Debates between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Lord Stunell during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 25th Apr 2022
Tue 29th Mar 2022
Building Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2
Wed 23rd Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2
Mon 21st Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2
Tue 15th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1
Mon 21st Feb 2022

Elections Bill

Debate between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Lord Stunell
Monday 25th April 2022

(2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Then we come to somebody who was born in the UK and has been here only a short time. The current system allows citizens who have left the UK while still too young to vote the ability to register based on their parents’ or guardians’ previous registration, but this is subject to an arbitrary 15-year limit from when they left the UK. The Government want to remove this arbitrary time limit placed on British citizens who have resided here, and we have no intention to replace one time limit with another arbitrary time limit requiring a British citizen to have been resident here for a certain amount of time before they can register.

The Bill will permit children who are UK citizens and who have resided in the UK to be eligible to vote based on their previous residency here. They would apply in respect of their last place of residency. This approach is consistent with the principle of individual responsibility, which underpins individual electoral registration and ensures that voting rights are not conditional on choices made by others in the past.

Additionally, British citizens born outside the UK must have previously resided in the UK to become eligible to register to vote. In practical terms, someone who left the UK at a very young age or who was present in the UK only for a short period will find it difficult to demonstrate their residency at a particular UK address to the satisfaction of a registration officer. I would also question whether anyone who lived in the UK only for a very short period would have any interest in voting in our elections. I hope that gives a little more substance to my letter.

I now turn to the amendment as tabled. The purpose of this amendment would be to delay the commencement of Clause 13 of the Bill for two years, and the extension of franchise for parliamentary election for British citizens overseas. The amendment would require three conditions to be met before regulations could be laid to bring into force the provisions. The Government have set out much detail on the intended registration and voting process in their policy statement Overseas Electors: Delivering ‘Votes for Life’ for British Expatriates. Referring to the condition whereby the Secretary of State must publish guidance for EROs on determining residentiary requirements of overseas electors, further detail on residency requirements will be set out in secondary legislation.

Electoral registration officers will require British citizens who have been resident, but not previously registered, to demonstrate to their satisfaction that they were resident at a specific address. Section 5 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 already lays down the general principles regarding residence for electoral purposes which a registration officer must consider and apply in deciding whether a person is resident at a particular address for those purposes. The same approach to residency must be applied within these boundaries and, as now, registration officers will be supported in this by guidance from the Electoral Commission, with whom the Government will work closely.

As for reporting on documentary evidence, the Government intend to align closely with the existing exceptions process for those domestic electors for whom an ERO considers that additional evidence is required to verify their identity. This is a system that administrators are already familiar with, and we will continue to work closely with stakeholders to develop this process. It will be set out in secondary legislation and be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and to parliamentary approval.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, brought up the issue of how we will help expatriates—the people who want to vote from abroad—to actually be able to vote. I think we had a discussion on overseas constituencies, and it was made very clear that the Government are not supporting that idea. However, the Government have already improved the delivery and return of ballots to overseas electors by working with Royal Mail and the British Forces Post Office, expediting dispatch abroad, and funding the use of the international business response licence that expedites the return of the ballot packs from overseas in a large number of countries, as well as covering any postage costs that might otherwise be incurred.

This Bill will also introduce an online absent vote application service that will allow overseas electors more easily apply for a postal vote.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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Will the Minister develop her point about the repayment of postal charges? Perhaps she could explain to noble Lords a little more fully what that implies. To my knowledge, a number of local authorities are quite clear at the moment, that they will not post postal votes overseas because of the additional expense. I do not know if there is an element of guidance needed in those cases, but there might be an element of finance. If one had a constituency with the projected 4,000 or 5,000 overseas electors, it would be a significant additional sum. I wonder if she could say something about the Government’s financing of that additional outlay.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I cannot at the moment. It may be part of the burdens that will be financed for local authorities, but I will get the noble Lord a complete answer on that and make sure it is absolutely correct.

The introduction of votes for life is a manifesto commitment. The framework for the previous Overseas Electors Bill 2017-19 was subject to a full public consultation and has formed the basis for this refreshed policy. Since then, we have worked very closely with the electoral service managers and administrators on the design of the processes, and the practical implementation of these measures. On this basis, it is unnecessary to further delay the extension of the franchise, and I hope the noble Lord will feel able to reconsider and withdraw his amendment.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for her reply and for the much greater level of detail that she has provided on this occasion, which I very much welcome. She has indeed answered some of the points that I raised, although I think she skirted over the possibility of amending legislation so that some account could be taken of imprisonment overseas. As I say, that is a matter that could easily be covered by an extension of the existing declaration that candidates make.

