Building Safety Bill (Thirteenth sitting)

Debate between Selaine Saxby and Christopher Pincher
Thursday 21st October 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Christopher Pincher Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Christopher Pincher)
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I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr Dowd. On the point raised by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth about the late Emily Davison, if she is still resident here, she has rather a lot of back council tax to pay because she has been here for 108 years.

The Government are committed to ensuring that landlords exhaust all other avenues of cost recovery before billing leaseholders, and this clause puts that commitment in statute. It places a new legislative requirement on landlords to take reasonable steps to pursue other cost recovery avenues before passing on the cost of remediation works to leaseholders. We know that some building owners are not fully exploring all the cost recovery avenues and are passing costs on to leaseholders as a default. Many are, but too many are not. The clause will help to bring those unfair practices to an end.

The clause will enable the Secretary of State to prescribe the reasonable steps that the landlord must take, and how that landlord can demonstrate to leaseholders that they have taken them. Landlords will need to comply with guidance issued by the Secretary of State, which will provide clarity on the reasonable steps that the landlord must take. The guidance should act as an important resource for all leaseholders and landlords alike, providing clarity and transparency for landlords, and assurances for leaseholders that the requirements have been met.

The clause also requires landlords to provide leaseholders with details of the steps that they are taking and their reasons for their course of action. The Government will be able to prescribe in regulations the information that must be provided to leaseholders. That will mean that leaseholders have sufficient understanding of decisions taken about their building and why any remediation costs have been passed on to them. Landlords will be required to have regard to observations made by leaseholders or a recognised tenants association.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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Could the Minister clarify whether the provisions on special measures will apply solely to leasehold blocks, or whether they will apply to rented commonhold blocks as well?

Building Safety Bill (Fourteenth sitting)

Debate between Selaine Saxby and Christopher Pincher
Thursday 21st October 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

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Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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The clause provides that the Crown is bound by parts 2 and 4 of the Bill, and by the provisions relating to the new homes ombudsman.

The Crown Estate manages an extensive property portfolio on behalf of the Crown, and that portfolio includes a number of in-scope buildings. The Duchy of Lancaster on behalf of Her Majesty, and the Duchy of Cornwall on behalf of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, also manage property portfolios that may include in-scope buildings. Some properties owned and occupied by Government Departments may include permanent accommodation, which could bring them within scope.

It is right that those buildings should be subject to the new regime we are setting up for existing buildings. This clause therefore provides that the Crown is subject to parts 2 and 4 of the Bill. This is in line with the approach taken in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which apply to the Crown. It will mean that the Crown will be an accountable person for in-scope buildings and, as such, will be bound by all the duties placed upon an accountable person. The Crown will also be bound by the provisions of the new homes ombudsman, so any Crown bodies developing new residential properties that are within the scope of that ombudsman may need to join the scheme as required by regulations, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North has mentioned in other contexts.

In line with long-standing legal and constitutional principles, the Crown as an entity cannot be subject to criminal sanctions. However, individual Crown servants can be, and that is provided for in clause 141(3) of the Bill.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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The Bill applies parts 2 and 4 to Crown buildings. Do the Government intend to extend the application of part 3 of the Bill to Crown buildings, too?

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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Clearly, there should be a consistent approach to the application of all the provisions of the Bill to the Crown. There is an existing power in section 44 of the Building Act 1984 to enable building regulations to be applied to the Crown, although it has not been brought into force. We have been looking at whether we should switch this power, but there are gaps in how it would operate. In particular, as drafted, the power in section 44 of the 1984 Act would not allow us to make regulations setting out the gateway requirements for work carried out by Crown bodies. We are working through the issues and what might be needed by way of new provisions in the hope that we can resolve these matters at a later stage of proceedings on the Bill. I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention.

Building Safety Bill (Ninth sitting)

Debate between Selaine Saxby and Christopher Pincher
Thursday 23rd September 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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I will be more succinct in respect of this clause, because it follows on from clauses 37 and 38 and I referred briefly to it earlier.

Many of the persons with responsibilities under the Building Act 1984 are and will be corporate bodies, or “legal persons”, rather than individuals, who are known as “natural persons”. Any corporate body operates only through the actions of its employees, controlled by its managers and directors. As such, if there is an offence by a corporate body, there is likely to be some measure of personal failure by those in positions of seniority.

That liability is already provided for in a number of other pieces of legislation, including, most notably, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The end result is that directors, managers and other such persons are just as criminally responsible as the company at which they have either made decisions directly leading to an offence being committed, or been negligent in allowing an offence to occur.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend clarify how that will apply when there is only one director of a corporate body?

