Committee (1st Day)
Relevant document: 20th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 2 agreed.
Schedule 1 agreed.
Clause 3: The regulator: objectives and regulatory principles
1: Clause 3, page 2, line 13, at end insert—
“(aa) furthering the protection of property, and”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the building safety regulator to exercise its functions with a view to furthering the protection of property, which is intended to promote longer term protections for occupant safety and reducing fire damage and cost.
My Lords, as we begin the Committee stage of this important Bill, born out of the tragic Grenfell fire, I reiterate my condolences to the families and friends of those who died in it.
I wish the Minister fortitude as he looks forward to what I suspect will be a very long period of the various stages of the passage of this Bill. We all wish him well and hope that he will have a sympathetic approach to many of the important amendments that we will be debating over the coming days, including Amendment 1 and the proposed new clause in Amendment 12, which I am moving today.
At Second Reading I argued that the Bill should address the perverse situation under the current building regulations in which, if all the occupants of a building escape safely from a fire but the building is totally destroyed, the outcome is considered a success. I believe that the life-safety limitation provided by the current regulations, which significantly influences the design of buildings, should be revised to take account of the protection of property.
My amendments would achieve that by adding furthering the protection of property to the list of purposes for which building regulations may be made; extending the requirements of persons carrying out works on a building to cover building resilience; and widening the scope of the building safety regulator’s functions to further the protection of property. The benefits would include longer-term protection with, therefore, more time for occupants to escape; improved safety for firefighters and reduced fire damage and environmental pollution; and reduced costs of rebuilding and replacing lost items.
At Second Reading I mentioned several recent fires in a range of building types as evidence of the need for such measures. Last week, the Sunday Times included an article looking back at one of the fires that I mentioned: the 2019 fire that destroyed the Worcester Park residential block in Richmond. The article noted that the London Fire Brigade arrived within nine minutes but could not save the building. Twenty-three flats were destroyed in minutes, and, although all 60 residents escaped safely, they lost everything. The article describes the impact: the girl who lost her A-level notes in the blaze and whose predicted grades dropped and she lost her university place; the social worker who received a fire brigade commendation for warning neighbours of the fire but who lost his job because of the trauma caused by the event; and several residents who invested their savings in shared-ownership flats in the block who now cannot find similar properties in the area because house prices have risen by over 13% since the fire. No lives were lost, but the impact was incalculable.
How did a relatively new building end up being destroyed in minutes, and at such risk to the occupants? The building owner claims that:
“The cause of the fire was never identified but the building ‘performed’ as it was supposed to, allowing everyone to get out safely.”
The owners of the Croydon self-storage warehouse gave a similar answer when challenged as to how a fire there in 2018 could completely destroy its warehouse and the possessions of 1,200 clients. They said the building met the fire safety building regulations. The same was said by those responsible for the Beechmere care home, Walsall’s Holiday Inn, Chichester’s Selsey academy, Northamptonshire’s brand-new 40,000 square meter Gardman warehouse, Bristol’s Premier Inn and countless other buildings. In each, the outcome was deemed a success, even though the buildings were destroyed and contents lost.
The current Bill does not address this failing. Indeed, it would not even have covered most of the buildings I mentioned, since they would anyway have been out of scope. But every time a home, a school or a business is destroyed by fire, lives are disrupted at great personal, social, environmental and economic cost. Fires do not need to be so dangerous and costly, but unfortunately it seems that the increased use of modern methods of construction and larger compartmental sizes in industrial buildings is resulting in larger, and hence more challenging, fire incidents. Moreover, at a time when we are striving to make buildings more sustainable, the regulations appear to allow for what are, in effect, disposable buildings.
In the other place, when this issue was raised, the Minister there said little, merely commenting that it would be wrong to complicate the role of the new regulator, yet as our Minister knows, the Government are already conducting research into property protection. I hope that when he responds the Minister will bring us up to speed on the progress of that research and how he sees property protection fitting into the regulations.
This is a wide-ranging Bill, primarily designed to address the failings highlighted by the Grenfell tragedy, and of course it must do so, but it should also be forward-looking and designed to secure the safety of people in or about all buildings. My amendments seek to ensure a safer, more resilient and sustainable built environment. I beg to move Amendment 1.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely. I invite her to speak.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I shall speak to a number of amendments in this group, broadly divided into two areas. The first follows on from my noble friend Lord Foster’s introduction to the protection of property and the powers of the regulator. The second relates specifically to the safety of buildings and disabled people.
On the first issue, much of the focus among the public and in the debate in the run-up to the Bill coming to your Lordships’ House has been on cladding and the height of buildings. As was discussed specifically at Second Reading, a far wider range of safety, construction and adaptation issues have emerged as secondary issues, generally meaning that too many buildings are not complying with even the old building safety regulations. Life safety is not the only issue: far too many new buildings these days are being constructed in an unsafe way. The level of complaints against builders is the highest it has ever been, and my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath outlined that very clearly.
Secondly, I want to focus on the issues that disabled people face when they are asked to get out of a building, in the event of either a fire or a fire alarm. I am really looking forward to hearing the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, after her excellent speech at Second Reading.
I have not always used a wheelchair, but I still use a stick on various occasions, and I have to say that there is nothing more frightening than trying to leave even a low-level building coming downstairs with a stick with people racing past you. It was probably the second time I had to come out of a building for a fire alarm when I realised that I was as much a danger to the people trying to race past me as I was to myself, because of the risk of falling. Over the years, I have twice been in hotels where the fire alarm has gone off in the middle of the night—once, when I was trying to use my stick. The second time, because I was in my wheelchair, I had been told to report to the safety zone, which I did, and was told that someone from reception or the fire officers would come up, transfer me to the evac chair and take me downstairs. Twenty minutes later, I was still sitting there.
I have to say to noble Lords that this also happened to me in Portcullis House about five or six years ago. As a result—all credit to the House authorities—that was remedied and there is now a new arrangement. But when you are sitting there and you do not know whether it is a fire or a fire practice, and you cannot get out of your own accord, it is extremely alarming.
The use of PEEPs—personal evacuation emergency plans—is excellent, provided that they work. I have used them in workplaces, homes, hotels and guest houses. I was in charge of building some new disabled accommodation at Selwyn College when I was bursar there more than 20 years ago, and although they were not called PEEPs in those days, creating a confident document so that students, their friends around them and the college staff understood the needs of that particular disabled person was vital to them having confidence about being able to evacuate the building in the event of an emergency. The difficulty that we face today, highlighted especially by Grenfell, is that these documents are not in place.
Many disabled people are very concerned that the Home Office has appointed safety consultants CS Todd & Associates, who have been given a new contract worth over £200,000. This organisation was responsible for drafting and editing a fire safety guide for the LGA that said it was “usually unrealistic” to expect landlords to put arrangements in place for disabled people to evacuate blocks of flats in the event of an emergency. That is an interesting turn of phrase, because, as we know, there were a lot of disabled people in Grenfell and flats are increasingly being built, so evacuation for disabled people is vital.
I especially thank disabled campaigning group Claddag, a leaseholder action group led by disabled people who have decided that they will take the Home Secretary to court on this contract. They and the Disabled News Service are really highlighting this issue. It is important to note that, six years on from Todd’s advice, two-fifths of the disabled residents in Grenfell Tower lost their lives because there were no special arrangements in place to get them out safely. The fire service has recognised that the “stay put” advice for residents in high rise blocks must be changed, but there is no evidence from either the Government or from CS Todd & Associates that things have changed. In fact, a further set of advice has been published by Colin Todd on behalf of BSI that repeated this same arrangement.
That is why we need the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. There is an adage in the disabled world that says, “no decision about us without us”. This is fundamental to human safety and human life. It is vital that the specific needs of disabled people are taken into account in the Bill.
My Lords, I was not expecting to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, so I will not comment on her proposals but will wait to hear other comments. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for introducing the first group of amendments, and very much endorse what he said about the sad victims of Grenfell. I was thinking that taking fire safety and buildings away from the fire brigade, as we did about a quarter of a century ago, may have had some sad and perverse effects. I refer to my interests in the register, notably as a non-executive director of Secure Trust Bank and as the owner of property that is sometimes rented out. I am also proud to be chair of the Built Environment Committee and to see distinguished colleagues here today.
