The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: Philip Davies, Peter Dowd, †Clive Efford, Mrs Maria Miller
† Amesbury, Mike (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
† Bailey, Shaun (West Bromwich West) (Con)
† Baillie, Siobhan (Stroud) (Con)
† Byrne, Ian (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)
† Cadbury, Ruth (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
† Clarke, Theo (Stafford) (Con)
† Clarke-Smith, Brendan (Bassetlaw) (Con)
† Cooper, Daisy (St Albans) (LD)
† Hopkins, Rachel (Luton South) (Lab)
† Hughes, Eddie (Walsall North) (Con)
† Logan, Mark (Bolton North East) (Con)
† Mann, Scott (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
† Osborne, Kate (Jarrow) (Lab)
† Pincher, Christopher (Tamworth) (Con)
† Rimmer, Ms Marie (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab)
† Saxby, Selaine (North Devon) (Con)
† Young, Jacob (Redcar) (Con)
Yohanna Sallberg, Adam Mellows-Facer, Abi Samuels, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 21 September 2021
[Clive Efford in the Chair]
Building Safety Bill
Before we begin, I have a few preliminary reminders for the Committee. Please switch electronic devices to silent. No food or drink is permitted, except for the water that is provided. I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please give one another, and members of staff, space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. Hansard colleagues will be grateful if Members email their speaking notes to email@example.com.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to consider the following:
That schedule 2 be the Second schedule to the Bill.
Clause 22 stand part.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I welcome the Committee back to its deliberations.
Clause 21 allows the Building Safety Regulator to authorise individuals to exercise powers on the regulator’s behalf. However, before making an authorisation, the regulator must be satisfied that the individual being authorised is suitably qualified to exercise that role. This power is designed to enable the effective functioning of the Building Safety Regulator’s functions in respect of higher-risk buildings.
Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review found that the regulation of higher-risk buildings could be improved by bringing together Health and Safety Executive expertise, local authority building control expertise and fire safety expertise from fire and rescue services. As we have already discussed, clause 13 enables the Building Safety Regulator to secure the assistance of staff from local authorities and fire and rescue services in its work on higher-risk buildings.
This clause goes further and consolidates the independent review’s recommendation, allowing the regulator to authorise others, including officers of these bodies, to exercise powers on its behalf. Under its general powers, the Building Safety Regulator will also be able to secure expertise from the private sector to deliver building functions on higher-risk buildings. In certain circumstances, the regulator may want to authorise such individuals to exercise powers, and this clause enables that to be done. The regulator will be able to authorise such individuals only where they have been appropriately trained to exercise these powers.
As some individuals will have more competence and expertise than others, the Building Safety Regulator will have discretion to confer different sets of powers on different individuals. For example, one person might be authorised to make applications for search warrants because they have appropriate experience, whereas another might be authorised to do site visits and seize documents.
In practice, that could work as follows: the Building Safety Regulator may request assistance with building control matters from the local authority, which provides an appropriately trained building control expert to assist with the regulator. The building control expert could be given Building Safety Regulator powers to enter non-domestic premises with or without a warrant. However, the Building Safety Regulator may decide not to designate this individual with the power to enter domestic premises, on the grounds that they do not have the necessary experience and training to do so. Deciding to enter domestic premises requires a balance to be struck between a person’s right to privacy—the resident—and the public interest in making entry to obtain, for example, evidence of wrongdoing. Not all those working with the regulator will have the necessary experience and training to make such decisions.
The full list of powers available is set out in schedule 2, which I will now turn to in some further detail. With the introduction of new duties and new processes into the building control regime, authorised officers will play a significant role in ensuring compliance with the new regime. This schedule provides officers who have been authorised under clause 21 with a suite of powers to enable them to assist the regulator in carrying out its building functions. This includes powers of entry, inspection and collection of evidence that mirror existing powers used effectively under similar regulatory regimes, such as the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. These powers are designed to be flexible and to be useful in every situation that authorised officers may encounter.
To ensure proportionality, as with existing practice, warrants will be required to enter residential premises or any premises where it is expected to be necessary to use force to enter. If an application is made to a magistrate for a warrant to enter domestic premises, additional powers may be requested, where required. Those are powers, first, to use force to gain entry; secondly, to collect and take away evidence; or, thirdly, take other personnel—for example, experts—on to the premises.
Compliance with the requests of authorised officers will be integral in ensuring the effective functioning of the new regime and will avert potentially dangerous situations for residents. As such, authorised officers have been provided with the powers necessary to enforce compliance where required. Paragraph 8 of schedule 2 provides that failure to provide information upon request to authorised officers will be a criminal offence. Deliberately providing information to the regulator that is false or misleading, when required to provide information or in the other circumstances in the clause, is an offence under clause 23.
My hon. Friend is quite right: we must ensure that every player in the design, development and construction of in-scope buildings recognises the importance and powers of the regulator and the penalties that may apply should any attempt be made to obstruct or impersonate it. The offences will carry a maximum custodial sentence of up to two years to provide an effective deterrent to non-compliance. I hope that my hon. Friend recognises the power and veracity of the penalty.
I hope that members of the Committee will agree that this clause is key in enabling the regulator to carry out its functions effectively, drawing on the expertise and involvement of local authorities and fire and rescue services.
Clause 22 makes it a criminal offence to obstruct or to impersonate an authorised officer of the Building Safety Regulator. Under clause 21 and schedule 2, authorised officers will play a significant role in exercising powers on behalf of the regulator. This clause is designed to protect authorised officers by ensuring that they are not impeded and that they—and, by extension, the Building Safety Regulator—can go about their business of keeping residents safe.
Clause 22 does that by deterring and, if necessary, enabling the punishment of those who seek to obstruct or impersonate authorised officers—behaviour that could severely disrupt or sabotage critical building functions. The difference in penalties for obstruction and impersonation are proportionate to the expected gravity of each offence, reflecting the greater intent required to impersonate an authorised officer. The penalties mirror existing penalties for obstructing or impersonating a police officer and reflect similar provisions protecting staff of other regulatory bodies such as the Food Standards Agency and the Financial Conduct Authority.
The two clauses are crucial components of building the regime of the Building Safety Regulator and I commend them to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford.
As the Minister rightly said in his introduction, clause 21 ensures that appropriately trained individuals secure the involvement of local authorities, key stakeholders and fire and rescue teams in working with the Health and Safety Executive and the regulator.