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Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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Dame Judith’s independent review raised serious concerns over the lack of a level playing field for approved inspectors and local authority building control. There were different statutory and non-statutory processes leading to incoherence, confusion and complexity in the system.

Clause 41 establishes a new registration and oversight regime to provide consistency across the public and private sector, and creates a new, unified building control profession. The new registration regime will raise standards in the sector and enhance public confidence by requiring a minimum level of demonstrated competence to provide building control services on different types of buildings. For the first time, individual building control professionals, whether in the public or private sector, will have to register with a regulatory authority. That is the Building Safety Regulator in England and the Welsh Ministers in Wales.

We intend for the registration process to involve the demonstration of competence against a shared framework. Registered professionals, who will be called “registered building inspectors”, will need to adhere to a common code of conduct. We will now be able to hold individuals accountable for professional misconduct or incompetence. That is the foundation for clause 43, in which we set out certain activities and functions that building control bodies can carry out only by using a registered inspector.

Together, these clauses will change the way building inspectors work with and for building control bodies, giving the consumer greater assurance that an experienced professional will be checking their building against regulations. We are introducing an updated registration regime for private sector building control bodies, currently known as approved inspectors. They will have to register with the regulatory authority to work as a registered building control approver and will be held to professional conduct rules. We are introducing sanctions and offences for misconduct to ensure that those organisations that supervise building works are held to high professional standards.

Clause 41 also allows the regulatory authority to delegate those registration functions to another body. We are introducing a new framework for the oversight of the performance of building control bodies, levelling the playing field for local authority building control and registered building control approvers. The regulatory authority will be able to set the operational standards defining the minimum performance standards that building control bodies must meet. It sets out the reporting requirements that will enable the regulator to collect information to assess and analyse the performance of building control bodies and make recommendations to drive up standards. It gives the regulatory authority investigatory powers when building control bodies breach the operating standards, and a series of escalating sanctions and enforcement measures to address poor performance issues.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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This is, obviously, a necessary and very technical clause, setting out a strong new regime of how we can improve competence levels and accountability in the building control sector. I wonder if he could clarify how the regulator will deal with poor performing building control bodies?

Building Safety Bill (Tenth sitting)

Debate between Selaine Saxby and Christopher Pincher
Thursday 23rd September 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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I know that this clause is of some interest to members of the Committee, so I shall make some remarks and then address any questions or debating points in my concluding remarks.

The clause relates to the legal requirements for insurance for private sector building control professionals. When the private sector competitive element was introduced in 1984, a requirement was included in the Building Act of that year for approved inspectors to have “adequate insurance” from a Government-approved scheme in relation to the work that they supervise. The Bill maintains the double protection of requiring adequate insurance from a Government-approved insurance scheme. We believe that that is a sensible protection for approved inspectors, consumers and the construction sector.

The Bill also maintains the current requirement for approved inspectors to prove that they have insurance before they can obtain permission to start work on a new project—also known as the initial notice process. However, there have been difficulties in the past with a limited number of approved insurance schemes and no set definition of what constitutes the adequate insurance required. The problem worsened when it coincided with much wider insurance market changes, especially in 2019, and a reduction in the level of risk that insurers were prepared to accept. That led to cases of approved inspectors being unable to obtain insurance cover and, therefore, to operate. The number of approved inspectors involved was already small, but the effects on ongoing projects and local authorities that had to pick up the work were noticeable.

The Bill makes two main changes to reform and address that situation while keeping the fundamental requirement for insurance for approved inspectors. The first is a duty to prepare and publish guidance on what is adequate insurance cover. The second is the ability for the Secretary of State to designate bodies to undertake the functions both of joined-up guidance and of approving insurance schemes.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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Who might the Government approve to do that work on their behalf? Will it be part of the Building Safety Regulator’s role?

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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Over the next few weeks and months we will assess all potential organisations that might undertake that role. They will need to demonstrate expertise and capability, to determine whether they can meet the high standards set by any prospective building control insurance scheme. We will pursue an answer to that question over the next several weeks and months. I will be happy to update the House as we progress through that process.

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Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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I will try to be brief. Clause 51 relates to local authorities gathering information about particular projects supervised by registered building control approvers where that project has become the responsibility of the local authority. Under the current system, approved inspectors are under no explicit duty to provide information about their casework to a local authority; only the owner of the building can be asked to provide information. There can be problems where an approved inspector ceases to operate or leaves a project unfinished, or indeed both.