I was sorry not to be able to speak in the long and interesting debate at Second Reading. However, I remind noble Lords of my involvement in the Fire Safety Bill and the concern I expressed very early on about the position of leaseholders and their inability to sell property because of the uncertainties and the problems with the dreaded EWS1 form, which we will come on to. I look forward to debating the Government’s recent package later, but for now I turn to the regulator and his or her functions, the subject of this group.
I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, in his remarks at Second Reading that it is right that the Health and Safety Executive should be the regulator. It has been much criticised in the past, not least on our side of the House when implementing EU regulations, but overall it does a good job. I have defended the HSE because it brought about a revolution in health and safety, notably in my childhood sector of farming, and has improved over the years in simplicity, professionalism and the ability to deal firmly but fairly with business.
I am less comfortable with the duties of the regulator set out in Part 2 of the Bill. Because of the background to the Bill, the duties are almost exclusively focused on imposing safety and are very light on the needs or expertise of the regulated. We must have balance in this life to avoid perverse effects. I am worried that the new regulator and the many overlapping provisions in this detailed Bill could have a chilling effect on housebuilding. This is at a time when my committee, in a unanimous report, agreed on the need to increase the supply of housing of all tenures and to tackle the many barriers that already exist, which of course include the quality of buildings.
That is why I have tabled an amendment requiring the regulator’s activities to take account of three things. First, the needs of builders and technicians must be taken account of by the regulator; working with them appropriately, as the HSE does in other areas, is likely to produce better results. Secondly, account must be taken of business—the Committee will see that, as always, I have highlighted the needs of small business, which does not have the risk capital available to the larger developers and has already seen its share of the housing market collapse from 39% in 1988 to 10% today. Thirdly, account must be taken of the need to minimise bureaucracy, with clear and simple rules that all involved in business and in the skilled and less-skilled trades in building safety can understand. This should be part of a framework that ensures the continuation of new building of all tenures, and indeed the repair and retrofitting of existing buildings—an issue close to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, as I know from our discussions on this subject.
The tone of the debates so far—including what has been said by my noble friend the Minister, who has done so much to progress matters post Grenfell, for which I thank him—worries me. We must build in balance or we will live to regret the perverse effects of our good work on this Bill. I am not convinced that the provisions of Clause 3(2), on transparency, accountability, proportionality and consistency and the targeting at cases in which action is needed, or the committees in Clauses 9 and 10, will do enough. I hope that my noble friend will look at the matter again in the light of my comments.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 4. In doing so, I thank the noble Lords who have put their names to the amendment. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, who is in his place but who I know cannot stay for the whole debate, and to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who I believe is probably somewhere on the M1. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, who will bring his great experience and insight to bear when he speaks.
As the awful tragedy of Grenfell revealed to us, and as those working in the industry already knew, the construction industry is in a very poor state on a number of different fronts, from quality and basic standards of all kinds to the supply of housing and the prevailing culture. Whether we worked in the industry or not, we were all deeply shocked by the Grenfell tragedy, and it is this that is the origin of the Bill. I recognise, therefore, that priority must be given to the immediate issues arising from Grenfell and that the Bill cannot address everything that needs to be done to tackle the problems in the construction industry. But it cannot ignore them either.
The Long Title says that the Bill makes
“provision about the safety of people in or about buildings and the standard of buildings”.
The Bill indeed picks up some of this, addressing the golden thread and cultural change, for example. Other noble Lords have addressed this in other amendments, including my noble friend Lord Lytton in his amendments on what is now called the perpetrator pays principle, on which I hope to speak later in Committee.
I originally wanted to press for a set of broad-based standards in construction, brought together around the aim of promoting health, safety and well-being. However, given the imperative of addressing the issues directly related to Grenfell—I am sure the Minister will appreciate this—I and the other signatories have gone for a deliberately simple amendment that makes only a start in that direction. Indeed, I hope that the Minister and the Government will welcome this amendment and see it as a contribution to their wider goals of levelling up and driving cultural change in the sector—something that I hope the Government will build on in levelling-up legislation and elsewhere.
Turning to the specifics of the amendment, it clarifies the meaning of “safety” to include health and well-being. It makes clear that the building safety regulator should consider human health and well-being in discharging its building functions. In practice, this means that the regulator, being part of the Health and Safety Executive, needs to consider health and well-being as part of safety when it exercises building functions under Clauses 4, 5 and 6 of the Bill and its functions under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Building Act 1984.
Even without our experience of Covid, there was growing evidence that showed that people’s homes and neighbourhoods have a direct impact on their physical and mental health. Cold, damp, overcrowded and cramped conditions, pollution and inaccessibility for older and disabled people all directly impact on mental and physical health and well-being and constrain opportunity. The quality of our homes and neighbourhoods is one of the foundations of our life and our life chances. The experience of Covid has simply dramatically reinforced all these points.
This is about opportunity for people, life chances and social justice. It is about enabling the people of this country to thrive. The way we organise and design our built environment matters to people and to a series of the Government’s policy initiatives, not least those dealing with health inequality, net zero and levelling up. These conditions also matter in considering our resilience as a country in the face of resurgent and indeed future pandemics. The problem is that the way we regulate homes now fails to secure the minimum standards vital to people’s well-being. This, as the Government’s levelling-up agenda recognises, is a major issue in securing social justice. People on the lowest incomes often suffer the poorest and most insecure housing conditions and live in neighbourhoods with the worst pollution.
This amendment is important because safety is currently undefined in the Bill, so it is simply not clear whether what I would call these common-sense aspects of safety relating to people’s health and well-being should be considered by the building regulator. This lack of clarity is unhelpful because the safety of people is generally defined as an absence of health risks or harms. I note that health and well-being have definitions in UK legislation, so their insertion into law would not be novel. It is also important to note that these issues are not covered by planning or other existing regulations; put simply, planning legislation has no legal obligations of any kind that relate to the health and well-being of people.
I will make one final point on cultural change before I sum up my argument. There is a problem with all regulation when it is written too tightly that people deliver on the specific and do not address the bigger issues—hitting the target but missing the point, if you like. I am sure there are people associated with Grenfell who are arguing that they followed the letter of the law while of course missing the far bigger point. We must not miss this opportunity to take a holistic view on safety. Do we want a future where we have regulated appropriately for fire but, to take just one example that the Committee will address, let people fall down unsafe steps, even though we know what can be done to prevent it? I believe it is necessary to make it clear that this wider definition will inform the decisions of the regulator. I believe that knowing that attention has to be paid to wider concerns of health and safety will also help drive cultural change in the sector as a whole. What I am proposing is about not more regulation but better regulation. Indeed, I believe that, in the longer term, going further and requiring developers to build homes that promote health, safety and well-being will help bring together some of the contradictory elements of the planning and building regulations. That, however, is for another time.
In conclusion, I well understand that the Government cannot make the level of change to the construction industry that is necessary within a single Bill or set of regulations, and I commend them for what is in the Bill. This is why I said at the beginning that we have deliberately added only this simple amendment. This definition allows for the consideration of people’s basic and common-sense needs such as freedom from pollution and damp; safety; access to green space and natural light; accessibility, including safe stairs; heat requirements; and security.
While the amendment is limited to clarifying the scope of the responsibility of the building regulator, it enables the beginning of a new approach to regulation in which human health and well-being are core to the delivery of building safety. I very much hope that the Minister will see this as a contribution to the Government’s goal of making appropriate provisions in the Bill about the safety of people in or about buildings and the standard of buildings.
I have heard it said that we are building the slums of the future. Here the Government have an historic opportunity—very sadly created by this dreadful tragedy—to reverse that trend and help create homes, buildings and neighbourhoods that we can be proud of. I hope that the Government will accept this amendment as an important step on that journey.