The current definition of at-risk buildings is those of 18 metres and above. I have said throughout proceedings on the Bill that the scope of “at risk” should be broadened, and we will debate that under later clauses.
We welcome the recommendations, which draw on the findings of the independent review conducted by Dame Judith Hackitt.
How will the regulator ensure that individuals are appropriately trained and qualified under the framework? An example arose yesterday on social media of a resident living in a block in Bournemouth. The block was signed off by a previous employee of the council but it has been riddled with fire safety issues that we in this room and beyond are all familiar with. The individual has now set up as a private contractor, free to assess so-called fire safety issues in other at-risk buildings.
Clause 22 is straightforward, and we agree with it. Although it is beyond the Minister’s remit, a £1,000 fine for impersonation seems little deterrent, given the amount of money involved in building construction. As the Minister said, current levels of fines under the justice system for impersonating police officers will apply.
It is a pleasure to be back on a Committee with you, Mr Efford, and to see you in the Chair. I shall keep my comments brief because my right hon. Friend the Minister articulated most of the relevant points in his customary clear manner. I do not want to be repetitious.
Clause 21 is positive. It reinforces the non-siloed approach that we need to take to building safety. The Building Safety Regulator has the ability to work with different agencies and ensure it can meet its goals. The ability to gain entry to buildings and ensure compliance is important. We discussed the issue last week and it was clear that safety has to be at the heart of this. We must ensure that the mechanism safeguards residents.
We also discussed last week the need to ensure that the regulator is not beholden to anyone—that it is independent. I was heartened by the comments made last week by my right hon. Friend the Minister about the regulator always being the independent voice, especially in its engagement with third parties to deliver the objectives in clause 21.
Clause 22 deals with the criminal offence element. As I said in my earlier intervention, it reinforces the role of the Building Safety Regulator. It says to the industry and to stakeholders, “You have to take this seriously. You cannot stop the regulator doing what it needs to do to keep people safe.”
The introduction of a level 3 fine seems proportionate, but I implore the Minister to use a degree of flexibility. As circumstances change, things might need to become a bit more severe. I hope not. I hope that the Bill will lead to a sea change in the environment we have seen hitherto. The fact that we have put obstruction of the regulator on a statutory footing will reinforce that.
I fully support the clauses and wish them well.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West and concur with his sentiment that we must ensure that the Building Safety Regulator has the flexibility to do its job properly and the enforcement powers to ensure that all players across the in-scope sector recognise the importance and veracity of those powers.
As we move through the Committee’s deliberations we may disagree on matters of scope, but I hope that as we build the Bill—clause by clause and schedule by schedule—the House, of which this Committee forms a part, and the sector will recognise the powers that we are creating for the Building Safety Regulator and the importance of the law.
The hon. Member for Weaver Vale asked a couple of questions about clauses 21 and 22. He will know—he has heard me say it before in this Committee—that it is the responsibility of the Building Safety Regulator to build multidisciplinary teams that include local authority resources, fire and rescue service resources and those of others. We believe that the duty on them to co-operate will ensure the right level and that the right skills and expertise are available to the regulator.
We are working closely with the Health and Safety Executive to identify appropriate training arrangements for authorised officers. The powers available to authorised officers are very similar to existing powers available to local authority building control, the HSE and so on. We do not believe that new and further training and skills will be required, but I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point about training.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned enforcement and penalties. We believe we have struck the right balance in the penalties that apply to the obstruction or impersonation of an authorised officer of the Building Safety Regulator. If he rereads the explanatory notes, he will see that impersonation of an enforcement officer acting on behalf of the Building Safety Regulator is subject to a fine not of £1,000, but to an unlimited fine. If someone were to obstruct the regulator or an enforcement officer, the fine is £1,000. We have created that differentiation because we want to make it clear that impersonating an enforcement officer is a much more grave offence than obstructing an officer, even though that is an important offence in itself.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question. For example, if an authorised officer of the Building Safety Regulator is obstructed, a level 3 fine of £1,000 may be levied. That compares with a similar fine for obstructing a police officer. However, given the nature of policing, the warrants held by police officers and the threats and difficulties that police forces can sometimes encounter, it is also possible for one month’s imprisonment to be imposed on an obstructer of a police officer. We have tried to make sure that the penalties are proportionate, and I trust that the Committee will agree that they are.
Having said that, I trust the Committee will see that clause 21 and schedule 2 enable the Building Safety Regulator to carry out its functions effectively, drawing on the expertise and involvement of local authorities and fire and rescue services. Clause 22, which we have just debated, enables the punishment of those who seek to obstruct or impersonate authorised officers, and I hope that the Committee will agree that these are good and proportionate clauses. I commend them to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 21 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 2 agreed to.
Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Provision of false or misleading information to regulator
Question proposed,That the clausestandpart of the Bill.
The Committee will see that there is a theme running through the clauses numbered 20-something. Clause 23 makes it an offence to provide false or misleading information to the Building Safety Regulator in circumstances specified in subsection (1). The Building Safety Regulator will have powers to make a number of individual regulatory decisions based on the information provided by duty holders. As such, the Building Safety Regulator’s decisions have a direct effect on the safety of residents in high-rise buildings. It is therefore essential that correct information is supplied to the regulator to ensure that the residents in the building are safe and that the proper and requisite requirements of building safety are adhered to. This power aims to deter the provision of any information that could impair the regulator’s decision-making capability.
The independent review recommended a stronger enforcement regime in line with the approach taken in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. This offence carries a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or two years imprisonment, which mirrors the maximum sentence for the similar offence in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Again, that takes forward the recommendation in the independent review. The weighty custodial sentence in this provision seeks to provide a strong deterrent against the provision of false or misleading information. This is to preserve and promote the effective functioning of the Building Safety Regulator and the safety of the building and residents.
We will come on to clause 138, but it is worth referencing it in the context of clause 23. It will allow for any officer of the corporate body to be held responsible for the same offence if they participated in the offence in the ways set out in clause 138. However, it illustrates that there are similar and sufficient powers for the BSR to apply to corporate bodies, and that again mirrors the provisions in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. This goes above and beyond the current building safety enforcement regime and it creates a stronger incentive for those who are directing companies to provide accurate information to the BSR. I hope that the Committee will agree to the clause. I commend it to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 23 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Review by regulator of certain decisions made by it
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to consider clause 25 stand part.