In such cases, either the local authority or a new approved inspector will pick up the building control function, but it can struggle to obtain the information on the work completed thus far. In practice, that can result in delays to projects and a risk that building work continues without adequate oversight. It also means a stop-start approach to building control enforcement and more work for the local authorities trying to access that information, which are sometimes unsuccessful.

The changes introduced by the clause require registered building control approvers—or former ones, if they have ceased operating—to provide local authorities with information relating to their building work. Failure of the registered building control approver to comply with a request made by a local authority will be a criminal offence, which is newly provided for in the Bill. Registered building control approvers will also be under a duty to provide copies of that information to their clients.

Together, the measures will ensure a smooth transfer of information from registered building control approvers to local authorities where there is a change of building control provider.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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I come from somewhere with multi-tier authorities and a very small district council which is responsible for planning. Should we be concerned about the measures being burdensome for local authorities?

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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I am obliged to my hon. Friend. We always apply the new burdens doctrine when applying new responsibilities to local authorities, and I am sure that will be the case here.

Building Safety Bill (Seventh sitting)

Debate between Selaine Saxby and Christopher Pincher
Tuesday 21st September 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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I will speak first to clause 24. The Government support the independent review’s recommendation that the new regulatory system should have

“a clear and easy route of redress to achieve resolution in cases where there is disagreement”.

I suspect that, from time to time, there will be disagreements. We are committed to ensuring that, where disputes occur in relation to regulatory decisions, they are resolved as quickly as possible for all parties involved. Our fundamental and overriding objective is to make sure that buildings and the people in them are safe.

The Building Safety Regulator will make a significant number of regulatory decisions under the new legislation. The approach to any disputed decision will be two-staged: first, an internal review by the regulator and following that, if necessary, an appeal to the tribunal. It will be in both parties’ interest that an independent team within the regulator carry out an initial review of any disputed decision. This will ensure swifter resolution for both parties.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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The Minister has mentioned a two-tier approach, so will he clarify whether that will put lengthy delays into the whole process?

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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I am obliged to my hon. Friend for asking that question. The very reason for having a two-stage process and an initial stage is to try to make sure that disputes that can be resolved quickly are resolved quickly and to minimise the number of disputes that go to the first-tier tribunal. That can be a more lengthy process. Our objective is to move as swiftly as we can through any disputes. We believe that will be for the public good.

As I have just said to my hon. Friend, clause 24 provides the legal basis for a person affected by the Building Safety Regulator’s decisions to request to have that decision internally reviewed. In the initial years of operation, we expect that there will be a substantial number of requests for review owing to the natural adjustment required by all industry actors to the new regulatory regime. We expect, and we intend, the Building Safety Regulator to make every effort to resolve disputes at the internal review stage. We believe that will be the swiftest way of achieving resolution. The right of appeal to the courts remains because individuals will be able to appeal against a decision made on review to the tribunal if they think it is unsatisfactory.

Building Safety Bill (Eighth sitting)

Debate between Selaine Saxby and Christopher Pincher
Tuesday 21st September 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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I certainly think that trade bodies and professional organisations should develop suitable ways for their members to demonstrate their competence. I also want to ensure that the Building Safety Regulator has a broad reach within the understandable constraints of not losing or diluting its very important focus on high-rise and other in-scope residential buildings.

I will reflect on my hon. Friend’s point about reaching out to higher and further education providers, but if I may stretch the point a little, it is certainly the case that by working with our colleagues in BEIS and across other Government Departments, we are building a skill set in the construction industry—young people going into construction and becoming bricklayers or skill supervisors. We need to ensure that they have the wherewithal to build their careers, but we also need to ensure that their professional trade bodies are providing them with competence, and that that competence can be properly assessed by the Building Safety Regulator and its officials.

For organisations, the requirements will relate to the organisational capability—the ability of an organisation to carry out its functions properly under the building regulations. Where the principal designer or principal contractor is an organisation, subsection (3) enables building regulations to require the organisation to ensure that the individuals leading the work have the appropriate skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours to manage their functions. To provide more detail on how the competence requirements will apply, we have published draft regulations to sit alongside the Bill.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that this new regime for driving up competence levels will not have a negative impact on industry capacity, particularly in areas such as mine—this might be slightly outside the scope of the Bill—where the sector already has issues with recruitment?