I am not satisfied with the answer that I have had but at this time of night I certainly do not intend to force my view upon the House. I just say to the Government that I think some of these matters will come back to haunt them, and at that moment I hope to be present to witness the haunting taking place. With that said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, we now come to the final debate on Report of this Bill, and I will speak to a number of government amendments on construction products. Noble Lords will be familiar with a number of these amendments already as they were debated and withdrawn during Committee.

I will begin by speaking to Amendments 245 to 249. This set of new clauses will introduce a new cause of action against construction product manufacturers and sellers of construction products. There are currently limited routes which might allow leaseholders, building owners and homeowners to hold to account construction product manufacturers or sellers for their role in the creation of building safety defects.

The cause of action will enable claims to be brought against construction product manufacturers and sellers for their role in causing problems associated with building safety. It will apply where a construction product has been mis-sold or is found to be inherently defective, or if there has been a breach of the construction products regulations applicable at the time and it has been used in the construction of a dwelling or works on that dwelling. If this contributes to a dwelling being unfit for habitation or causes it to be so, a civil claim will be able to be brought through the courts under this cause of action. This cause of action will be subject to a 30-year limitation period retrospectively in relation to cladding products only. The new cause of action will also apply retrospectively to all construction products and be subject to a 15-year limitation period. These limitation periods mirror the changes we are making to the Defective Premises Act. This cause of action will help to ensure that construction products manufacturers, distributors and others are held responsible for the cost of rectifying their mistakes, where a dwelling is unfit for habitation as a result of those mistakes. Amendments 255 and 271 are consequential to these amendments.

I now move on to Amendments 250, 251, 252 and 253, which will create a power to make regulations to require construction products manufacturers, their authorised representatives, importers and distributors to contribute towards the cost of remediation works where they have caused dwellings to be unfit for habitation or contributed to dwellings being unfit for habitation. This will enable the Secretary of State to serve a costs contribution order on a company that has been successfully prosecuted under the construction products regulations. Amendment 253 will allow the Secretary of State to appoint an independent person to inspect buildings where the relevant product has been used. They will assess whether the conditions for serving an order are met, the remediation works required and the cost of those works. Amendment 251 will also create a power to make regulations to take an alternative route through the courts. This will enable the Secretary of State to apply to a court for a costs contribution order to be made against a company. The grounds for making an application would be the same. Amendment 253 will enable the Secretary of State to require a company to contribute towards the cost of building assessments carried out as part of this process.

Amendment 256 makes a technical correction to secure that the maximum fine that can be imposed under the construction products regulations for an offence in Scotland is the statutory maximum in Scotland.

Setting out this scheme in secondary legislation will enable the detailed design of these powers to interact with the construction products regulations, including those that will be made using the Bill’s powers. Amendments 269, 270 and 273 are consequential to these amendments.

Amendment 257 will require that the affirmative procedure is used to make any regulations that would remove construction products from the list of safety-critical products set out in the construction products regulations.

I have considered carefully the important points raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its report on the Bill regarding the parliamentary procedure that should be used to make regulations under this power. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Khan, for their contributions on this matter in Grand Committee. It is of course right that regulations receive the proper level of parliamentary scrutiny. That is why Amendment 257 will supplement the existing safeguards in Schedule 12, which prevents products being added to the list unnecessarily or removed without good reason. I hope the noble Lords are reassured that this strikes the right balance between the need for parliamentary debate to scrutinise regulations and the proper use of the limited and valuable time of parliamentarians.

Finally, Amendments 216 and 217 make a minor drafting change in relation to the definition of

“persons carrying out activities in relation to construction products”

in Clause 129. I beg to move.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, briefly, we welcome the changes that the Minister has reported, particularly Amendments 257, 258 and 259, which will bring back to the affirmative procedure some of those matters which we raised in Committee. We appreciate that and we are very happy to support the Government’s amendments in that respect.

Elections Bill

Debate between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Lord Stunell
Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, I want to ask some technical questions, without necessarily knowing what the correct answer is myself. I hope that the Minister, if he is not able to answer today, would be prepared to write to provide a further explanation.

