I wish to update the House on the Government’s work to tighten regulatory oversight of construction product safety, so that people can feel confident that the products used to construct our homes will perform as they should.
Shocking recent testimony to the Grenfell inquiry has shown that some manufacturers of safety-critical construction products appear to have put lives at risk by gaming product-testing regimes, putting products on the market that do not perform as advertised, and to be refusing to take responsibility when caught in the act.
This is unacceptable. This Government will act decisively to protect residents by ensuring that companies who manufacture or sell construction products act responsibly or face the consequences.
In her independent review of the building regulations and fire safety system, Dame Judith Hackitt recommended that industry should ensure that construction products are properly tested, certified, labelled and marketed and Government should put in place a robust regulatory framework to incentivise and oversee this. We agree.
In July 2020, this Government published in draft the Building Safety Bill. The Bill set out the biggest reforms to building safety regulation for a generation, including provisions to strengthen and extend the scope of the powers available to Government to regulate construction products. I welcome the constructive report published by the pre-legislative Committee on the draft Bill—the Government will respond to it shortly and we intend to introduce the Bill in the spring. In my statement to the House of 20 July 2020, I also committed that the Government would develop options for a new, national regulatory function that would ensure that those regulations are better enforced. Today, I want to update the House on the progress we have made on both fronts—the regulations and the regulator—as well as our plans to go further on product testing.
Broader, tougher construction products regulations
First, we are making good progress in extending and strengthening construction product regulations. At present, some products are not covered by the regulations. Our Bill will ensure that all construction products will be covered by the regulatory regime, and that all manufacturers will be required to ensure that their products are safe before putting them on the market. The Bill will also ensure that products designated as “safety critical” will be subject to additional requirements, including having to meet clear performance standards and to have undergone mandatory testing and control processes before they can be sold. The Bill will also make it possible for regulators to remove from the market any product that poses a significant safety risk, and to prosecute or use civil penalties against any company that flouts the rules.
A strong national regulator for construction products
Secondly, I am pleased to announce today that this Government will establish a national regulator to ensure that the regulations are better enforced, and to provide vital market surveillance that will enable us to spot and respond to safety concern earlier and more effectively. We will do this by extending the remit of the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), which will take on oversight of construction products alongside its existing responsibilities. OPSS has valuable skills and experience in regulating consumer products and of working closely with local authority Trading Standards and other regulators, and will be granted up to £10 million in 2021-22 to establish the new function.
The national regulator will have strong inspection and enforcement powers—including to commission and conduct its own product testing when investigating concerns—and will work with both national regulators (such as the Building Safety Regulator) and local regulators (such as Trading Standards) to encourage and enforce compliance. The regulator will also advise the public, Government and the sector on technical and policy issues, pursuant to its function. Over coming months, I expect the regulator to begin to operate in shadow form, including engaging with the sector to clarify how the new regime will operate in practice.
Going further on product testing
Thirdly, recent testimony to the Grenfell inquiry has shone a light on appalling practices by some manufacturers of construction products, including what appears to be wilful attempts to game the system and to rig the results of safety tests that are intended to give the market vital information about how products will perform in a fire.
I have written to the Advertising Standards Authority and National Trading Standards to ask them what steps they can take to ensure that marketing of construction products is not misleading. We will provide further information to the House on this in due course.
Furthermore, I am today announcing that I will shortly commission an independent review to examine in detail the deficiencies in testing and conformity assessment regime for construction products, and to recommend how we can prevent abuse of the system by irresponsible companies who are prepared to put profits before lives. The review will report later this year, and may lead to further regulatory changes.
Ongoing work to improve building safety
These measures come on top of other major steps we are taking as we deliver our commitment to bring about a generational shift in building safety, including:
£1.6 billion of funding to remove dangerous cladding from high rise buildings
Introducing the Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety Bill to bring about the biggest change in building safety for a generation
Establishing a new building safety regulator
Recruiting the first ever chief inspector of buildings
I trust that these important measures will receive broad support across the House. I also call on companies who manufacture, sell or distribute construction products to do the right thing and address the rotten culture and poor practice that have come to light. We have a shared responsibility to confront poor practice and establish new norms that will restore public confidence in the industry. Residents deserve and expect nothing less.