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.
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.
We certainly want the system to be transparent and the outcome to be agreeable to both parties, so that things can be done as swiftly as possible. We certainly want to make sure that the right resources are made available to all parties to ensure that that can be done. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the importance of swift and transparent resolution.
As I have said, the right of appeal to the courts remains and if I give an example of how the system may work in practice, it may assist the Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw. Relevant duty holders may have submitted a full gateway-2 application with all its constituent parts. The Building Safety Regulator, however, finds some of these documents to be not compliant, so does not approve the application to enable construction to begin. The developer then lodges an appeal—an internal review—against the Building Safety Regulator’s decision within the period prescribed. The BSR then decides the most appropriate form of review and how comprehensive the review will be. If the developer is not content with the final decision of the regulator, they can appeal that decision to the first-tier tribunal. I might add that this clause is intended for certain types of regulatory decisions, such as the example of the refusal of a gateway application, but it does not include enforcement decisions, which will be appealable directly to the tribunal. The clause reflects our intention that, where disputes occur in relation to regulatory decisions, we want them to be resolved as rapidly as possible for all parties involved.
Where disputes regarding the regulator and its decisions occur, and given that the BSR will make a significant number of regulatory decisions, it is in all parties’ interests for them to be resolved in an expedient and expeditious manner. Clause 25 therefore specifies that a decision by the BSR, if disputed, must initially be reviewed by the regulator’s independent internal review procedure before an appeal can be lodged with the first-tier tribunal. The intention behind this clause mirrors that of clause 24, because it seeks to ensure swifter resolution for both the individual who has lodged the request and for the BSR by providing an alternative dispute resolution procedure. It is important that disputes are swiftly identified and rapidly resolved, we hope, to the satisfaction of all parties. We believe that the two clauses provide an expeditious set of methods, so I commend them to the Committee.
Again, we welcome the ability to request a review and the provision for a first-tier tribunal, which will create the necessary expertise going forward. The detail of quite a lot of the provisions is left to secondary legislation, so will the Minister expand on some of that? Would he also provide some clarity on the persons directly impacted and an example of when the regulator would intervene because it is not happy with the work carried out by the developer? In what circumstances could the developer apply for a review?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I am a lawyer, so I would say this, but I agree that it is super-important for disputes to be dealt with properly. That was a key plank of the Minister’s explanation of the clauses. I am also pleased that a right of appeal to the court remains, but I will be interested to hear from the Minister how the Government will ensure that the regulator reviews decisions and whether there has been any assessment of how long reviews can take. We know that the issues are incredibly complicated, so there should be some investigation into that now and an ability for the regulator to check their own homework and for us to do so too.
When a developer lodges an internal review against the Building Safety Regulator’s decision within the prescribed period, the explanatory notes to the Bill say:
“The Building Safety Regulator decides the most appropriate form of review and how comprehensive the review will be.”
If the developer is not content with the final decision of the BSR, it can appeal that decision to the first-tier tribunal and that is what we were discussing earlier. The thing that shone out for me when we heard from the witnesses, particularly those affected by building safety concerns in their own homes, was the lack of trust in a range of policies and the legislation. It is therefore incumbent on us all to create the trust so that those people are able to rely on what we are doing. We have talked about transparency in the dispute resolution process and that is obviously key, but I would like to know a little more about how we will ensure that good transparency runs through the disputes process.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and the hon. Member for Weaver Vale. We are clear that the process should be as collaborative as possible. We want it to be fair and transparent. When disputes arise, we envisage that the first stage of that dispute will be an informal discussion between the parties. That is normally part of the process that the HSE employs in other examples. If there is an internal review and if that is followed by an appeal to a first-tier tribunal, all those discussions and decision points will of course be publicly aired in the normal way.
What we want fundamentally to ensure is that the BSR has the flexibility to do its job effectively and to build casework and a casebook of knowledge and expertise that it can then use in cases as they develop. That is one of the reasons why—to answer the question from the hon. Member for Weaver Vale about secondary legislation—we are employing statutory instruments largely through the affirmative procedure. That will give the Commons in Committee and in the full House the ability to scrutinise, debate and vote on the issues. Fundamentally, it allows us as the Government, on the recommendations and advice of the BSR, to improve legislation rather than write it into the Bill and thus require further primary legislation should we find that events and examples arise to require that. We are trying to be flexible.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. The Minister talked about internal discussions and internal reviews and, if necessary, going to the first-tier tribunal, which he said ordinarily happens under the HSE. How long might that process take? How long does it normally take under the HSE? Will he address the point made by the hon. Member for Stroud about the need to build trust into the system?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention. It is true to say that the first-tier tribunal element of any dispute resolution procedure can take months before a hearing is held. The tribunal is a busy organisation. It can, indeed, take a little longer, depending on the nature of the case, for a decision to be handed down. That is why informal discussion and decision between the appellant and the Building Safety Regulator are sensible in resolving smaller disputes, particularly in the early stages of the regulator’s existence when there are likely to be a number of disputes and a body of casework by which internal dispute resolution will be conducted. The two-tier mechanism is the right way of ensuring swift dispute resolution, enabling all parties to get on with their work.
I thank the Minister for his patience on this point.
I note from the Minister’s use of language that it is “anticipated” that most cases will be dealt with informally at an early stage and that only exceptional cases will go to the first-tier tribunal. Can he assure the Committee that in the event of many cases going to tribunal and lots of leaseholders getting caught up in this lengthy, slow and bureaucratic process he will consider intervening to bring in other mechanisms to speed up the resolution of disputes?
Without making any firm and final commitment to the hon. Lady, and as I said to the hon. Member for Weaver Vale, one of the reasons we are using secondary legislation in the Bill is to provide the Government, of whatever colour and stripe, and on the advice of experts such as the Building Safety Regulator, with the ability to make changes to the operation of the legislation as the terrain develops. As I said during our deliberations last week, we committed during the covid emergency to increase the resources of the Health and Safety Executive. It is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to determine in the spending review the exact amount, but we have committed to ensuring that the BSR and associated bodies have the appropriate resources to do their work. We expect a material number of dispute cases to occur, at least initially as the regulator beds in. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Lady says.