I start by referring to some of the text of Clause 12. On page 14, line 13, under the new section “Extension of parliamentary franchise”, there are various conditions that a person has to satisfy. They have to be,

“not subject to any legal incapacity to vote (age apart)”

et cetera. I take it—perhaps the Minister can consult the Box to get an answer to this—that that is to make sure that nobody overseas registers who is under age. I assume that is the meaning of that. If I am wrong about that, then there might be a whole set of questions arising, but that seems to be the common-sense explanation for those two words in brackets.

I want to move on to the next page of the same clause. New Section 1B is headed,

“British citizens overseas: entitlement to be registered”.

The proposed new section sets out that, essentially, there are two ways in which one can qualify to be registered. The first is as a former elector in a United Kingdom constituency. There will be discussions about that, I am sure, but the second is what I want to focus on at the moment. The second condition is that you were a former resident in a UK constituency. We already know that there is quite a large number of people who are not registered, because we discussed earlier on that the Electoral Commission’s estimate is that in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, there are somewhere between 8.6 million and 9.8 million people who are currently resident but not on the electoral roll. There is, therefore, quite a large pool of people who, presumably in approximately equal proportion, will be overseas now. There is no special preference for people who have registered being the people who have migrated.

So my question is: does this legislation grant voting rights to someone who left the UK with their parents as a baby and moved to Switzerland, say, to claim their vote alongside their parents, once they reach the age of 18 overseas? If it does, I note that there does not seem to be any requirement for that baby to have been born in the United Kingdom; they need to establish only that they were resident here. As far as I can tell, there is no specified minimum period for that residence.

I will take a case that is not entirely hypothetical. Parents who came to the United Kingdom, having been working in Ghana, with a baby who was born in England, move to Switzerland six months later. It seems that nothing is set out in the legislation to prevent that baby from claiming their vote on reaching 18 while still living overseas. I want to check that I have not misunderstood what the legislation is saying there and that, by virtue of that brief period of residence, they would be eligible to vote and—I suppose I could add—to make a donation. If that is true, I know of two British nationals now in their 50s who will be very happy to take up the offer.

But I want to know whether that really is the extension to the franchise that the Government want or whether I have actually missed something and, in some other part of the RPA—or Schedule 9 or goodness knows where else—there is something that would prevent that absurd outcome.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I will first answer the noble Lord, Lord Stunell: it is late and I do not have all the answers, but we will get a letter to him as soon as we can to answer his questions.

Amendment 146 seeks to place a time limit on overseas electors’ connections with the UK. Imposing a new time limit, albeit a longer one, does not deliver on our manifesto commitment to introduce votes for life. The Government’s view is that any time limit is arbitrary in an increasingly global and connected world. Length of time outside the UK is not a certain indicator of how a person feels about their British identity or a measure of the interest that they take in this country’s future. The Bill sets a sensible boundary for the overseas franchise. Previous registration or residence denotes a strong degree of connection to the UK.

Amendments 145, 147 and 148 seek to prevent people who have committed offences or been sanctioned under the described Acts, or those who are subject to an Interpol red notice, from registering as overseas electors. Domestic electors are not required to declare whether they have ever committed offences under the Acts described, and the Government will not impose these requirements on overseas electors. Overseas electors would be subject to the same restrictions as domestic electors in respect of offences relating to personation and postal vote fraud that result in a temporary bar from voting upon a person being convicted or named as personally guilty of that offence.

In a situation where a domestic elector would not be permanently barred from voting, we would wish to treat an overseas elector equally—

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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The Minister has just said that exactly the same restrictions would apply to overseas voters as to voters in the UK. If an overseas voter had been sent to prison in Switzerland, say, for 18 months, would they be able to vote from prison there, or would we have a mechanism for making sure that they were not competent to vote in that situation?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I think that is a hypothetical question, but I shall certainly get a legal opinion on it.

On Amendment 148, as the noble Baroness said, all those issues on sanctions should be dealt with on Monday, within the group on donations, if she does not mind. I think that is the sensible place to have that debate. Therefore, I urge her not to press the amendments.

Elections Bill

Debate between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Lord Stunell
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, these probing amendments seek to test the defence for political campaigners set out in Clause 4, which bans said campaigners from handling postal votes issued to other persons. Clause 4 is designed to address activities and behaviours that have been a cause for concern at previous elections, such as the practice of postal vote harvesting whereby voters are coerced or tricked into completing their postal voting statement before handing over their papers with the ballot paper unmarked to campaigners to be taken away and filled in elsewhere.