My Lords, as this is the first time that I have spoken at this stage of the Bill, I declare my interests as a chartered surveyor and member of various property-based organisations. I am also a patron of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, is absolutely right to say that, while the preservation of human life must be front and centre, by the same token buildings must be designed to retain their fundamental integrity for specified periods of time, at the very least—as set out, half an hour for this, one hour for that and so on. Noble Lords know this only too well. There are of course many reasons why this is necessary. The total destruction of a building was so graphically illustrated by the fire in Worcester Park, the downstream effects of which were described by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, in its destruction of livelihoods, life chances and, in particular, people’s confidence in their homes—I think this is the point the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, was getting at in his amendment. It casts a shadow across families and down the generations. Anybody who understands the concepts of trauma theories knows that; I am no expert, but I know that it happens. Beyond the utter undesirability, the cost, the insurance risk, the potential risk to firefighters and the general spread of contagion, there are compelling reasons why buildings must retain their integrity: structural, compartmentalisation, spread of flame and so on.
The building regulations, going back to 1965—which were the set of regulations in force when I was at the College of Estate Management studying what has become my lifelong trade and calling—include mandatory standards. There is a secondary aspect in parallel with those, which is the advisory approved documents and guidance. It is really important to understand that there were two different streams running in parallel.
One of the industry failings that has occurred—accompanied, I must say, by a failure of regulatory oversight—is on the part of those who were entrusted to make sure that buildings were constructed in accordance with the mandatory requirements and the best practice set out in the advice. The failing has been to assume that everything you needed to know was contained in this advisory guidance that went in parallel with the regulations. That is wrong. I can do no better than refer to, as I understood them, the opening remarks of counsel for the Government in the final stage of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s inquiry, when he made precisely this point.
If you follow slavishly the approved documents under part B of the building regulations, which is principally to do with fire, you will lead yourself astray, because it says “should”, “could”, “might” and all those sorts of things. You are dealing with advisory documents concerned with how you may be able to do it this way, or you may be able to do it that way. In other words, the regulations produce the mandatory test first and foremost, but all these other advisory documents then provide suggestions on how you might achieve it.
I strongly support Amendments 1 and 4 because this is about people and the security of their homes. It is about inclusion, decent design and, ultimately, outcome-based policies. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, kindly gave me a quick trailer on the “perpetrator pays” amendments, of which more anon. However, I finish by again following the noble Lord, Lord Foster, in saying to the Minister—who I know has really driven this policy forward; I give him great credit for producing this Bill—that I will do everything I can to assist him in making wise choices and accepting appropriate amendments when they are moved.
My Lords, I declare my interests: I am the president of the Local Government Association and, when in London, I stay in a block of flats. I have a number of amendments in this group. Amendment 9 is the most substantive but my name is also attached to Amendments 4A, 7A, 7B and 147A.
I tried not to test the Committee’s patience by adding “and disabled people” to every part of the Bill I could, but I am looking for more specific recognition that disabled people need greater support and protection than they currently have. If they are not specifically mentioned, disabled people will be forgotten, however good the intention right now may be. There are several important parts where explicitly mentioning disabled people would add significant value, such as on residents’ panels. Of course, there are many types of impairment —we are not one homogenous group—but bringing in additional or different knowledge would be useful for a far greater number of people.
I listened to the experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. It is what disabled people think about every single day. In every building I go into, I automatically start thinking about how I would get out if there was a fire. The noble Baroness and I could probably spend most of the afternoon listing all the instances when we have been left near or on staircases, but I take my personal responsibility very seriously. I can still get down a flight of stairs in my wheelchair as long as I have a handrail to hold on to. I can do it reasonably quickly; when I was an athlete, I could do it incredibly easily. However, I know that, as I get older, it will get harder and my ability to get out will become more challenging.
One time, I was in an office block when the fire alarm went off. It was not a drill. There was one evacuation chair—absolutely fantastic—but there were two wheelchair users on that floor. We looked at each other and worked out who needed the evac chair the most. I went down five flights of stairs in my wheelchair. Since Second Reading, more disabled people have got in touch with me to explain their fears but also to let me know about some solutions they have been given. Quite frankly, they were ludicrous, which is why we need to have different things included in this Bill.
In situations like this, we often see that the solutions that non-disabled people come up with are very much based on the medical model, rather than the social model, of disability and do not take into account a disabled person’s reality or life. It was once suggested to me, not in relation to this Bill, that it would be far easier if disabled people had a curfew so that they went home at night and we knew where they were. It was a really serious suggestion; I struggled not to laugh at it, I am afraid. If anything vaguely approaches that in Committee, I hope noble Lords will understand if I push back on it quite strongly. Tagging disabled people is not a sensible solution to this problem either because it absolves us from our responsibility to change how we think about disabled people. We need to be more forward-thinking and, in essence, we need to future-proof the decisions we take.
Specifically on Amendment 9, in another place, the right honourable Mr Christopher Pincher said:
“The Secretary of State can already consider the vulnerability of residents when making regulations.”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/1/22; col. 435.]
However, I do not think that this goes far enough. I know that there are likely be suggestions about including information in a premises information box; that is interesting but, again, it does not go far enough. We need to consider the needs of disabled people. I very much welcome a discussion with the Minister and the Bill team to think about how we can find the right wording, not just by sticking “and disabled people” at every point in the Bill but by genuinely helping disabled people to make it better.
At Second Reading, I asked the Minister when the personal emergency evacuation plan consultation would be published. On 3 February I asked a Question for Written Answer about this, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, answered on 17 February that it would be
“once the views of all individuals and organisations who contributed have been carefully considered.”
She stated that the timeframe would be “shortly”. I know that “shortly”, in parliamentary terms, can be quite a wide timeframe. Can the Minister provide any update on what it means in this context? This piece of work would be incredibly useful in helping us navigate this Bill.
I am expecting some sympathy from the Minister, although possibly not much movement. Obviously, I will take away his comments from this debate, but will return on Report with amendments in this area and divide the House on ensuring that we have protection for disabled people.
I will speak very briefly to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. He apologises for not being here today; he is trying to get down to London—when he spoke to me this morning he was stuck somewhere around Penrith. He is hoping to be here very shortly. He messaged me to say that, with his amendment, he wanted to add buildings below 18 metres that pose a special risk—not to tie the Secretary of State’s hands but to give the option of complete flexibility to define “buildings” and alter any of the definitions in the section. As he expressed passionately at Second Reading, we have no idea what will be found when proper inspections take place, but there are flats that have been converted from office blocks and box flats with no windows.
Most of his amendments are in the form of “regulations may”. He made it very clear that, when he chaired the Delegated Powers Committee, he would have deplored such a formulation of words, but he recognises that a number of provisions in the Bill must inevitably be skeletal. He also said that taking the power does not mean that it has to be used and it certainly does not imply a commitment to undertake fire remedial work on all buildings, even those under 11 metres which may still be four storeys high.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow on from what the noble Baroness has outlined. I strongly support what she has been saying. I will speak on a couple of other points that have been raised so far, particularly on Amendment 4 and what the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said, and on what my noble friend Lord Foster proposes in his amendment.
However, I will first deal with the point just raised. It is not about a theoretical code; there are absolute, actual conflicts between the requirements which fire officers, for instance, dictate in relation to fire doors—how soon they should shut, and so on—and the requirements of what someone with mobility problems needs to pass through that doorway. These issues are not resolved at the moment; they are not just the subject for soft words but for reconciling the tensions and devising ways to find solutions to those problems. I could make the same point about railings and barriers, where what is required for fire safety is often in conflict with what disabled people need.
Apart from the generality of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, I say to the Minister that there are really specific regulatory pitfalls; things which, if you implement them very mechanically, have internal conflicts which need to be resolved. I very much hope the Minister can, at least during the passage of this Bill if not today, undertake to consult both fire officers and the disabled community on rational ways of solving or at least ameliorating those difficulties.
Amendment 4 was very ably proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. He has made the central point, which is that there is an important difference between having a set of regulations which are really a complicated algorithm or tick-box—where if you have got everything right you have simply passed, and that is it—and having legislation which sets out the overall purpose of having any regulations or rules at all in the first place. That is where this amendment comes fully into play. It says that safety has a wider import than simply what we mean by making a building fire safe; it is about what we mean by making it safe to live in in the long term.