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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I am obliged to my hon. Friend. We certainly do not want to see skills and capacity further stretched. I will give her one example of the stimulant action that the Government have taken to support the sector. Last November we announced funding just touching £700,000 to train up 2,000 external wall system 1 assessors. I believe that their training commenced in January this year, so they will be coming on stream to provide the sorts of services that are needed. We certainly want to ensure that, in that instance and others, we have appropriate capacity to do the work required.

In addition, the Government intend to provide statutory guidance in the form of an approved document to support duty holders in meeting these requirements. This is a short but important clause, and I commend it to the Committee.

Building Safety Bill (Seventh sitting)

Debate between Selaine Saxby and Christopher Pincher
Tuesday 21st September 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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I will speak first to clause 24. The Government support the independent review’s recommendation that the new regulatory system should have

“a clear and easy route of redress to achieve resolution in cases where there is disagreement”.

I suspect that, from time to time, there will be disagreements. We are committed to ensuring that, where disputes occur in relation to regulatory decisions, they are resolved as quickly as possible for all parties involved. Our fundamental and overriding objective is to make sure that buildings and the people in them are safe.

The Building Safety Regulator will make a significant number of regulatory decisions under the new legislation. The approach to any disputed decision will be two-staged: first, an internal review by the regulator and following that, if necessary, an appeal to the tribunal. It will be in both parties’ interest that an independent team within the regulator carry out an initial review of any disputed decision. This will ensure swifter resolution for both parties.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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The Minister has mentioned a two-tier approach, so will he clarify whether that will put lengthy delays into the whole process?

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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I am obliged to my hon. Friend for asking that question. The very reason for having a two-stage process and an initial stage is to try to make sure that disputes that can be resolved quickly are resolved quickly and to minimise the number of disputes that go to the first-tier tribunal. That can be a more lengthy process. Our objective is to move as swiftly as we can through any disputes. We believe that will be for the public good.

As I have just said to my hon. Friend, clause 24 provides the legal basis for a person affected by the Building Safety Regulator’s decisions to request to have that decision internally reviewed. In the initial years of operation, we expect that there will be a substantial number of requests for review owing to the natural adjustment required by all industry actors to the new regulatory regime. We expect, and we intend, the Building Safety Regulator to make every effort to resolve disputes at the internal review stage. We believe that will be the swiftest way of achieving resolution. The right of appeal to the courts remains because individuals will be able to appeal against a decision made on review to the tribunal if they think it is unsatisfactory.

End of Eviction Moratorium

Debate between Selaine Saxby and Christopher Pincher
Wednesday 23rd September 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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Given what the hon. Gentleman sometimes says in this place and on social media, one might be forgiven for thinking that he is the enemy of everybody some of the time. We will reform section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 when we bring forward the renters’ reform Bill, which we will do in due course.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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It is crucial that we ensure that the most vulnerable in society are supported, especially throughout this pandemic. Is it not also the case that we should recognise that not every tenant is unable to pay their rent? Where necessary, should we not be supporting the landlords who rely on the income from their rental properties to live on or who have mortgages of their own to pay?

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Tenants should continue to pay their rent where they can. Where they can but will not, we have changed the Coronavirus Act 2020 to make it easier for landlords to act. We think we have struck a fair balance between the rights of tenants and the rights of landlords, and I ask the House to support it.

Rented Homes: End of Evictions Ban

Debate between Selaine Saxby and Christopher Pincher
Wednesday 22nd July 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

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Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget statement and subsequently, has announced a raft of infrastructure measures that will stimulate our economy. He also, of course, announced the biggest injection of cash into affordable homes in 15 years, since the 2006 to 2011 period, through the affordable homes programme. We have also taken measures to allow local authorities to act more quickly and effectively to build social homes if they wish. From memory, I think that we have built something like 150,000 homes for social rent in the last few years, and of course more will be built. We have a plan to invest in our infrastructure that will support the hon. Lady’s constituents and mine.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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The support that the Government have given to small councils, such as mine in north Devon, and fabulous homeless charities, such as the Freedom Centre in Barnstaple, to help people off the streets has been welcome. With the moratorium on evictions ending, however, can the Minister assure me that all that good work and support will be backed up by long-term plans to secure affordable and sustainable housing for my most vulnerable constituents?

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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I commend my hon. Friend’s constituents, and the Freedom Centre in particular, for all the work they have been doing for her constituents, their neighbours, during the emergency. I absolutely commit to her that, as I just said to the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), we will bring forward the biggest investment in affordable housing in the last 10 to 15 years between 2021 and 2026. That builds on the £9 billion that we have invested in the existing affordable homes programme, which has helped to build 241,000 homes in the last year. That is a signal achievement; we intend to go further.