Amendment 93 seeks to provide that a person commits an offence only if they knowingly handled a postal vote issued to another person. The clause currently provides that it is a defence for a political campaigner charged with the offence to show that they did not dishonestly handle the postal voting document for the purpose of promoting a particular outcome at an election. This Government entirely share the concern that no offence should criminalise innocent behaviour. For this reason—

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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I thank the Minister for her explanation. In preparing for this particular debate, I looked at the defence that is set out on page 2 of the Bill—I thank the Minister for reading that into the record. It further says, in new Section 112A(5), inserted by Clause 4, that

“the court must assume that the defence is satisfied unless the prosecution proves beyond reasonable doubt that it is not.”

The burden of proof there is upon the prosecution. I mention this because, as a political campaigner who quite often gets asked to take a postal vote and hand it in on behalf of an elector, it is clearly of considerable importance to know that we are—if you like—excluded from the purview of this particular offence.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I think that all of us campaigners have been asked the same question many times on the doorstep.

This Government entirely share the concern that no offence should criminalise innocent behaviour. We have been especially careful to target the wording of the new offence to ensure that it is reasonable and proportionate where somebody acts with honest intentions. For these reasons, the Government consider that the offence provisions are appropriately worded and are therefore unable to accept that amendment or the others in this group.

In fact, against the concerns of Amendment 94, new Section 112A(2) of the Representation of the People Act 1983, inserted by Clause 4, already provides that a person who handles a postal voting document for use in a relevant election does not commit an offence if they are responsible for or assist with the conduct of that election and the handling is consistent with the person’s duties in that capacity.

Amendment 95 seeks to exempt legal guardians from the offence. There is an exemption in the clause for a political campaigner, if they are close family—

“spouse, civil partner, parent, grandparent, brother, sister, child or grandchild”—

of the other person whose postal vote they are handling. Legal guardians are not included, as they do not have the relevant powers when acting for adults, and their powers are primarily to do with decisions about a person’s medical care and their finances.

Amendment 96 also seeks to change the definition of political campaigner for the purposes of postal vote handling offences to include those who have donated to a campaign. The definition in the Bill is comprehensive and includes candidates, electoral agents and members of a registered political party who carry on an activity designed to promote a particular outcome at an election. Donating to a campaign is not the same as actively canvassing. Therefore, I am not persuaded that it should be amended to such a disproportionate extent. For this reason, I beg that the amendment is withdrawn.

Elections Bill

Debate between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Lord Stunell
Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, on Amendment 28B, which is about transparency, perhaps the Minister could comment on some of the recommendations in the CSPL report which related precisely to the point of transparency of election expenditure and its availability in electronic form so that it could be studied more widely and easily. Obviously, that clearly requires legislation and might well properly have been in the Bill.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, these amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, relate to existing provisions in electoral law in respect of codes of practice on election expenses for candidates that the Electoral Commission may prepare.

We have included measures in Clause 19 to ensure that any code of practice on candidate spending from the Electoral Commission is sufficiently broad to fully serve the purpose of explaining the rules on candidate spending, which are set out in the Representation of the People Act 1983. We are making this change to put the scope of the guidance beyond doubt. It is important that the guidance is comprehensive, so that we can address concerns raised from across the political spectrum on notional expenditure.

Amendment 25B would require the commission to issue new guidance at least every 10 years. As the noble Lord said, the commission is already able to amend any such code as required from time to time and must reflect the rules as set out in law. Clearly, the Electoral Commission is expected to keep up to date all guidance, including such a code of practice, and revise it as far as necessary to reflect changes in the law. Therefore, there is no need to legislate in such a rigid fashion.

Amendment 25C would require the Secretary of State responsible for approving the code to consult on that code before its approval. It is for the Electoral Commission to consult whomever it considers reasonable to consult before it submits a draft to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can then accept it, with or without modification, and must lay it before Parliament. It is then down to Parliament to consider the code laid before it and decide whether or not to approve it.

Amendment 28A would require the Secretary of State to publish within 12 months of Royal Assent draft legislation to amend the 2000 Act

“for the purposes of increasing the transparency of expenses”.