When I looked at page 82, I was interested to see that Clause 60(8) says that regulations can be made under this provision where there is a significant risk of deaths or
“serious injury to a significant number of people.”
It is clear that, if you think about buildings as things which kill people, far more people are killed by buildings which are damp, leaky and dangerous than by buildings which catch fire. Asthma and bronchitis deaths caused by poor housing form a significant fraction of the health service’s burden during the winter months. That broader outlook or vision of what we actually mean by making a building safe—creating a safe home for people—lies at the heart of this amendment. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to respond to it with a very generous spirit.
I would perhaps urge the Minister on a more practical point: later in the Bill, we shall consider the establishment of residents’ engagement strategies for buildings. I am not sure quite how he envisages those will work, but at some point a large group of residents in a particular building will meet and tell its owners what they believe needs to be done to make their building safe. The Minister has led a council and been to residents’ meetings, so he knows the kinds of things which are raised at them. I would bet that, by 10 complaints to one, they will be about damp, draughts and leaks as against fire doors that do not close properly. Those residents’ engagement groups are going to give a lot of grief to those who run the system in the future. Including this overall vision of what safety and well-being mean within the compass of the Bill and the scope of the new regulatory environment would be one very good way to show that there will be a route for residents to have their complaints, whatever their nature, about their lack of well-being or safety in their home addressed by the legislation.
Having spoken on Amendment 4, of course I strongly support what my noble friend Lord Foster said about the property situation. My support may be irrelevant but I notice that the National Fire Chiefs Council strongly supports this provision, as do the Institution of Fire Engineers and the Association of British Insurers. They all support the inclusion of property risk alongside life safety risk in the regulatory structure that we erect for the Bill. I very much hope that, as with Amendment 4, the Minister will be able to give us a very satisfactory outcome on Amendment 1 from my noble friend Lord Foster.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for his clear introduction to his amendments.
Noble Lords may remember that the Minister said at Second Reading that
“Dame Judith called for a complete overhaul of the system, and her recommendations underpin the Bill, with a golden thread that will ensure that, henceforth, people remain safe in the homes that we build for them. The Bill is unapologetically ambitious, creating a world-class building safety regulatory regime that holds all to the same high standard.”—[Official Report, 2/2/22; col. 916.]
We certainly applaud this ambition, but making high-rise residential buildings safe requires much more than action to stop fire spreading. There is also an urgent need to prevent those fires from starting in the first place and to look more broadly at what building safety means. We therefore support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, which are designed to make buildings safer and to increase resilience. As the noble Lord said, it is important to improve protections and safety for firefighters and for residents, to give people more time to evacuate the building and to make it less likely that the building itself will be completely destroyed.
Turning to Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, the Bill sets out major regulatory and legislative reforms in the construction sector. Central to those reforms, as other noble Lords have said, is the golden thread policy that is intended to provide a framework to encourage transparency of information relating to all building safety matters, from the inception of a project to its completion.
The golden thread is also designed to encourage more collaborative working within the industry and to support much-needed culture change, and to increase competence and capability by the sharing of working practices, updated processes and information management control. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, therefore raises an important point in her amendment, because if the Bill is to be truly transformative, and if we are to be truly successful, the Government need to bring industry with them and so need to take account of the needs of those running the businesses and working in the industry.
The Opposition strongly support Amendment 4, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. Safety is currently undefined in the Bill, so it is simply not clear whether people’s health and well-being should be considered by the building regulator. This lack of clarity is unhelpful, because the safety of people is generally defined as an absence of health risks or harms. By broadening the definition of safety in this part of the Bill, the amendment provides an opportunity to look at the risks beyond high-rise buildings and fire and to address housing health and safety issues which the Bill’s title claims to address.
The Town and Country Planning Association’s written evidence on the Bill points out that health risks and harms such as air pollution, overheating and noise pollution, as well as more indirect issues such as poor accessibility or walkability, insecurity, lack of access to green space, and cramped living conditions, are not covered by the Bill but undermine people’s well-being and health and, ultimately, their safety. I therefore hope that, as the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, requested, the Minister will welcome the amendment.
It is a shame that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has got stuck in Penrith and is unable to be here. He has my absolute sympathy; I struggled to get a train in from Carlisle this morning and was quite fortunate to make it here at all, so I wish him well. His amendments tie in with the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, including Amendment 9, to which I added my name.
Higher risk is not just about height. It is about the actual construction of a building and its safety standards, and about who lives there—about the vulnerability of the residents and their ability to escape, particularly taking disability into account. The Bill leaves a range of fire safety issues unresolved, from the lack of a national strategy as to how to evacuate high-rise buildings to the absence of a requirement to plan for the escape of disabled residents. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, says that, whenever she enters a building, she immediately thinks about how she can get out. I am sure that that is not something that the rest of us do automatically. The noble Baroness also talked about the complete lack of understanding about the needs of people with disabilities and some of the ludicrous suggestions that have been put forward.
We need a change to the definition of high-risk buildings to ensure that the scope of the new system includes all supported accommodation as well as residential care homes, regardless of height. The profile of residents is a significant contributor to the risk of life, and we believe that all buildings with vulnerable residents must be adequately scrutinised. The definition of high-risk buildings has been modified in the Bill and now includes care homes and hospitals that meet an 18-metre height threshold, but that still excludes vulnerable people living in buildings below the threshold, and if that threshold is reduced, more buildings will still come in below that. That means that those people will not have access to vital protections under this new system. We know that supported accommodation tends to be more in low-rise and medium-rise buildings, so this issue needs to be looked at. I want to reinforce that point: the risk to building safety should be defined by actual risk, not by some arbitrary cut-off.
Amendment 9 seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State, when revising the definition of a high-risk building, has regard to the ability of residents to evacuate a building. I hope that noble Lords and the Minister have listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and the powerful comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and will recognise the importance of this provision. I urge the Minister to offer his support.
I was going to ask the same question that the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, asked about when we are likely to see a response to the consultation on personal emergency evacuation plans. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister could provide an update on that. Does he also have any information as to whether the Government will commit to making PEEPs statutory requirements for any buildings covered by the fire safety order for residents who would have difficulty self-evacuating? With that, I hand over to the Minister.
My Lords, I was not expecting to be in what the Romans called a frigidarium for this stage of the Bill. It is positively bracing. I am sure that as the week wears on we will get a slightly more normal temperature. It is already slightly better, so it clearly just takes a bit of time.
I will try to capture each group of amendments in three words or fewer. I am going to call this group the “widening the scope” group of amendments—that is three words. I will go through each amendment in turn. In practice, I have sympathy with every idea that has been put forward. However, I would like noble Lords to consider that the more we widen the scope, the greater the risk that we will actually fail in the first duty of any Government, which is to keep people safe. Our focus has to be based on what it is reasonable to expect from a new regulator in the Health and Safety Executive. So, although I have sympathy, I will resist this group of amendments, because, when we talk about high risk, the scope has to be necessarily tight in order to give the HSE the chance to grow as a regulator and to implement this regime properly.
However, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this first group of amendments. I believe that this is a landmark piece of legislation and a necessary one. I can feel the broad support that it has from all sides of the House, and I look forward to further debates in Committee. There has already been good discussion in this grouping, and I am grateful for the commitment from all noble Lords to improve the Bill and to reform building safety more generally. I have listened to the concerns raised by noble Lords and I thank them for their helpful contributions. As I said, I will respond to them all in turn.
I start by talking about the fire which the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, mentioned. It is true that it was a staggeringly awful fire, even though there was no loss of life, and the noble Lord captured that very well in his speech. I have spent quite a bit of time trying to learn the lessons of the near misses, if you like, so I have met Geeta Nanda, chair of the G15, who I have known for some time. She is also the chief executive of the Metropolitan Thames Valley housing association, which manages Richmond House within Worcester Park, which consists of 23 households of shared owners. I have also met Dean Summers—on Zoom; I have not met him in person—who took over from Sean Ellis, and I had a meeting with him as the new managing director of St James.