I am grateful to the Committee for its questions and deliberation. Clause 24 aims to ensure that where disputes occur in relation to regulatory decisions, they can be resolved as quickly as possible, which is to the advantage of all parties involved.
Clause 25 ensures that disputed decisions must initially be reviewed by the regulator’s independent internal review procedure before an appeal can be lodged with the first-tier tribunal—again, to ensure that a degree of consistency and transparency runs through the BSR’s deliberations.
With those final remarks, I commend clauses 24 and 25 to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 24 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Cooperation and information sharing
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With this, it will be convenient to discuss that schedule 3 be the Third schedule to the Bill.
As the Committee will have heard me say earlier and, indeed, last week, the duty to co-operate is key to the approach that we are taking in the creation of the Building Safety Regulator and its powers.
At the centre of the Government’s strategy to implement our improvements to the building safety system is the setting up of the first national Building Safety Regulator. To deliver its functions effectively, it is vital that the Building Safety Regulator is empowered to work closely with other public bodies with responsibilities for building safety and standards and for dealing with residents’ concerns.
Clause 26 and schedule 3 will foster and enable that joined-up working in two ways. First, they will create statutory information-sharing gateways and duties to co-operate between the Building Safety Regulator and other public authorities that have statutory responsibilities for the safety and standard of buildings and for supporting residents. These powers will apply only to specific functions relevant to building safety and standards and supporting residents; they will never override data protection requirements.
To take a practical example, when regulating high-rise residential and other in-scope buildings, the Building Safety Regulator will typically set up a multidisciplinary team, including the local authority and the fire and rescue authority. The Bill creates legal information sharing gateways enabling the authorities expected to be represented in this multidisciplinary team to share intelligence about residents’ safety, and use it to co-ordinate their respective operational activity. It is entirely appropriate that this collaborative approach to regulation is supported by reciprocal duties to co-operate between the Building Safety Regulator and local authorities, and between the Building Safety Regulator and fire and rescue authorities. We are also taking this opportunity to provide legal clarity for local authorities and fire and rescue authorities so that they may share information about building safety and standards issues across all buildings.
Secondly, the Building Safety Regulator, certain ombudsmen and the Social Housing Regulator are all likely to receive numerous complaints and concerns from residents. The Government intend that these bodies should co-operate and work together to support residents. For example, if a resident of a high-rise residential building sends an urgent safety concern to an ombudsman to be investigated, these provisions enable the concern to be passed to the Building Safety Regulator as the body able to take action.
The Minister mentions the duty to co-operate between the Building Safety Regulator and other regulators, and the information-sharing gateways. Will he tell us a little more about that, and why ombudsmen and the Building Safety Regulator will need to work together?
An example that we will all recognise is that often as Members of Parliament we receive our constituents’ concerns because we are the easiest people with whom to raise those concerns. The appropriate place to express the concern might be the local council and a local councillor, so we share information with our local councillors when constituents raise concerns. An ombudsman who receives a concern from a local resident in a high-rise, in-scope building should be able to share appropriate information with the Building Safety Regulator, and that is what these provisions do. The police share crucial intelligence. The fire and rescue service shares crucial intelligence. It is important that the Building Safety Regulator and other ombudsmen have the same opportunity. Schedule 3 enables the sharing of information between the Building Safety Regulator and two other bodies: the police, who may need to investigate more serious criminal matters; and the Secretary of State, who ultimately oversees the building regulatory system.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being incredibly generous in taking interventions. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and the hon. Member for St Albans mentioned ensuring efficiency in the broader process. Does my right hon. Friend the Minister agree that by enabling data sharing we can ensure that concerns and complaints are addressed by the appropriate person? More importantly, it brings expediency to the process so that, if necessary, intervention by the regulator can be timely and a resolution can be found.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Underlying our approach is the need to ensure an efficient and expeditious method of information sharing, whereby resolution is achieved.
It is also possible that, with effective information sharing, it will be possible over time for the Building Safety Regulator to understand the data flows between concerned residents and itself. The regulator will understand why information goes to ombudsman A or ombudsman N rather than to the regulator, and that will enable it and its multidisciplinary agencies better to communicate to involved parties what the correct and therefore most expeditious route to data sharing should be. By sharing data, everything can occur more quickly and people can be better informed.
Schedule 3 contains regulation-making powers enabling the creation of limited further information sharing gateways and duties to co-operate. For example, if evidence necessitated a change to the scope of the higher-risk regime, such that it proved essential that the Building Safety Regulator co-operated and shared information with further regulators, it is appropriate that regulations enable this.
I am grateful to the Minister for taking my intervention. Schedule 3 clarifies information-sharing powers on building safety and standards between local authorities and fire and rescue services. Will he provide further information on how personal and confidential data is to be managed appropriately?
We certainly do not want inappropriate data to be shared. As I said earlier, these powers and data-sharing rights relate specifically to the work in hand of the Building Safety Regulator. They do not override ordinary data privacy rules and requirements. We shall certainly—as this House will want to—monitor that that data is used appropriately.
Given the potential significance of new duties to co-operate and of information-sharing gateways, any regulations creating them will be subject to the affirmative procedure. In a Committee of the House—if necessary, on the Floor of the House—therefore, there will be an opportunity to debate and vote on them.
Placing duties to co-operate and powers to share information on a statutory footing will encourage collaborative working to improve building standards and to ensure resident safety. That will all be done as expeditiously and transparently as possible. I commend the clause to the Committee.
We support the clause and the schedule. They are pragmatic, common sense and based on learned experience—the experience of those who were ringing alarm bells for a considerable number of months with regards to Grenfell and other tragedies before that. The evidence is crystal clear: people being passed from pillar to post and information being lost and in some cases hidden from key stakeholders. Strengthening the provisions and the regulatory regime is most welcome. In 2018, I noted, Kensington and Chelsea was again found wanting by the Information Commissioner—on withholding information about building safety in Grenfell. The Minister was right, as were others in all parts of the Committee, about building trust in the new regulatory regime. That is vital.
I feel that my contribution might be slightly repetitive, given the broad agreement on the clause in Committee.
The hon. Member for Weaver Vale was right that the clause is pragmatic. He was spot on when he said it is about rebuilding trust in the processes. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, I trained as a lawyer and I know the frustration when bodies do not share information with one another. We have to remember—the hon. Member for St Albans picked up on this in her interventions—we are dealing with people who do not understand the systems, but will have to access them. After looking at the array of information, should someone send their concern or query to the wrong body—unaware that they had done so—we have to ensure that it is still actioned. We are dealing with situations and problems that impact on people’s lives: this is about the safety of individuals in their homes. Where that happens, we have to ensure that seamless sharing of information and co-operation between the agencies—the clause does that.
