New Clause 8 - Review of payment practices and building safety

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 26th October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

“(1) The Secretary of State must, within 60 days of the day on which this Act is passed, establish a review of the effects of construction industry payment practices on building safety in general and on safety in high-risk buildings in particular.

(2) The review must, in particular, consider—

(a) the extent to the structure of the construction market incentivises procurement with building safety in mind,

(b) the extent to which contract terms and payment practices (for example, retentions) can drive poor behaviours, including the prioritisation of speed and low cost solutions and affect building safety by placing financial strain on supply chain,

(c) the effects on building safety of other matters raised in Chapter 9 (procurement and supply) of Building a Safer Future, the final report of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, published in May 2018 (Cm 9607),

(d) the adequacy for the purposes of promoting building safety of the existing legislative, regulatory and policy regime governing payment practices in construction, including the provisions of Part II of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996, and

(e) recommendations for legislative, regulatory or policy change.

(3) The Secretary of State must lay a report of the findings of the review before Parliament no later than one year after this Act comes into force.”

This new clause would put an obligation on the Secretary of State to review the effects of construction industry payment on practices on building safety and to report the findings to Parliament

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 19— Review of Hackitt recommendations—

“(1) Within one year of the day on which this Act is passed the Secretary of State must carry out and publish a review on the Government’s implementation of the recommendations of Building a Safer Future, the final report of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, published May 2018.

(2) The review must include an assessment of how legislative changes and Government policy have affected the wider building industry culture in respect of building safety.

(3) A report setting out the conclusions of the review as set out in subsection (1) must be laid before each House of Parliament no later than one year after the day on which this Act is passed.”

This new clause would ensure the Government publish an assessment of the Government’s implementation of the Hackitt recommendations.

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

The two new clauses speak to the recommendations of the Hackitt review—one more generally, and one on a specific point raised in the review. I will speak first to new clause 8, tabled by my hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams. She has raised the issue before, and I believe she will do so again in the passage of the Bill. The new clause does not require any immediate action from the Government, other than carrying out a review of the impact on building safety of payment practices and associated commercial practices such as lowest-price bidding and onerous contracts. It embraces concerns expressed by Dame Judith Hackitt in chapter 9 of her May 2018 report, “Building a Safer Future”.

In her review, Dame Judith Hackitt lamented the lack of any “requirement or incentive” to prioritise building safety in procurement decisions, stating that the situation is further aggravated by

“unhelpful behaviours such as contract terms and payment practices which prioritise speed and low-cost solutions”.

The new clause requires the Secretary of State to review the impact of lowest-price procurement, poor payment practices and onerous terms and conditions on building safety, and to make recommendations to Parliament for regulatory and policy changes. It presents an opportunity not just to reset the regulatory framework but to address the commercial behaviours that compromise building safety.

New clause 19 was tabled in a similar spirit, despite its wider scope. The Government committed to implement the recommendations of the Hackitt review at the end of 2018. The Bill holds many of the reforms that were recommended. The new clause simply ensures that the Government publish an assessment of their implementation of the Hackitt recommendations within a year of the Bill passing. Given its centrality in implementing the recommendations alongside the Fire Safety Act 2021, and the significant amount of secondary legislation yet to be published even in draft form to support it, it is right that we take stock of how well it reaches its intended goal of implementing the findings after the regulations come into force.

As well as the issues covered by the new clause, there are questions to be asked about the extent of the review’s implementation of aspects including the regulation of building control for buildings under 18 metres and changes to the future testing regime for construction products—both important parts of Dame Judith’s recommendations. The new clause also includes mention of the need to assess changes to the construction culture in parts of Hackitt’s recommendations—something shared by all members of the Committee throughout the last three weeks. It is mentioned more than 40 times in the Hackitt report as an essential factor, alongside changes to regulation, developing good practice and ensuring well-built and safe homes in the future.

I ask the Minister to accept the new clause.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue. I understand his intent and desire, through new clause 8, to ensure that common practices in the way that payments are charged and made within the built environment industry are incentivised so that building safety and quality are central to decision making. I also recognise—I think we all do—the argument that poor, adversarial practices can lead to unsafe, low-quality building safety outcomes, as well as poor value for money. Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that we agree that this is an important issue.

Work with the industry to ensure fair and prompt payment and procurement practices is being addressed across several Departments. The Government’s construction playbook, which captures commercial best practices, is resetting the relationship between the construction industry and the Government. Making the process more strategic and collaborative, and focused on delivering a more sustainable, modern industry, better able to deliver high-quality built assets for its clients, is essential and crucial.