It is fair to say that Richmond House, which was built in 2011 by the Berkeley Group—St James is part of the Berkeley Group—was built in a shockingly bad way. It was built without internal compartmentalisation and certainly would never have passed the building regulations at the time. There was also inadequate fire-stopping, which is one of the reasons why the fire spread so quickly. Candidly, it is absolutely right that the Berkeley Group pays for its replacement and addresses all the losses suffered by the shared owners. I am very interested in that, and I have asked for a report from the housing association and Berkeley on progress on doing precisely that. The building was not built in line with building regulations, so it should not have happened. It is a four-storey building and is under 11 metres, which, according to the building regulations, should not have been able to happen, so we have an example of someone having signed off a building that should never have been signed off. That is the lesson of Richmond House.
Sometimes regulation does not work. That, for me, is the lesson. The other lesson is that fire is a tragedy, not just when you lose lives but in the opportunities lost. This Bill does a lot to make housing overall safer, and we will have much better housing stock over the next 30 years than we have had in the previous 30 years.
Another problem at Worcester Park might have been the failure to implement the building regulations. I have found building regulation enforcement very patchy. There has been a lot of very aggressive enforcement of building regulations in my lovely county, yet here there has obviously been a disaster with building regulations. Is enforcement of the regulations not also important, and will that be improved by our work here?
I think we need to ensure the competence of enforcement and that it works, and the competence of the people who assess buildings and sign them off as fit for human habitation. In the same way with crime where we want an absence of crime, we want an absence of these problems. Yes, we need to improve enforcement and there needs to be the strong arm of the law. That is why we want to have a strong regulator in this new regulator under the HSE. We have Housing Act powers for local authorities to intervene. The fire service has powers under the fire safety order. There are lots of powers and lots of regulators that can step in and do something about it. In this case, they all failed. Yes, we need to strengthen them. We understand a lot more about the inadequacies of some of the built environment, but my noble friend is right that we also need to strengthen enforcement.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for his amendments. On Amendment 1, I hope noble Lords will agree that the regulator should exercise its functions in line with its first objective: to secure the safety of people in and around buildings. I am concerned that adding additional objectives for the new building safety regulator could distract from this mission. The Bill provides the regulator with a broader objective to improve the standard of buildings. Achieving this could involve the regulator improving regulatory standards relevant to property protection, such as security, resilience and fire safety, so the regulator’s remit already extends to considering these issues.
Adding a specific objective for property protection would have two main downsides. First, it would put property protection on a par with resident safety as a priority for the regulator. The Government believe that the regulator should prioritise residents’ safety and do not want the regulator to be distracted from that. There is a risk that a specific requirement always to consider property protection would result in the regulator favouring solutions that go beyond what is required for residents’ safety. The second downside is that this amendment risks skewing the building safety regulator’s oversight function. The Government intend the regulator to use evidence to identify emerging issues with the safety and performance of buildings and to make recommendations to Ministers on regulatory changes where needed. A property protection objective would distract the regulator from using evidence to identify and rectify the most pressing issues, which might, for example, relate to net zero and sustainability rather than property protection.
The pre-legislative scrutiny committee considered property protection but found that the existing objectives are a sensible starting point—I emphasise “starting point”. The committee suggested that the Government keep this under review. We are committed to doing this through the provision in Clause 135 for a regular independent review of the effectiveness of the regulator and the wider regulatory system.
Turning to Amendment 12, there are already powers for building regulations to cover specific aspects of building resilience. We believe that it is better that building regulations are targeted on specific issues rather than open-ended requirements. However, we recognise that, for residential buildings, further research into property protection is warranted. The impact of the loss of a home is significant, so we are taking this forward as part of the technical review of approved document B on fire safety. I thank the noble Lord for suggesting these amendments and respectfully ask him to withdraw Amendment 1.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for her Amendment 2. I hope to persuade the Committee that we have provided adequate safeguards to prevent the building safety regulator becoming an overly bureaucratic regulator. The Government are clear that the new building safety regulator must follow regulatory best practice. Clause 3 sets out the principles that the regulator must operate proportionately and target action only where necessary. Clauses 4 and 6 ensure that the building safety regulator works proactively with businesses, both small and large, to facilitate the improvements to competence and safety that are needed. The Health and Safety Executive, which will deliver the building safety regulator, is required to have regard to the Regulators’ Code. The code stipulates that it must carry out its activities in a way that supports those it regulates—business, builders and technicians—to comply and grow. The Health and Safety Executive will build on its more than 40 years’ experience of delivering a proportionate and robust regulatory regime.
I have concerns about going even further and placing further duties to support business in the Bill. Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review and the public inquiry are uncovering serious failures. I would not want Parliament inadvertently to send the message to the regulator that it does not have our backing to enforce robustly rules around safety, where business will not comply. In the light of my assurances, I hope that my noble friend will consider not pressing her amendment.
Turning to Amendment 4, on the definition of safety in Clause 3, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Crisp, Lord Blunkett and Lord Stunell, and my noble friend Lord Young for raising this important matter. Under Clause 3, the regulator has two objectives: to secure safety and, crucially, to improve the standard of buildings. Improving the standard of buildings extends to issues such as damp, thermal efficiency—including insulation—safe stairs and access to light. Section 1 of the Building Act 1984 ensures that building regulations can address welfare, convenience and health and safety in relation to buildings.
Turning to the safety objective, we want a focused objective to guide the regulator to prioritise preventing a tragedy such as Grenfell Tower happening again. It would confuse the regulator’s mission if Parliament instructed it to treat safety as encompassing well-being in Part 2 but, in Part 4, to treat safety as focused on preventing and mitigating serious risks to life. If the new Part 4 regime for safety in occupied high-rise residential buildings were expanded to cover well-being, buildings would need costly remediation for reasons going well beyond the physical safety of residents. This would not be proportionate. Finally, the safety objective can already cover risks to safety relating to the location, construction or management of buildings. The Health and Safety Executive acts as a statutory consultee in relation to high-rise residential buildings at the planning stage, and this Bill addresses both construction and occupation. I therefore invite the noble Lord to consider not pressing his amendment.
I am sad that my noble friend Lord Blencathra was unable to deliver his speech. I always enjoy his speeches; they are absolutely priceless. However, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for stepping into the breach at short notice and doing such a fine job. I turn to my noble friend’s Amendments 8 and 44. On Amendment 8, I thank him for raising this important matter through the noble Baroness, but I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept this amendment. Unfortunately, I must point out that the amendment would mean that a simple change in design could result in a building meeting or no longer meeting the criteria to be a higher-risk building, which would risk uncertainty and confusion for the industry.
The clause already provides powers to allow the definition of higher-risk buildings to include buildings less than 18 metres in height. A recommendation or advice from the building safety regulator must be provided and a cost-benefit analysis undertaken to do this. Our approach to the definition of higher-risk buildings is proportionate to the level of risk potentially found in these buildings. It was chosen following extensive engagement with stakeholders and ensures that the regime can be delivered by the building safety regulator.
Amendment 44 relates to Clause 62. I am afraid our assessment is that, even with supporting secondary legislation, this amendment would have the unintended effect of causing uncertainty for building owners and residents. For example, if a fire detection system broke, then it would be inadequate and the building would become a higher-risk building. Once it was fixed, the building would no longer be a higher-risk building and subject to the new regime. The same scenario could apply to a broken sprinkler and smoke suppression systems, which could leave evacuation routes inadequate as they may have protected them. Finally, construction materials can be used in varying quantities and in various combinations, and whether they are appropriate is very context specific. We therefore concluded that it would be inappropriate to base the regime around the factors proposed in the amendment.
We are focusing on high-rise residential buildings, as the risk to multiple households is greater when fire spreads in buildings of this height. I assure my noble friend that the Government are taking action to protect all residents. This includes the building safety regulator having wider responsibilities for overseeing the safety of all buildings. This will drive continuous improvement in buildings’ performance to ensure the safety of occupants. In light of this, I ask him, through the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, not to press his amendment.