It is also right for those organisations to co-operate with one another. As we touched on last week in our deliberations, we cannot have a siloed approach. Organisations have to communicate and work together. We have to build a structure within the legislative framework that not just enables that, but to a degree ensures it happens and almost makes it the default that they have to share information, because that is the system in which they find themselves—so there is no way they can avoid doing so.
That being said, the proof of how this will work is in how it is delivered operationally. What will be vital for the regulator to do and for my right hon. Friend the Minister to work on is to ensure that the operational delivery works, that the systems are there to allow that to happen and that the communications are there, that agencies are talking to one another and we have computer systems that do not just fall down at the first moment, but can operate. Once the system becomes operational, I will be looking at how it functions.
I am heartened to see an emphasis on data privacy. We have to get the balance right. Ultimately, we are dealing with personal data. We still need to ensure the right of individuals to have their personal data safeguarded, and their right to remain anonymous, where necessary, is also important. We must ensure that data is dealt with appropriately.
It is right to handle the situation by putting a duty on the different stakeholders. The way we have had to deal with these horrendous issues has been through a multifaceted, multi-stakeholder approach, so we are going to have to build networks. As is often the case, when the networks are built, there is then pressure to ensure that operational delivery works.
I support the clause and am heartened to see what is in schedule 3. We have to ensure that the clause can deliver, and it will be for my right hon. Friend the Minister, his ministerial colleagues and the civil servants to ensure that can happen. If the clause delivers and we ensure that it works, we will have a seamless system that people trust, and people will know that if they have concerns, they will be addressed.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. For me, this is about funding, as it was last week. We go back to delivery. As the hon. Gentleman says, this is absolutely and intrinsically about the safety of the people we are talking about, but without the funding for the organisations he mentioned—the fire authorities and the councils—it will fall down. Will the Minister ensure that the correct funding is ring-fenced for the organisations to be able to ensure the safety that is required for the people in the buildings?
The hon. Gentleman touches on a really important point. I have a couple of points to address it. Last week, we heard from the Minister that there would be, broadly speaking, a new deal for funding. We also have to look at the procurement mechanisms that are used, in which I have a particular interest. They are really important and must be well scrutinised. We must use the procedures available in this place to ensure that that is done properly.
I was very heartened by what my right hon. Friend the Minister said last week on funding. As Members of this place, we have to ensure, in the ways we do as Back-Bench Members, that he follows through. I have found in the two years I have served as a Member of this place that funding is one thing, but making sure it is used effectively—not just properly—is another. One way to ensure that the organisations to which we say, “Right, build me a system,” can do that is to have the guidance in place, if, for example, we are talking about the systems that will have to be developed. The fire authorities’ primary function is to protect people. They are not whizz kids at building IT systems. We need to ensure that there is a method by which that could be done.
Equally, as I am sure the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby will agree, local authorities have many different duties. I think of my own local authority, Sandwell. It could have one department doing four things at the same time. They have to prioritise. They cannot be procuring systems at the same time as dealing with building safety. There has to be a way.
The clause has triggered a broader conversation. I want to stay within scope and I do not want to stray too far, but when we think about how we ensure co-operation, clause 26 highlights that there are broader discussions about ensuring that is done in the right way. I do not disagree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby on funding. The Minister touched on that last week. Let us see how that goes, and scrutinise it. Ultimately, it is about processes working.
This is the right clause. Sharing data and information will be important, but it is about ensuring that that can be done properly and that the systems are there. I am absolutely sure that my right hon. Friend will do his best to ensure that that happens in the best way possible.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West and other members of the Committee for their contributions. As a former IT professional, I spent 18 years implementing IT systems, so I will certainly not commit to this Committee or beyond that all the IT that the HSE and its associated bodies may use will work optimally all of the time. However, we certainly want the Building Safety Regulator to work optimally all of the time.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West mentioned the importance of the propriety of data and its use. We want to ensure that data and information can be shared effectively even if they are sometimes of a confidential nature where residents’ safety is concerned. The Bill allows certain public bodies to share information with the Building Safety Regulator, but it does not require them to do so. The ombudsman, of whichever source or nature, will be able to make decisions about what information to share based upon individual circumstances. When, for example, it appears that lives are at risk, we believe that it appropriate that the information could be shared with the Building Safety Regulator. That is why the shadow Building Safety Regulator in the Health and Safety Executive has already started to work with other public bodies to identify the sorts of detailed safeguards that will be required to ensure that personal information is appropriately protected, while issues that might pertain to risk to life are also fully understood so that data are properly and proportionately shared.
I am incredibly grateful to my right hon. Friend; he is being generous in allowing me to intervene. Given his expertise as an IT specialist, does he not agree that one of the key things that we must do across Government when we implement these systems is take a lessons-learned approach? Will he assure me that he has looked in detail at some of the previous occasions when we have tried to implement such systems and that he will ensure that his officials will take away the lessons so that we can support the agencies in the most effective way possible as we set up the system?
Once again, my hon. Friend flatters me in his description of my expertise. I have certainly had some experience of IT programmes in the context of Government that have gone awry. The national IT programme, Connecting for Health, is just one example. I certainly agree to keep a gimlet eye open on the way IT is deployed in this and other circumstances while still recognising the operational independence of the agency and the Building Safety Regulator.
My hon. Friend is right to ask for lessons learned. That segues nicely into the point made by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale when he talked about the importance of learned experience in the context of Grenfell. He is right. That is one of the reasons we want to make sure that the Building Safety Regulator and the associated multi-disciplinary teams have the flexibility to learn. Again, that is why we want to use effectively secondary legislation and regulations rather than primary legislation so that there is the flexibility to build the new authority.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the challenges of withholding information, and I refer him back to clauses 22 and 23 when we dealt with that issue and made it very clear that withholding information is a grave offence that can be punishable by a fine. He is right also to stress the importance of trust and flexibility. Again, that is a reason why we want to build the multi-disciplinary teams so that the BSR can co-operate with other expert parties. That will help to build the confidence of residents in high-rise blocks as well as that of developers, large and small, and those involved in the construction industry that there is the appropriate degree of co-operation and trust.