I say with the utmost respect to the noble Lord that that is quite an imprecise instruction to the Secretary of State. Transparency of electoral expenses is a cornerstone of the UK’s electoral system. Electoral law already has a robust set of controls and reporting requirements which ensure that spending during election campaigns is transparent, and the Bill supports that. Political parties, recognised third parties and candidates are already required to report their election spending, and this includes money they spend on digital campaigning, an issue raised by the noble Lord.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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I apologise if I was misunderstood. I was referring not to digital campaigning but to the digital submission of election expenses. At the moment, they are often kept in a cupboard in the returning officer’s office and are not accessible in any way. There are also issues of data redaction, and so on, which make it more complex.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook
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I will take that back and get an answer for the noble Lord. It is an important issue, as the way we will do elections in future will be very different because of new IT.

As I was saying, the new digital imprints regime will also improve the transparency of digital campaigning, requiring those promoting campaign content online, paid and unpaid, to clearly show who they are. With that said, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, I will comment on Amendment 31, which is about record-keeping. I return to the point I made a few minutes ago: it is about not just keeping the records but access to the records that have been kept. There are plenty of “publicly available” records that are not actually publicly available in real life. Election expenses are a case in point: GDPR has added an extra layer of complexity because they often contain personal details, bank details, addresses et cetera that ought not to be transmitted to other persons. Clearly, these records might well come within the same purview. I do not seek a detailed reply from the noble Baroness as that would be quite unfair, but I hope that, as we proceed, the Government will be able to illustrate that they have considered carefully issues of record-keeping, and, indeed, how the transparency that goes with record-keeping will be maintained in the current and projected circumstances.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, as part of the registration process, political parties are not currently required to submit a declaration of their assets or liabilities. This information becomes available only in their first annual statement of accounts published on the Electoral Commission’s website. Clause 21 brings forward this important transparency to the point of registration.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, tabled a probing amendment seeking to understand why the threshold for this declaration is set at £500. I am pleased that the noble Lord has highlighted this, and I point to the fact that this measure, including the £500 threshold, was first recommended by the Electoral Commission in its 2013 report.

Building Safety Bill

Debate between Baroness Scott of Bybrook and Lord Stunell
Thursday 24th February 2022

(4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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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—

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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I thank the Minister for giving way. I have understood her line of argument very clearly, but she seems to be saying that it would still be lawful for that housing association in Kensington to have appointed an unqualified person. Is that exactly what she is saying, or not—or will higher-risk buildings have a more stringent requirement for fire safety assessors?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for raising this important matter. I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept these two amendments, but I assure your Lordships that their intention has already been met in the Bill. The building safety regulator will be the building control authority for building work on higher-risk buildings as defined under Part 3. Clause 32 provides new powers to set procedural requirements in building regulations to govern building work. These powers will provide the basis for the new gateways process for creating new higher risk buildings and a new refurbishment process when carrying out certain building work on higher-risk buildings.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, brought up very specific issues and situations. I will make sure that we write on those, because they are very specific and I do not have briefings on them, although I can say that minor works will still be covered by self and third-party certification, as the noble Lord, Lord Khan, said. However, the BSR can inspect those works if it wishes to, so it will keep an eye on them and will use its powers to do that. On trade and business self-certification and on window replacements, which the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, mentioned, I will get a specific answer to noble Lords and put a copy in the Library.

The building safety regulator will be solely responsible for overseeing compliance with all aspects of building regulations, not just fire and structure, when building work is carried out on higher-risk buildings. This responsibility will not be split between the building safety regulator and the relevant local authority. Furthermore, these amendments refer to the building safety regulator acting as

“the building control authority by virtue of Part 4.”

The meaning of the term “building control authority” is inserted into the Building Act 1984 by Clause 31 and does not relate to Part 4 of the Bill, which is concerned with higher-risk residential buildings when they are occupied. In addition, Clause 31 provides the legal framework to enable the building safety regulator to be the building control authority for building work carried out on higher-risk buildings. It also provides that on multibuilding sites where one or more of the buildings are higher-risk buildings, the developer may, for convenience, seek an agreement with the building safety regulator that it will be the building control authority for the whole site, including in respect of any low-rise buildings.

I thank noble Lords for suggesting these amendments, but with that explanation I respectfully ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment. I will write.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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I thank the Minister for her reply and shall await the letters with the greatest interest. A central point here is who notifies who and who knows when stuff is going to happen. For instance, in the current situation, whether it is installing a new boiler or a new window or having some electrical work done, the work is not necessarily commissioned by the owner—it might be by the flat occupier or the leaseholder. On the completion of those works, a certificate is issued to the client and, as I understand it, a copy goes to the building control authority and goes on to its register. It is a post hoc situation; it is not cleared in advance.