Finally, I turn to Amendment 9. I recognise the concerns which have led to noble Lords laying this amendment and assure them that the Bill makes provision for the building safety regulator to consider a wide range of factors which influence the level of risk in categories of building before making recommendations or providing advice about which categories of buildings should be considered higher-risk. In addition, Clause 5 places a duty on the building safety regulator to keep the safety and standard of buildings under review. This could include considering the effect of factors, such as the general occupant profile for different types of buildings, on the safety of people in or about buildings. Where the regulator identifies an issue, it will consider whether it must recommend to the Secretary of State that a category of building should be defined as a higher-risk building, ahead of a change being made in regulations. In light of this, I ask that this amendment is not pressed.
I am particularly grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Brinton, for tabling Amendments 4A, 7A, 7B and 147A. I assure them that, where the Bill refers to residents, this includes residents with disabilities. The Government and the Health and Safety Executive are committed to providing residents with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences, including disabled residents, with a strong voice in the new regulatory system. The Health and Safety Executive is actively seeking representation of the disabled community on its statutory residents’ panel and is committed to working with and seeking the views of organisations that represent disabled interests. I engaged extensively with Claddag; I think it is a fantastic group that we need to continue to learn from.
In individual high-rise residential buildings in scope of the new regulatory regime, the Bill ensures that all residents will be kept informed about the safety of their building. Principal accountable persons must establish a residents’ engagement strategy, which will promote the participation of all residents in decision-making about their building’s safety. Residents will be entitled to raise building safety issues with the appropriate accountable person and escalate complaints to the building safety regulator where the accountable person has not resolved their safety concerns. Even in blocks where the new regulatory regime will not apply, the fire safety order requires fire risk assessments to include safety measures the responsible person has taken and any group of persons identified as being especially at risk. The Bill requires recording the assessment in full, supporting greater compliance with the order. In light of my assurances, I hope the noble Baronesses will not press their amendments.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Grey-Thompson, asked when we will publish our response on PEEPs. I have been told that it will not be published shortly but that it will be published in the coming weeks.
I am the Minister with responsibility for fire as well as for building safety, and I will ensure that it is published in weeks and not months or years. Noble Lords will know that we have consulted twice now on PEEPs. I am pretty clear about the way forward, and it is about time that we as a Government came forward with a response. I recognise the pressure to do so sooner rather than later, and thank the Committee for raising the issue.
I recognise the concerns that have led to noble Lords laying these amendments and assure them that the Bill makes provision for the building safety regulator to consider a wide range of factors that influence the level of risk in categories of building before making recommendations or providing advice as to which categories of buildings should be considered higher risk.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions, and I hope I have given reassurance to enable them to withdraw and not press their amendments.
My Lords, we are at a very early stage of consideration in Committee of this Bill, but I have to say that it is following a pattern that I have experienced on many occasions during the passage of other Bills. It was summed up beautifully by two comments. The first was from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who said in his excellent speech, proposing an excellent amendment, that the Bill cannot do everything but that there are some issues that we simply cannot ignore. Some of those issues have already been raised. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, made an excellent speech, backed up by my noble friend Lady Brinton, in which she talked about the need to give disabled people more protection than is currently the case.
My proposal relates to the inclusion in the Bill of the protection of property, and the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, relates to the need for safety considerations to include health and well-being. I say to the noble Lord that, later on, I will move Amendment 121, which concerns one such health and safety issue, the improving of the energy efficiency of existing buildings—something I desperately wish could be implemented immediately because, like everybody else, I am absolutely freezing at the moment. Sadly, 13 million homes in this country are so badly insulated that a lot of people suffer every day, and it is not just the odd inconvenience like the one we face today.
The second comment that shows how typical this pattern is was from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. At the end of her remarks, she said that she is expecting sympathy but not much movement. That is what we have just heard from the Minister today: a lot of sympathy and a clear understanding of the issues, along with probably a personal desire to do far more, but, in reality, a resorting to the usual things that Ministers—I am guilty of having done it myself—say from the Dispatch Box. Excuses were used, such as that we should not extend the scope because that would cause confusion. I ask the Minister to look at what the Government are doing in relation to Ofcom, the one regulator the Government never say cannot have its scope extended, with 300 additional staff having just been added to deal with the internet safety Bill. The other excuses are that this will be kept under review and that something will be available in the coming weeks.
The Minister has asked us not to press our amendments and that I withdraw mine. I cannot speak for other people, but these are all important issues to which I am sure we will return at future stages of our deliberations in Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 3, page 2, line 22, at end insert—
“(3A) In exercising a building function (other than an excepted function) the regulator may exercise the powers given by virtue of section 8 (certification of work) and section 9 (Appointed Person and management of works) of the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would pass certain powers of the Secretary of State contained in the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004 to the regulator.
My Lords, I apologise to noble Lords; my usually invisible hearing disability got in the way there.
Amendment 3, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Pinnock, joins up very neatly to what the Minister said in his speech winding up the previous debate. He wants the regulator to have a fire safety oversight of all buildings, not just the high-rise ones; he wants to see high standards in all buildings. That is exactly what I want to achieve, which is why I have tabled this amendment.
I must admit that when you look at the amendment it is not at all transparent what we are trying to achieve, so I hope your Lordships will excuse me for taking it back a little and explaining what it does. Essentially, it draws attention to the fact that it is already possible for the Minister to introduce a golden thread of certification and oversight for every building construction project in the country. That has been possible since 2004, with the passage of the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act, and noble Lords will see that the amendment refers to Sections 8 and 9 of that Act.
The Bill before us imposes very firm and rigid guidelines on how fire safety should be dealt with in high-rise, high-risk buildings. I strongly support that, as of course did the report by Dame Judith Hackitt, on which the whole foundations of the Bill sit. Central to that is the idea of a golden thread whereby you can always find out who made the decision, who they passed it on to, and who made the next decision. It will therefore always be possible to find out and, if you put it the other way round, make somebody accountable for every decision made. Clearly, that is the central point of the Hackitt report and of the Building Safety Bill.
High-rise buildings, despite various attempts to widen the range, probably include about 40,000 buildings at the most, which is of course a large number, but the Minister has said that he wants the building safety regulator to look after the other 24 million. This amendment deals with what should happen with the other 24 million. It makes it as clear as it can, within the limits of parliamentary drafting, that there are existing powers that have lain dormant for 18 years, during which time it would have been possible for there to be regulations that set out that there must be a named, appointed person in charge of a building project and there must be a certificate of completion that is submitted to the building control authority to indicate that the building has been constructed according to the regulations. There is a track, if you like, already available there, but, as I say, 18 years later, it has not been implemented.
I should have said at the outset of the whole of this debate that not only have I failed to declare any interests at all, but I particularly did not remind the Committee that I was the Minister responsible for building regulations for two years between 2010 and 2012, so I am one of the people who did not implement this. We have all had good reasons why we did not do so. This amendment proposes that in future we do not leave it to Ministers with all their competing priorities, and that rather than the Secretary of State having this power already in legislation to make regulations on the golden thread, they are exercisable instead by the building safety regulator as and when it decides, based on its assessment of the proportionality and the necessity of doing so in any particular class or category of buildings, or any particular scope of building regulations, to ensure that this comes to fruition.
The alternative is that we do not do that and that it relies on the Secretary of State making a decision, which has not been taken so far, to bring into scope on a golden thread basis all 24 million buildings that, at the moment, are excused from taking that particular route.
This is not only about the fire regulations. There is evidence of regulatory failure in a wide range of construction matters, including damp penetration—indeed, the Minister has mentioned them himself. There are plenty of other examples; there is a whole lot of stuff to do with securing energy efficiency in buildings, for example, which is treated cavalierly by those who install it, so there is a shortage of performance on that, too. If we want to do anything to improve the safety, let alone well-being in the broader sense, of the inhabitants of the 24 million buildings that are outside the scope of higher risk, I put it to the Minister that he should consider this amendment.
Of course, there is an alternative approach. The Minister could say that, despite the powers lying dormant on the statute book for 18 years, it is the current Administration’s intention to exercise those powers and to make sure that those regulations come into force. That would be fully in accordance with Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations. I therefore look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on that score.
