All 2 Baroness Scott of Bybrook contributions to the Building Safety Act 2022

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Mon 21st Feb 2022
Tue 29th Mar 2022
Building Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

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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.

Moved by
17: Clause 41, page 56, line 27, at end insert—
“Inspection of local authorities and registered building control approvers 58Z7A Inspections(1) The regulatory authority may carry out an inspection of a local authority, or a registered building control approver, in relation to their exercise of building control functions.(2) The purposes for which an inspection may be carried out include—(a) ascertaining the efficiency and effectiveness of the local authority or registered building control approver in exercising their building control functions;(b) verifying any information provided by the local authority or registered building control approver to the regulatory authority, in connection with their building control functions.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment confers a power on the regulatory authority to inspect local authorities and registered building control approvers, in relation to their building control functions.
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I open this group by introducing a number of technical amendments tabled to strengthen the Bill. Included within this group are amendments that simply update the drafting of the Bill. These include Amendments 72, 75, 79 and 274.

I will speak to government Amendments 17 to 19, which make changes to Clauses 41 and 47 and introduce a new clause relating to approved inspectors. Amendments 18 and 19 relate specifically to approved inspectors’ insurance, while Amendment 17 introduces a power for the regulatory authority to inspect local authorities and registered building control approvers. The Building Act 1984 currently requires approved inspectors to hold insurance through a government-approved scheme. These amendments remove this requirement. Instead, approved inspectors will need to identify adequate cover themselves, encouraging competition between insurance providers.

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Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome these technical amendments, tabled by the Minister. While I will not unnecessarily detain the House by discussing each amendment, I would appreciate clarification on a small number of issues.

First, Amendment 17 provides the building safety regulator with a power to conduct inspections of building control bodies, thereby giving further oversight of building control bodies provision. Can the Minister explain what guidance will be given on the conduct of such inspections?

Secondly, Amendments 243, 244 and 265 will together mandate a warranty of 15 years minimum as a standard, while enabling the making of regulations for warranties to set a minimum period of liability for developers, minimum standards for the warranty, and a penalty regime for any developers failing to comply. On the warranty, can the Minister explain the rationale for 15 years? Can she elaborate on the Government’s plans for the penalty regime?

As I stated earlier, I welcome these technical amendments and look forward to clarification from the Minister.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for this short debate on these amendments. I am very pleased that most of them, if not all of them, have been welcomed, because I think they will make a difference to the housing market.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, brought up the issue of why the amendments have come so late. It is because we listened; the Minister listened, in Committee, to this issue, and therefore the Government have brought forward these amendments. I think the important thing about insurance requirements, as I said, is that the Government are expecting this to reinvigorate the insurance market. At the moment, that is not the case because it is all done through specific Government-procured insurance. This should reinvigorate the market that, as he quite rightly says, is not as vigorous as it should be at the moment. So that is one thing.

The insurance of approved inspectors was mentioned. It will be for the building safety regulator to decide how to set up insurance requirements for approved inspectors. This can be done by the regulator through its professional conduct rules.

The noble Lord, Lord Khan, asked who has oversight of this. It will be the building safety regulator. That is their job, and it is through their rules and regulations that they will make sure that these things are delivered.

Lastly, I am afraid I do not know how the 15 years came about, but I will find an answer for the noble Lord. It is in line with the prospective limitation period for action under the Defective Premises Act 1972—but I will find out how that came about in 1972 for the noble Lord.

Amendment 17 agreed.
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Moved by
18: Clause 47, leave out Clause 47
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes provision about insurance cover relating to work to which an initial notice relates.
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Moved by
19: After Clause 47, insert the following new Clause—
“Insurance: removal of requirements
(1) The Building Act 1984 is amended as follows.(2) In section 47 (giving and acceptance of initial notice)—(a) in subsection (1) omit paragraph (c) (but not the “and” at the end of it);(b) omit subsections (6) and (7).(3) In section 51A(2) (variation of work to which initial notice relates) omit paragraph (c) (but not the “and” at the end of it).(4) In section 56 (recording and furnishing of information) omit subsection (2).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause removes requirements in Part 2 of the Building Act 1984 relating to insurance.
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Moved by
216: Clause 129, page 133, line 36, leave out from “products” to “in” in line 37
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes the reference to Schedule 12 in the definition of “persons carrying out activities in relation to construction products” with a view to a definition being inserted into the Clause.
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.

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for their support for these important amendments —I will write to the noble Lord on his question; I do not have it in my pack. This shows that, throughout the Bill, we have listened to noble Lords across the House and have done what we can. I thank noble Lords for their engagement and for their continued support for most of the Bill. It is important because it will ensure that in this country everyone’s home is a place of safety.

Amendment 216 agreed.
Moved by
217: Clause 129, page 133, line 37, at end insert—
““construction product” has the meaning given by regulations;“persons carrying out activities in relation to construction products” include (without limitation)—(a) a manufacturer of construction products,(b) a person who markets or supplies construction products to others, and(c) a person who imports construction products into the United Kingdom for use, marketing or supply;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment defines “construction product” and “persons carrying out activities in relation to construction products” for the purposes of Clause 128.
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Moved by
218: Clause 130, page 134, line 7, at end insert—
“(1A) The descriptions of persons which may be prescribed include in particular persons who—(a) are eligible to be members of a scheme established under section 128, and(b) are not members of that scheme.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the descriptions of persons whom regulations may prohibit from carrying out development under this Clause include, in particular, persons who are eligible to be members of a scheme established under Clause 128 but are not members of that scheme.