There are a number of live applications to the building safety fund, and this is a practical plea on behalf resident leaseholders that many in the Committee will be familiar with. The information on progress is not being shared, and that is a genuine building safety issue that causes considerable anxiety. It has been raised on the Floor of the House, and it is relevant to the discussion that we are having now. It is a practical plea that many residents and leaseholders up and down the country have raised.
I shall expand a little on the scope of this debate to answer the hon. Gentleman very briefly. He will know that we have put aside £1 billion of public money for the building safety fund, and a significant amount has now been disbursed. If there are specific examples of challenges around information being shared or the speed of delivery being effective, I will be happy to look at them.
In summary, clause 26 and schedule 3 will empower the Building Safety Regulator to work closely with other public bodies with responsibilities for building safety and standards. They will encourage collaborative working to improve building standards and ensure residents’ safety.
I am very grateful for the contributions that we have heard from across the Committee but, before I conclude, I should refer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby who asked about resources. He will know from our deliberations last Thursday that I made it clear that we have increased the resources available to the Health and Safety Executive by 10% of its total budget during the covid emergency. We have also committed to make sure that the Building Safety Regulator is appropriately funded. That is a matter for the spending review, but we have also—he will have seen this as we have progressed through the Bill—put in place clauses that will allow the Building Safety Regulator to charge and levy fees on appropriate parties to ensure that cost can be recovered. I hope that will give him some assurance that we have at the forefront of our minds appropriate funding to ensure that the Building Safety Regulator can do its work.
I commend the clause to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 26 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 3 agreed to.
Fees and Charges
With this it will be convenient to consider Government amendment 8 and clause 27 stand part.
Let me begin by speaking to amendments 7 and 8. They are minor and technical, and they align the language on the charging powers in clauses 27 and 56—the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby will be taking close note—by inserting additional references to charges alongside fees. We will say more about that in future. The intention is to avoid any unintended ambiguities or inconsistencies in the charging provisions created by the Bill. The context is that clause 27 contains important provisions enabling the Secretary of State to introduce regulations that enable the Building Safety Regulator to charge.
Charging powers are necessary to deliver Dame Judith’s recommendations in the independent review that the regulator should charge, and to put the regulator on a sound financial footing. The amendments ensure that there is no ambiguity that regulations under clause 27 can allow the Building Safety Regulator to make charges as well as levy fees. Charges are a slightly broader concept than fees, because fees typically relate to a service. Someone provides me with a service, so I pay them a fee. A charge could go wider by covering additional activities, such as regulatory interventions needed to bring the regulated party back into compliance with the regime. The recommendations of the independent review indicated that where possible, regulated parties should bear the cost when their behaviour results in additional regulatory activity. When the regulated parties have caused such activity, they should potentially bear the cost. We therefore want the Bill to allow charges that meet the recommendations of the independent review to be applied. Fees and charges provided for in regulations under clause 27 will of course remain within the bounds set by “Managing Public Money”.
Let me turn now to clause 27 itself. The Government are committed to ensuring that the Building Safety Regulator receives the funding required to enable it to deliver.
The hon. Gentleman is attempting to lead me down a path that I suspect he will return to later in the Committee’s deliberations. As I said, we want to ensure that should a regulated party engage in behaviour that results in additional activity for the regulator, the regulator should be able to charge. I will confine my answer to that very specific set of grounds.
Yes, of course. Let me be really clear—we will discuss the building safety charge specifically in future deliberations—that we certainly do not want such costs to be passed on to individual residents or leaseholders. The point of the clause is to ensure that where regulatory activity is required by the Building Safety Regulator as a result of an identified party’s actions, that identified party pays for the cost. That certainly should not be passed on to leaseholders or other residents.
I am incredibly grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way; his characteristic generosity is shining through. I do not wish to lead him astray, but I am conscious of the broader spirit of what we are debating. We have just deliberated over clauses that talk about fines and sanctions. Will my right hon. Friend consider using the funds raised from that, and ensuring that they can be fed through to the regulator? I am sure he will agree that when it comes to funding, a holistic approach is a good way to ensure that we can maximise the resources this vital regulator needs.
I will make some remarks about that as I advance through my speech on clause 27, but we certainly want to make sure that the Building Safety Regulator can recover associated costs from the regulated parties involved.
The independent review recommended that the regulator for buildings in scope of the new and more stringent regulatory regime should fully recover its costs from those it regulates. The recommendation reflected that duty-holders who require the most intervention by the Building Safety Regulator should pay more. The principle of charging within the building safety regulatory system is not new. Local authorities can already charge for building control work under the Building Act 1984, as can approved inspectors. The Bill needs to enable the charging of fees by the Building Safety Regulator, both to implement the independent review’s recommendation and to put the Building Safety Regulator on a firm financial footing.
May I say once again what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford? My right hon. Friend mentioned the independent review’s recommendation that the regulator for higher risk buildings be funded by this full-cost recovery approach. Can the Minister explain why the Building Safety Regulator is going to charge fees and how those fees compare with those of other regulators?
The Building Safety Regulator will charge fees in the normal way, and there will be a mechanism to levy that charge on an identified party. It will be the identified party’s responsibility to pay in the normal way. The fees are consistent with the sorts of fees that are paid through other regulatory mechanisms that local authorities, for example, employ, too. That comes with the caveat that we want to ensure that full-cost recovery is achieved by the Building Safety Regulator, so the charges will rather depend what the costs are. I trust that if there are charges for additional regulatory activity on the part of the Building Safety Regulator, it is in the interests of the identified parties not to cause that additional regulatory activity. That is another means of ensuring that everybody behaves appropriately.
Clause 27, alongside clause 56, provides the legal basis for the charging of fees by the Building Safety Regulator. It enables the Secretary of State to make regulations authorising the Building Safety Regulator to charge fees and recover charges from those it regulates.
We will discuss the building safety charge in later clauses. I will make it absolutely clear at that point how appropriate costs may be passed on to leaseholders, what the caps are and what it is not appropriate to pass on, such as the examples I am giving here.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady.