In this string of amendments is Amendment 135, in the name of my noble friend Lord Shipley, which is about making sure that permitted development rights do not excuse any building from having to comply with the requirements of the Bill. I can deploy the arguments about the importance of securing that, but I would have thought that it was absolutely transparent to the Minister. Permitted development rights are resulting in construction of buildings, in particular homes, that are well below a suitable standard, and which would certainly not receive approval in the normal course of events and are at least feasibly creating significant fire risks for the residents in those blocks. I share the concern of my noble friend should we not deal with that particular loophole.
Again, I look forward to the Minister explaining how he will exercise the powers, which are already on his desk, to have a named person and a certified building at the end of every building project, and to him being able to satisfy me that no permitted development project will be allowed to transgress the fire safety rules that will be established through the Bill before us. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, wishes to take part remotely. I now invite the noble Baroness to speak.
My Lords, I support both amendments in this group so helpfully introduced by my noble friend Lord Stunell. We heard in our debate on the previous group of amendments about the wide range of safety concerns, from fire and flood to methods of construction and fitting out, which mean that some buildings are at risk. I should declare my interest as the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group, and I thank the many Fire Ministers who have appeared before it, including the current Minister and indeed a previous Minister, who spoke just now.
I support the ideas about the golden thread as outlined by my noble friend Lord Stunell. Amendment 3 does that. Frankly, I thank him for owning up to the fact that he did not do this when he was a Minister. The all-party group has, over the years, argued for this policy to be part of the fire safety protocol.
The amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and supported by my noble friend Lady Pinnock, have a key safety issue: the power to prevent a developer’s ability to pick their own regulator. It is right that it is the public building regulator, the Local Authority Building Control, that is the sole regulator.
The bonfire of regulations just over a decade ago has meant that this field has become murky and filled with a lot of organisations that may indeed have close relationships. There was one day when the all-party group heard from a whistleblower who told us that, in the past, there has been unacceptable practice when the developer or owner of a building has had the ability to pick and choose the inspector, in this case, but it could have been a regulator. Fire safety inspectors were booked to come and check the fire safety doors—the front doors of flats and those on the stairwells—and that they were still the right ones that would manage the 40-minute fire safety tests. The managing agents for the building asked for a delay of a week, which was granted. The whistleblower said that it had been noticed by a number of residents that a series of doors were removed and replaced with other doors during that week—which of course passed all the tests—and, the week after the inspection, all the old doors were put back.
There has to be a mechanism for a regulator to start picking up on, and being concerned, when organisations are not playing by the rules. Those alarm bells can best be raised by the independent Local Authority Building Control.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 135 in my name, which was referred to a moment ago by my noble friend Lord Stunell, and which I intend as a probing amendment. I should say that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I raised this issue at Second Reading, as the Minister will recall, and the question of whether permitted development rights would continue as now when this Bill is enacted, in respect of the conversion of office blocks to residential accommodation of any height. Amendment 135 seeks to clarify the matter. It says that
“Nothing in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 … permits development which would convert offices to residential accommodation if such development is contrary to the provisions of this Act.”
I am grateful to the Public Bill Office for the help in drafting those words.
I simply say to the Minister that I hope he will clarify that this is government policy. If it is, that fact should be in the Bill to avoid any doubt. I look forward to the Minister’s assurance, because it would be inappropriate—as my noble friend Lord Stunell said—if a different set of rules were to apply to a conversion from office to residential than would apply to a residential block always designated as that. This amendment aims to clarify that the permitted development route cannot be used where it would be contrary to the provisions of this Act. I hope the Minister will agree that this is a very important issue.
My Lords, I will look briefly first at Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. As we know, the proposed building safety regulator will be responsible for implementing and enforcing the new regime and will monitor the safety and performance of all buildings, with the aims of securing the safety of people in or about buildings and improving standards. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, went into a lot of detail and clearly laid out all the reasons behind his amendment, so I will not go over the ground that he has covered.
I just make the point that amendments have been made to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act to reflect this, so the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, would also bring those necessary powers contained in the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act into this Bill and would, as the noble Lord said, be in accordance with the recommendations of the Hackitt report. This seems a practical and sensible approach.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in his Amendment 135, raises the issue of office to residential conversions, which are being actively encouraged by the Government. We need to consider any associated building safety issues with that policy. The noble Lord asked the Minister for clarification on this, and I think that this clarification is important so that we all know exactly what implications there will be. I will be interested in the Minister’s response to that.
I have a number of amendments in this group. I will first speak to Amendments 11 and 43 in my name—I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for her support on them. Combined, they will ensure that the more stringent building safety framework applies not just to buildings over 18 metres but to those under that, where they are multiple occupancy dwellings. We believe the Building Safety Bill, in its original draft and as amended in Committee in the other place, fails robustly to confirm whether the gateway system will apply to buildings under 18 metres where there are multiple occupancy dwellings. This will create a two-tier system where buildings below 18 metres will face less rigorous safety regulations than those over 18 metres.
Importantly, we need to avoid any capacity issues arising for the building safety regulator. For buildings under 18 metres, the local authority would be the building control authority, not the building safety regulator. Local authority building control would cover the operation of the gateway system at all heights below 18 metres—I hope I have made that clear.
Amendment 11 also removes developers’ ability to pick their own regulator for multi-occupancy buildings under 18 metres—meaning that the local authority building control will be the sole regulator—to prevent a two-tier system developing in building safety. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for her supportive words on this issue. We must ensure that the duties performed by the regulator under Clause 31 are performed by the local authority that exercises building control functions. The Hackitt report identified the ability of duty holders to choose their own building control body as a major weakness of the current regulatory regime. It is also worth pointing out that this amendment and what it aims to achieve are supported by the Local Government Association. The amendment removes concerns that the Government may fail, or take a long time, to expand the higher-risk regime to include more buildings.
Amendment 43 would extend the provisions of paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Building Act 1984 to multiple occupancy dwellings.
My Amendment 127 is on a completely different issue to others discussed in this group, but it was chosen to be put here. It would force the Secretary of State to bring forward new flood resilience regulations. I have tabled it because I am increasingly frustrated by the Government’s seemingly laissez-faire approach to flood protection. It was barely mentioned during the passage of the Environment Bill, to which I also put an amendment on flood protection. We really need to introduce minimum national flood protection standards for new-build housing.
The reasoning behind this is the inevitable change to our climate and the fact that we will see more flooding in this country. We have seen some this weekend—look at all the storms we have been having, which unfortunately are becoming more frequent. Legislation is simply not keeping up with the reality of our climate future. In 2019, the Climate Change Committee published a report on housing in which it stated:
“UK homes are not fit for the future.”
It found that
“efforts to adapt the housing stock for higher temperatures, flooding and water scarcity are falling far behind the increase in risk from the changing climate”
Currently, local authority planning departments can choose what property flood resilience measures they introduce as part of their pre-commencement conditions. In reality, this means that adjacent local authorities have different requirements for property flood resilience, flood mitigation and water management measures, even if they are rated within the same flood zone.
Over 6 million homes in the UK are currently at risk of flooding, without any property flood resilience measures. This should be a cause for extreme concern, yet the Government are failing to address it and flooding is not mentioned anywhere in the Bill. We believe it is irresponsible and reckless to allow new builds to continue to be built in this country without strong property flood resilience measures, because we need our homes to be fit for the future. It is also frustrating that Flood Re does not cover new builds built after the date it came in, on the basis that the planning reforms mean that no future houses could be built to be at risk of flood. Yet we know that is simply not the case; new-build houses still flood.
The Minister may well say that this is not a matter for this Bill because it is nothing more than a planning matter, but safety standards for buildings should cover building in resilience against flooding as well as resilience against other safety concerns. Without positive action from the Government, tens of thousands more homes will be built without the protection they need, so I urge the Minister to consider improving provisions on flooding as part of this Bill.
I feel passionately about this; I hope that comes across. I feel that I am constantly saying “We need to do this” in every debate on legislation where there is an opportunity, but it never actually happens. I hope that the Minister will listen to my plea with some sympathy.
My Lords, I apologise: I was not here at the beginning of Committee due to flooding on the track. There was no electricity on the lines so the north was cut off—my part of the north, anyway. I draw the Committee’s attention to my register of interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and a member of Kirklees Council. I will speak particularly to Amendment 11, which I have co-signed with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.
