Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
My Lords, I will first respond to the noble Lord, Lord Khan, and say that I agree with absolutely everything he said. This Bill is about not signing off unsafe building as has happened in the past. It is about having a toolbox filled with tools to fix the issues we have in the building sector at the moment, particularly with high-risk buildings.
I also agree with the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I have heard my noble friend the Minister say this over and over again: it is about not just processes but cultural change within the whole system. With those opening remarks, to begin with I will just go through a few specifics before I get into my speaking notes, which I have just been given to do and which I have to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris and Lady Fox, asked, rightly, where the approved inspectors and fire risk assessors will come from. Those inspectors are an established professional group; there are many already operating in the sector—but obviously, as things change in that sector, they will have to be retrained and updated to work within the new system. With the fire risk assessors, we are working in the sector already to help to improve their capacity and competences, and contributing at this moment to two industry-led workstreams that are working on this issue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, talked about where you can check about the completion of certificates. It is a muddled system—we know that—and that is why we aim for all documentation for buildings, including all completion certificates from construction to occupation, to be in a golden thread of information. We have legislated for this in the Bill, and further details on that will come out in secondary legislation.
The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, also brought up the issue of registers. Details of approved inspectors’ final certificates must be placed on registers held by local authorities, but we are also looking at a proposal for a national register of those inspectors, which will help the system no end. It is going to cost money; we are going to retrain people with different skills. There is money from government—nearly £700,000 in funding—to train more assessors, because we know that we will need them, but also to speed up that system for valuers and the EWS1 forms required. Training will provide competent professionals with the skills that they need for the up-and-coming changes, particularly those outlined in the Fire Safety Act 2021. So we are looking at capacity to do all these things.
I shall go through and respond to each amendment. First, on Amendments 15A and 16A, I think we are all looking for the same outcomes—it is about how we do that, and which tools we use. So there will be some decisions, but what is important in these debates is that we are all learning from each other about what might be the best solution, and we will continue as a Government to look at what has been said in these debates.
We are introducing a new framework for oversight of the performance of building control bodies, and a new professional framework for registered building control approvers and registered building inspectors, for their work on all buildings. This framework includes the registration of both building control approvers and building inspectors. We expect the building safety regulator will specify relevant skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours as part of registration, and require continual professional development to be undertaken, but we consider it important to give it the flexibility to choose how to incorporate these areas operationally, rather than be restricted by having a specific requirement for standard qualifications and compulsory training set out in primary legislation. We are also concerned that standard qualifications may be read as examinations, which may make it harder to recognise and value experimental learning. On this basis, I would ask that the noble Lord does not press his amendment.
On Amendment 16, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the Government are introducing a new framework for oversight of the performance of building control bodies and a new professional framework for all building control bodies, including registered building inspectors, for their work on all buildings. The building safety regulator will drive improvements in building safety by overseeing the performance of building inspectors and building control bodies through a robust professional and regulatory regime. This will include setting codes of conduct and competence, including for registered building inspectors, and operational standards rules defining the minimum performance standards that building control bodies, which will employ or use registered building inspectors, must meet.
To achieve this, the building safety regulator needs the flexibility to frame such codes and standards in the way it thinks best, and to adapt them over time as required. This would be hampered by specifying part of the content of the code in primary legislation, as this amendment suggests. However, we expect future codes of conduct to address conflicts of interest explicitly, just as the existing code for approved inspectors does already.
I turn to Amendment 116 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. I thank them for shining a light on the important issue of the competency of fire risk assessors, as they did when the Fire Safety Bill was being debated. However, I am afraid the Government will not be able to accept the amendment.
The fire safety order 2005 requires any person who has control in premises to take reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire and make sure people can safely escape if there is one. The order applies to virtually all premises and covers nearly every type of building, structure and open space. To give noble Lords a sense of scale, this includes approximately 1.7 million residential buildings and all offices, shops, hospitals, schools, pubs, restaurants, factories and warehouses in England and Wales.
Given the scope of the fire safety order, it is important that we retain the ability for the responsible person to carry out their own fire risk assessment, particularly in small or low-risk premises, using the guidance and support available so that they can make their premises safe from fire. In some circumstances, the responsible person will be best placed to identify the potential causes of fire, the people and the risks and to take action. They can take ownership and have the ability to take quick action.
I will give noble Lords an example: a small gift shop with a simple layout, such as one floor, and a limited risk in relation to fire. With a small number of employees and visitors to the premises, a responsible person could undertake the fire risk assessment themselves—this is because there is no sleeping accommodation, no hazardous processes taking place and no cooking processes—using the published guidance to address fire safety measures.
If we require fire risk assessments to be undertaken in every case by a registered fire risk assessor, we risk two very significant downsides. First, on capacity, we know that there is a limited number of competent fire safety professionals, as we have spoken about, and that demand for fire risk assessors outstrips supply. A register would risk creating a bottleneck, which could result in a delay in responsible persons undertaking or updating a fire risk assessment. This could mean that fire hazards would not be identified or mitigating action taken. It could also distract competent professionals away from premises of higher risk.
Secondly, on cost, in some low-risk premises it will be restrictive to require responsible persons either to appoint a fire risk assessor from the register or to ensure that they themselves are on the register. It could mean that fire safety outcomes are reduced, where they could meet the responsibility of the requirements of the fire safety order themselves without the requirement to register or appoint a registered assessor.
It is vital to ensure that those appointed to undertake fire risk assessments are competent. I assure noble Lords that the Government’s intention to enhance competence has been met in the Bill with the amendment to the fire safety order to require that the responsible person must not appoint a person to assist them with making or reviewing a fire risk assessment unless that person is competent. That amendment will also include—