The clause enables regulations to be drafted to allow fees to be charged for the Building Safety Regulator’s general functions in part 2 of this Bill, its functions regulating the higher-risk buildings in occupation and its functions under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The Government’s approach will ensure that fees and charges are appropriate. In line with the principles set out in “Managing Public Money”, the Building Safety Regulator will not make a profit on fees and charges for its regulatory activities. They are merely a means of cost recovery.
Setting out fees in secondary rather than primary legislation and allowing the Building Safety Regulator to put certain details in a charging scheme will ensure that fees can change over time. I hope that helps to address the questions that my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw asked.
Initially, the Building Safety Regulator will have to use assumptions to develop fees, but once set up it is standard practice for a public body setting a fee for cost recovery to recalculate fees based on actual experience. This allows the regulator to learn from experience and change the way it charges fees over time to ensure they are both effective in recovering the appropriate amount of money, and proportionate and fair to those charged. Making provision for fees in regulations allows for regular scrutiny of proposed charges through consultation and, importantly, by Parliament. To deliver the recommendations of the independent review and put the Building Safety Regulator on a firm financial footing, we expect that the regulator will charge the accountable person for regulating their actions under part 4.
We will have an opportunity to debate all the issues about which costs the accountable person should fairly be capable of passing on to leaseholders when we come to part 4. However, I will briefly reassure the Committee that part 4 of the Bill ensures that any costs associated with enforcement action by the Building Safety Regulator or resulting from any negligent or unlawful act by the accountable person cannot be passed on to leaseholders through the building safety charge, so the potential costs we are talking about in the clause cannot be passed on to a leaseholder in that way.
That safeguard provides a financial incentive for the accountable person to do the right thing, as I indicated to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw, because the accountable person will bear the Building Safety Regulator’s costs when it has to tackle serious failures. The Government are working closely with the Health and Safety Executive to develop these proposals, building on its strong track record of successfully delivering cost recovery regimes—a track record that dates back to 1975, so it has some 46 years of experience.
The Health and Safety Executive rightly aims for the Building Safety Regulator to become a world leader in its field and to share best practice and expertise with international partners on a commercial basis. That is another means by which some funds can be raised. Subsection (6) enables the Secretary of State to approve commercial charging by the Building Safety Regulator. This power will be used only with the consent of the Secretary of State and in line with Government guidance on charging.
We believe the clause is vital to ensuring that the Building Safety Regulator has the funding required to enable it to do its critical work, that the accountable parties do the right thing and that any costs associated with these clauses are not passed on to leaseholders or residents through the building safety charge. I commend the clause and the amendments to the Committee.
I thank the Minister. The amendments are a tidying-up and technical exercise that we quite naturally support. I heard what the Minister said about fees and charges, and obviously there have been a number of questions about those fees and charges potentially being passed on to leaseholder residents. I know that where there is a regulatory failure, and fees and charges are passed on to the accountable person, those cannot—I am seeking clarity on this one—be passed on to leaseholders. Is that the same for service charges as well?
This might seem quite a technical clause and set of amendments, but it is an important one. I speak as the Member for the 14th most deprived borough in the country. I am conscious that we have to strike a balance, and I was quite reassured by what my right hon. Friend the Minister said.
Starting from the beginning, it is not uncommon for bodies to charge fees in respect of their activities, where necessary, and in particular bodies that exercise a function such as the regulator. In a way, clause 27 and the accompanying amendments are not uncommon in the nature of what we are discussing. The broader point, which has been made by Members on both sides of the Committee, is that we have to ensure proportionality. That was the key point made by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale.
We need to find a way to ensure that the regulator itself is financially stable and can carry out its work properly; it has to be able to undertake tasks that will be so important in keeping residents safe, and in ensuring that the industry knows it is being regulated and watched. A lot of the detail will be set out in secondary legislation, and it will be incumbent on all of us across the Committee to grasp the detail of that to ensure that it is done in the right way. I think of the leaseholders in my constituency who would not be able to afford ridiculous levels of service charge; it would not strike them as proportionate. However, there is clearly a balance to strike.
I listened to the intervention from the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston. She is a distinguished former council leader, and at some point she will have had to make decisions about what to charge for council services. It is difficult, when leading a public body, to decide how to balance those charges with the needs of the public. I do not envy anyone in that situation. Ultimately, we all agree that we want to deliver a public service in the way that has the least impact on the livelihoods of the people trying to use it. They are taxpayers too; they want to feel that they receive that public service when they pay their taxes.
Clearly, as my right hon. Friend the Minister has articulated, the key principle is ensuring that the regulator can carry on. What I am trying to express to my right hon. Friend—something that he has articulated in his contributions—is the need to be open-minded in terms of how that operates. We all accept that there has to be a fee-charging regime, but we have to ensure that it is proportionate and accepts the fact that the people at the right end of that are leaseholders and residents, and those are the people we are here to protect and serve. We need to make sure there is the right balance. I get the impression from the contributions made from across the Committee that there is acceptance that this has to be done. It is probably broadly agreed that the methods proposed in the clause are the way we need to do this but, as with much of our deliberation of the Bill thus far, the detail will come afterwards in the secondary legislation.
I am conscious of the need to ensure that we have a regulator that is well funded but that does not impact too much. We want to encourage proper behaviour in the marketplace. It is important in this clause to ensure that that is done in the right way. I support the Government amendments and the clause. I am heartened by what my right hon. Friend has said thus far and I appreciate that we will deliberate further on these matters: I do not want to be called to order. I just want to get on record that we should keep as open a mind as possible as we progress, but the detail, particularly with clause 27 and the amendments, will be in the secondary legislation, which I await with interest.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his contribution and for the interest that the Committee has taken in this clause. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale asked about service charges, which are a well-established regime separate from the one that we are discussing here. I can reassure him on the question of costs. We recognise that the costs of the regulator will be a small fraction of the building safety charge and we will discuss that in greater detail under the appropriate clauses. To reiterate my earlier point, the Bill ensures that fees associated with breaches of the new regime can never be passed on to leaseholders. That is to ensure that the accountable person pays the costs of the wrongdoing and not the leaseholder. I hope that that is clear.
Clause 27 provides the legal basis for the charging of fees by the Building Safety Regulator, which is vital to ensuring that it has the funding required to enable it to deliver its critical work. Government amendments 7 and 8 ensure that there is no ambiguity about regulations under this clause allowing the Building Safety Regulator to make charges to identify parties as well as fees. I commend amendments 7 and 8, with clause 27, to the Committee.
