation on regulations made under the Bill. I hope that, by the time I have concluded my remarks, she will see that the amendment is at best superfluous and at worst could be rather confusing. I will explain why. I do not mean in any way to detract from what she is trying to achieve.

The Government have introduced provisions to ensure appropriate consultation in clause 7, which we debated some little while ago, before the rather long conference recess, in the proposed new section 120B of the Building Act 1984 in schedule 5, and in the specific procedures to ensure appropriate scrutiny of changes to the scope of the higher-risk building regime. I am grateful to the Committee for agreeing those provisions already.

I remind the Committee that we have already said that we will include consultation provisions when making regulations. Those regulations will always be subject to consultation.

Save for certain limited special procedures, the independent Building Safety Regulator may propose regulations to the Secretary of State after consulting on them and drawing on the benefit of its technical expertise and expert committees. Where the Secretary of State initiates proposals, they must first consult with the independent Building Safety Regulator and other persons they consider appropriate before regulations can be made. It pays to stress that I appreciate the spirit of the amendment, but maintaining the existing provisions in the Bill has three fundamental advantages.

First, on a technical point, the amendment would apply only to regulations made under this Bill and not to regulations made under the Building Act 1984, including under the provisions inserted by part 3. Committee members may remember that I spoke, some might say monotonously, about the 1984 Act in previous sessions. We need a consistent approach to consultation across building safety standards legislation, to make sure that it is simpler and fairer, and I think this approach is preferable.

Secondly, the amendment would create a degree of confusion and duplication, because it would insert an additional consultation provision into the Bill on top of the existing one in clause 7. The practical effect would be some duplication and delay. To give an example, where the Building Safety Regulator has proposed regulations to the Secretary of State after a full and proper consultation under clause 7, the effect of this amendment would be that the Secretary of State was required to conduct a further consultation with the key stakeholders listed in the amendment. We believe that that would create unnecessary delays in tackling important building safety issues.

Thirdly, we believe that the general requirements to consult in the Bill are more likely to support effective consultation than the approach set out in the amendment, which seeks to list a specific set of consultees in primary legislation. That would, as we all know, be much more difficult to unwind and change as the building safety landscape changes.

A wide range of regulations will be made under the Bill. They will range from technical regulations setting out what functions the Building Safety Regulator and the local authorities may share information on, or the form on which certain applications must be made, through to very complex regulations that are necessary to deliver the new national regulator for construction products. We do not think that a one-size-fits-all approach to which parties need to be consulted is appropriate to that range of subject matter. Instead, we believe that the consultation requirements stipulated in clause 7 will support more effective and tailored consultation.

Members of the Committee should be reassured by the fact that the Bill’s approach to making regulations learns from the approach that has successfully been taken in respect of health and safety regulations. The Health and Safety Executive, with the Secretary of State, has taken a proportionate approach to consulting parties before regulations are made, and it has been doing that for more than 40 years.

We understand that expertise will not stop at the door of the Building Safety Regulator, nor, for that matter, the Secretary of State. We agree that consultation on regulations is necessary, but we think that adding this amendment would unintentionally create duplication, confusion and—because of its disapplication from the Building Act 1984—a narrowing of the application of the provision. Given the assurances that I have provided to the Committee, and the fact that the Bill already ensures appropriate consultation mechanisms, I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I thank the Minister for his assurances that he agrees with the spirit of the amendment, and I am sure that during proceedings on the Bill, others may look at the scope of the application of this measure. I am grateful for his assurances on the parliamentary record that he agrees with the spirit of the amendment, which is designed to continue the democratic scrutiny of secondary legislation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Clause 144 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 145 ordered to stand part of the Bill.