The Construction Leadership Council also has a business models workstream, whose work includes collaborative contractual practices; adoption of fairer payment practices; eliminating the need for retentions; and supporting the introduction of other complementary procurement approaches, such as the value toolkit and the construction playbook, which I have already mentioned.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Hackitt report. Following the Hackitt report, we also set up the procurement advisory group to advise on procurement practices in higher risk buildings and to provide independent advice on implementing the recommendations of chapter 9 of the report, which focuses on procurement. As part of that, we have sponsored the creation of guidance on how the industry can implement collaborative approaches to procurement, to deliver those safe buildings and to tackle poor behaviours across the supply chain. It will outline how those approaches support the future regulatory regime as set out in the Bill.

The group will then work with the industry to implement the principles of the guidance as widely as possible. The guidance will be iterative and will be reviewed in line with any amendment to the Bill ahead of Royal Assent; of course, as the hon. Gentleman will know, amendments can be tabled on Report as well as in the other place.

Our approach is to support the industry to develop industry-led solutions, rather than further regulation: creating regulation when that is necessary, rather than when we can do it. We want it to be meaningful and owned by the industry, which is vital in order to create the leadership and culture change we have agreed is needed to support the important changes introduced in the Bill.

Through our engagement, we encourage a focus on obtaining the best value, rather than the lowest cost in procurement practices. We recognise the importance of setting clear parameters for how construction services are procured at the start of a project, and how that drives the correct behaviours throughout the project supply chain. We encourage those involved in procurement practices to show leadership in that regard and to embed good practice.

The competence of those involved in procurement was also considered in detail by the industry-led competence steering group, and we encourage the industry to continue to develop and implement the competence framework for the sector. The Bill already ensures accountability for safety throughout the lifecycle of a building—I think we have agreed on that—and that risks are held and managed by the appropriate people. Our efforts are therefore rightly focused on delivering a more risk-proportionate building safety regime where life safety risks are tackled swiftly, but disproportionate caution and excessive costs are avoided.

We do not believe it would be proportionate to legislate for the way the construction industry charges or for the payment practices of private and commercial businesses. The new clause would be a significant expansion of the scope of the Bill, and could risk the timetable of our introduction of the new regime. I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important matter, and I do not for a moment dispute his commitment to it. However, I respectfully ask him to withdraw the new clause.

I will briefly cover new clause 19. The Committee knows that the Bill provides a widely-framed review of the whole building safety regime, covering in-scope higher-risk buildings and out-of-scope buildings in clause 139, which was debated and agreed last Thursday. By comparison, the new clause would provide for a limited, one-off review within a year of Royal Assent. I do not believe that would practical, or that it would allow sufficient time for the new building safety system to be established or give the new building safety regulator the opportunity to deliver against the recommendations set out in the independent review of building regulations and fire safety. Therefore, I do not think that requiring an early review would have the intended effect.

The Government believe it is important to protect the independence of the review. As a result, we have not specified with whom the reviewer must consult when conducting the review and have allowed them to consult as widely as they see fit. The independent reviewer may choose to accept evidence from any interested party.

Clause 139 requires the Secretary of State to appoint a reviewer within five years of the Bill receiving Royal Assent and, thereafter, within five years of the previous appointment. It also allows the Secretary of State, in extremis, to ask for an earlier review within that five-year cycle. Therefore, unlike new clause 19, which is a one-off assessment, we are providing for an ongoing check on the building safety and construction products regulatory systems throughout their lifespan.

Given the establishment of a new system of regulation for building safety, including fire safety and defect remediation, it may not be practicable to conduct another comprehensive review similar in scope to the one undertaken by Dame Judith Hackitt sooner than the five-year limit stipulated by clause 139, unless in extremis the Secretary of State directs otherwise.

With that explanation, I hope that the hon. Gentleman, again in the spirit of collegiality that we have managed to maintain most of the time throughout this Committee, will understand my reasons for refusing to accept his amendment, while recognising the intend behind it.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 10:15 am, 26th October 2021

I thank the Minister for his response. Assessment planning implementation reviews are essential components of good policy. Given the significance of what we are collectively trying to achieve in Parliament and beyond this place, a review is vital. We argue that that five-year mark, while crucial and hard-wired into the proposed Bill, needs further checks and balances and assessment. However, in the spirit of co-operation and collaboration that we have had so far, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.