Amendment 7 agreed to.
Amendment made: 8, in clause 27, page 14, line 25, leave out “to be or” and insert “or charge to be”.—(Christopher Pincher.)
Clause 27, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Service of documents
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 29 stand part.
Clauses 28 and 29 are quite short, and concern how documents will be validly served by the Building Safety Regulator. Clause 28 is a technical provision, setting out how documents will be validly served, whether physically or electronically, on and by the regulator, in connection with its functions under parts 2 and 4 of the Bill.
It may assist the Committee if I point out that service of documents under the Building Act 1984, as amended by part 3 of the Bill, is dealt with in section 94 of that Act. Section 94 is itself amended by paragraph 58 of schedule 5 to the Bill, to modernise it and take account of the regulator’s role as a building control authority. We are amending an amendment to another Bill. The effective provisions of clause 28 essentially mirror what is already in the Building Act, but updated to reflect changes in practice since 1984.
Turning briefly to clause 29, this provides key definitions used in part 2 of the Bill, and provides for a specific place within part 2 as a helpful index of the terms contained within it.
I call the Opposition Front Bench speaker.
The Minister has sat down.
If you put it in the form of a speech, then I am sure the Minister will have the courtesy to respond to you.
Again, we have moved on considerably since 1984. If we take our minds back to 1984—I notice that some probably cannot—we have since seen the development of emails and various other things. This certainly brings those provisions up to date, with the narrative descriptions contained in clause 29. I will give way to my hon. Friend and colleague.
I thank my hon. Friend, and it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I wanted to pursue the question, which I raised with the Minister last week, on the definition of a residential building. Is it anywhere where one sleeps overnight—whether temporary, permanent, or one’s sole residential home? I listed a series of residential spaces that do not come under the definition of a normal tenancy or leasehold property, such as student accommodation, other forms of residential licences, hotels, guest houses, and so on. I wondered whether my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale could pursue this with the Minister in his contribution, referring to subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b) of clause 29.
That intervention is rather long.
I am sure that many on the Committee are wondering what on Earth I could have to say about the service of documents. I would, of course, have given way to the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth. I was hoping to rise to put an important question to the Minister, but I am glad that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale was able to help the hon. Lady.
I know this is an incredibly technical clause, but I speak from some painful experiences around service of documents in my previous life. While it might seem straightforward and we look at the clause and think, “OK, fair enough. It is very prescribed and descriptive”, I must say that having explained how service of documents works to numerous people, that is not the case.
My right hon. Friend the Minister articulated incredibly well how it will function. On the face of it, it is straightforward. We look at subsection (2) on how documents may be given and think, “OK, that seems pretty straightforward to me”. I implore him—I hope I am not going astray, Mr Efford, but I am sure you will tell me if I am—that we must ensure this is communicated to the people who will be utilising it. These are people who may not have a lot of experience of how documents are served. They are not doing this all day, every day. From my past life, I know the pain of having people who do not have the experience and are trying to do this themselves, and it causes issue after issue.
One thing that may come out of this, which touches on some of my previous comments, is around the idea of data share and co-operation. Without sounding flippant, the documentation we served and the information that would be exchanged using the process will be an important part of a vital regulatory process. It is vital that we ensure that is communicated as clearly as possible and the individuals who use the processes laid out in clause 28 understand how that operates. I do not want to see circumstances where legitimate problems and concerns are delayed because of a misunderstanding or issue with the process.
I reiterate my concern that if we do not ensure the provisions of clause 28 are translated down in a usable way to individuals, we run the risk of processes we have built up to now and have deliberated in previous clauses not being as effective as we would like.
I am glad that the clause understands that times have moved on. Gone are the days when things were couriered round. Email has been revolutionary. I remember from my professional life having to run round to another firm’s office to serve stuff. I was the junior so I made tea and served documents.
I am happy to see an understanding that the provision can be amended under subsequent regulations too. We have to be conscious that time and technology moves on, and we must ensure the process can continue and still function as things progress. While this may seem to be a very technical clause—I hope I have answered the question as to why on Earth I am speaking on this particular point—it underpins the importance of this process. Ensuring that the service of documents is done in a clear way and that those who utilise the process, from the large corporations down to the individual, understand how it functions properly will be key to ensuring that everything we have done up until now functions appropriately. I am heartened by the Minister’s contribution and he was very clear. I am glad to see that, as with most clauses in the Bill, there is a degree of flexibility in clause 28, and it is a vital part of this important Bill.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West. Let me assure him that it is our intention through the clause to ensure that neither he nor anyone else has to jump on their moped and serve papers in a rather more 1984 way than they may ordinarily have to, given that now, as the hon. Member for Weaver Vale rightly identifies, email and modern methods of communication allow for a much more speedy and clear way of serving documents. We want to ensure that the law reflects that.
On the questions raised by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth about in-scope buildings, I do not want to stray on to other amendments and clauses unduly, but let me to try to help her by reminding her of what I said last week. In-scope buildings are high-rise residential properties of seven storeys, or 18 metres, or more. Other in-scope buildings include care homes of the requisite threshold and student accommodation, for example, because we have said that such properties need to have two or more dwellings. She offered a list of other potential properties. I think she mentioned hotels, which are covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and which tend to have a number of entrances and exits, and fire doors. Equally, prisons are covered by the 2005 order. I think there are seven immigration centres in the country, and none of them meets the height threshold that we have set out.
We have tried in all circumstances to act in a proportionate way that follows the advice and direction given to us by the independent review and Dame Judith Hackitt’s 53 recommendations. That does not, of course, preclude future changes to the Building Safety Regulator’s responsibilities. We have outlined how that may be done, and I am sure that we will go on, in further clauses, to do more of that. I hope that gives the hon. Lady some clarity on her question, which she managed, if I may say—tongue in cheek—to shoehorn into this clause. It is a skill not unknown to many of our other colleagues. I think that you have been guilty of that, Mr Efford—or rather, you have demonstrated the skill—in another context.
I remind the Committee that the clause essentially mirrors one that is already in the Building Act 1984. It updates it to reflect the changes in practice, as well as technology, since 1984, while clause 29 defines key definitions used in part 2 of the Bill, which we will further come to. They are technical clauses, which have none the less generated some interesting and, if I may say so, skilful debate, and I commend them to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 28 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(Scott Mann.)
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.