I want to see what is in the letter and to understand clearly that we have not left any loopholes, perhaps literally loopholes through which smoke can go or fire can spread. If it is not already clear, we want to see an improved Bill, a strengthened Bill, and we in no way want to weaken it or make it more difficult to enforce or enact. We shall be watching. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Khan, for raising these important points, particularly the role of the building advisory committee and its functions.

I will first respond to Amendment 7. I hate to say this again, but I am afraid the Government will not be able to accept the amendment. We seem to have said this all afternoon, but I sincerely hope to reassure the House that the Bill already makes appropriate provision in Clause 9 for a wide set of functions for the committee.

Clause 9 provides for the establishment of a new expert advisory committee—the building advisory committee—as recommended by Dame Judith Hackitt in her independent review. The building advisory committee is to be established by the building safety regulator. That is important: it is a committee under the building safety regulator. It will provide expert advice and information to the regulator about matters connected with any of the regulator’s building functions, except those functions relating to the competence of persons in the built environment industry and registered building inspectors. This will include validating and assuring technical guidance, such as approved documents, to ensure that it is fit for purpose. Clause 9 will play an important part in ensuring that the building safety regulator has access to the support and expert advice required to enable it to deliver its critical work. That is why I respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, to withdraw his amendment.

I turn to the question of Clause 12 standing part of the Bill. I first thank the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and noble Lords today for their scrutiny of the delegated powers in the Bill. I am sensitive to the concerns that have been raised about Clause 12. The Government believe that the Bill sets up the right committees for the near future, but the Bill also needs to enable the building safety regulator’s committee structure to adapt and improve over the longer term through these delegated powers. We have heard many challenges about the future of building in Committee this afternoon and it is therefore important that there is flexibility within the system.

The Government included Clause 12 because of expert advice from the Health and Safety Executive, as the future building safety regulator, that this is needed to enable its committee structure to adapt and improve. This reflects HSE’s more than 40 years’ experience delivering regulation at an appropriate distance from government. Since 1974, HSE has needed to change its industry and subject advisory committees to reflect industrial, technical, legal and administrative developments. This has resulted in HSE having a rich mix of advisory and stakeholder-led bodies.

I hear the concerns about any use of this power to remove a statutory committee and so offer noble Lords additional reassurances. First, the Government would bring forward regulations to repeal a statutory committee only after a recommendation from the building safety regulator that this is needed as part of changes to improve the working of the regulatory system. Secondly, the Bill provides that such regulations would be subject to the affirmative procedure. Therefore, this House can hold the Government to their assurance that the regulations will not be brought forward without a specific recommendation from the regulator and a convincing case about how it will improve the regulatory system. With those assurances that this power is intended only to ensure the new regulatory system works well over time, I suggest that this clause should stand part of the Bill.

On the detailed questions from the noble Lord, Lord Khan, I do not know whether I have details on funding, staffing and independence. Oh, I have—that is very timely. The statutory committee sits within the building safety regulator. Its activities will be funded by the regulator through a mix of central government grant funding and fee income. Once the amount of funding is decided, we will make sure that noble Lords get a letter. I assume that the same will be the case on staffing—that how it is staffed will come down from the regulator to the committee—and that it will be independent.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, I slightly got the impression that I might even have got a draw on one of those, and I thank the Minister for her reply. In relation to Clause 12, we will want to see the detail of what the Minister has said. It is somewhat reassuring that she understood the concerns that have been expressed, and we look forward to examining it in more detail.

I have to say that she did not do quite such a convincing job on why the building advisory committee should be treated in a different fashion from the committee on industry competence or the residents’ panel. If the whole point of the procedure in Clause 12 is to stop the fossilisation of a set of structures in primary legislation and to give the possibility of changing them as time goes on, which is really the argument she deployed, it does not seem consistent with that line of reasoning that she has been resisting giving some flexibility to how the building advisory committee uses its functions, acting obviously under advice from the building safety regulator itself. That may well be something we come back to. Perhaps the Minister might like to think, in terms of her reply and the reason she gave for retaining Clause 12, about why that search for flexibility in the longer term is not an argument that also applies to Clause 9 in respect of its difference from Clauses 10 and 11.