It is clear that the role of building inspector is absolutely critical in ensuring that buildings comply with approved plans and are built in accordance with building regulations. It is also evident from tragic incidents and residents’ concerns that some buildings have been constructed in breach of building regulations —we have already heard that this afternoon—and that the constructors have managed to get away with it. This Bill is an opportunity to scrutinise these issues and agree a more effective inspection process.
The Bill proposes the new role of building safety regulator to be the ultimate voice for inspection and advice on building safety. The regulator will be part of the wider Health and Safety Executive; that seems right to me. The HSE is a respected body with wide expertise in safety matters. Building safety and inspection need simplicity for clarity, as well as relevant expertise, training and access to advice.
The regulation and inspection of building safety in the Bill fall into two distinct parts: construction and post construction. It is the construction part that we are dealing with now. On the construction element, the Bill provides for the building safety regulator to be to building inspector for buildings over 18 metres. I can understand that, because such buildings are more complex and the safety risks are greater, but there has never been an explanation as to why it is 18 metres. I look forward to the Minister explaining why, apart from historical reasons, 18 metres is the cut-off point.
Of course, the definition of high-risk buildings—or “higher risk”, as they are now described—includes, as I understand it, care homes and hospitals. Can the Minister let us know whether the building safety regulator will be responsible for those buildings as well? It is positive that there will be a register held by the BSR for registered building inspectors, although it is not clear what qualifications and experience will be required to be such an inspector.
I turn to buildings under 18 metres, which do not have quite the same inspection regime, as we have heard. This complicates matters; we need simplicity. The BSR remains the final adjudicator. However, where the Bill falls short is in the complicated regime that is created for buildings under 18 metres. The Hackitt report made absolutely clear the need for accountable persons at each and every stage of construction—the gateway process—yet those waters are muddied for buildings under 18 metres. I thought I heard the Minister intimate earlier this afternoon that the powers of the building safety regulator may be extended to include buildings below 18 metres; perhaps he can make that clear.
Accountability is absolutely critical and, if the Committee gets my point, it should be an accountability that can be recovered. Building inspectors come and go but the one certain place where documents can be stored is in a local authority, because it has legal requirements to keep documents for a great many years. Given the argument from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, it seems to me that keeping building control within a local authority as the adjudicator for all buildings under 18 metres would be right. It is a question of having not just a regulator in a far-off place dealing with these buildings but people on the ground who know and understand the issues, the builders, the challenges in each area and how those challenges can be overcome. Some of that will be lost if there is this complexity about inspection in buildings below 18 metres.
On Amendment 43 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the schedule absolutely should include buildings in multiple occupancy, which clearly have different challenges for building safety. Quite often, they can be older buildings that have been divided up into flats. Unless there is oversight of what goes on, those buildings could easily create building safety concerns. We all know of old buildings where we live—well, I guess a lot of us do—and where we have concerns about those that have been divided up. You fear for the safety of folk in them because of the lack of fire doors and escape routes, so this amendment, too, gets my wholehearted support.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has proposed Amendment 127 on flood resilience. I can tell the Committee that, certainly where I live, there will be more attenuation tanks under the ground than houses above it. I kid not; they were 10 or 15 metres long and three or four metres deep in a recent planning application. These issues are really important because more construction is taking place, if not exactly on flood plains, because that is not permitted, but where the flood risk is at level 2 or 3. Almost the worst thing that can happen to buildings is for them to be flooded. Where I live, the sirens went this weekend and people had parts of their homes flooded. That was in previously built homes; let us make sure that, in future, flood resilience for homes is part of the regulations under the Bill. Otherwise, we are just building homes to flood. Where I live, as I say, there is certainly a lot of concern on new-build estates that that will be the case.
On the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Shipley, he is absolutely right that permitted development has become the quick way to change a building to make a fast profit, I am afraid. I hope that the Minister will agree to review permitted development rights and the planning legislation that goes alongside them in the light of the elements and measures in the Bill. We cannot have regulations that fit one set of new developments yet allow permitted development to continue and create building safety concerns.
There is always somebody who knows—my noble friend Lord Stunell always seems to know—that there is already an Act. If we had just implemented the legislation that has been passed, perhaps some of this could have been prevented. The Minister has an easy task this afternoon. He can just say, “We have the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act. I will be on to the Secretary of State this very day to get him to implement the powers in that Act so that we do not have to wait”. What could be better? This group of amendments is important and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I want to say a few words on PDR. It has been well exercised. First, I should declare my interests: I have practised for many years as a chartered surveyor and have two buy-to-let properties.
PDR is mentioned specifically by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in Amendment 135 and in Amendment 43 by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Pinnock. I think that PDR is a time bomb, I am afraid; I am sorry to say that. Conversions of redundant office buildings allowed as of right led to poor-quality developments. They are multi-let properties with many risks involved, and they are very recent conversions. They are taking place as we speak with little supervision. Developers who ignore the simple standards of fenestration, minimum square footage for a decent life, thermal insulation and other such things, as is happening today, are unlikely to respect building safety issues. PDR was hasty legislation. It was poorly thought through, then there was a scramble to tighten it up as it was extended. It is essential that this Bill addresses the PDR problem. I started by saying that it is a time bomb. If the Bill does not address it, it will go off. There will be tragedies as a result of PDR and those in society who are least able to defend themselves often end up as the tenants.
My Lords, I think I should start by dealing with something that probably relates to the previous group. I am sorry that so many noble Lords have had such arduous journeys to get to the Moses Room today and then, having journeyed so far and so slowly, come to a Room that is so positively chilling. It is quite arduous at the best of times.
Just for clarification, in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the high-risk regime includes hospitals and those care homes of six storeys and above. Essentially, it is those around 18 metres—there or thereabouts—but not in occupation, because different regimes apply to them, although the fire safety order applies to the whole built environment. I hope that gives clarity on the current scope.
I set myself the task of trying to encapsulate quite a varied set of amendments in each group in three words or fewer. I have called this the “strengthening building regulations” group: I will try and get three words down to two the next time I have to do this. I thank noble Lords for their contributions to what has been an interesting debate. I will respond to each amendment in turn.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, for his amendment giving the building safety regulator the power to make building regulations under paragraphs 4A and 4B of Schedule 1 to the Building Act 1984, as inserted by the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004. However, I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept this amendment as his intention has already been met in the Bill. We are introducing a more stringent regulatory regime in design and construction for higher-risk buildings, as defined in Part 3. The higher-risk regime will be the responsibility of the building safety regulator. We are also making wider changes to the Building Act 1984 that will apply to all buildings.
I point out to your Lordships that Sections 8 and 9 of the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004, referred to in the amendment, insert paragraphs 4A, under “Certification of work”, and 4B, under “Appointed person and management of works” into Schedule 1 to the Building Act 1984. As part of our improvements to the 1984 Act, the Bill repeals those paragraphs and replaces them with more effective powers via Clauses 32 and 33. These are more effective, stronger and wide-ranging powers. Clauses 32 and 33 provide powers for building regulations to set procedural requirements relating to building control, the issue of notices and certificates and requirements regarding appointments. They include setting out duties to be imposed on relevant persons in relation to building work. We also consider that the power to make building regulations should remain with the Secretary of State. This will ensure a consistent approach to all buildings; the Bill already provides that the building safety regulator will be able to advise the Secretary of State should it consider changes to the building regulations to be necessary. I thank the noble Lord for suggesting these amendments and respectfully ask him not to press them.
I always get worried—this is a new combination, as they say—when an amendment brings the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Pinnock, together. On Amendment 11, it is the Workington warrior and the Yorkshire terrier combined. I am trembling in my boots at the thought of Amendment 11 but let us look at it carefully. I thank the noble Baronesses for raising this important matter but I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept this amendment. The Bill takes a proportionate approach to building control. In the new system, all building inspectors, regardless of whether they work for local authorities, the building safety regulator or registered building control approvers, will need to register with the building safety regulator. As part of the registration process, they will have to demonstrate their competence by meeting certain criteria.
A new framework of operational standards rules will define the minimum performance standards that building control bodies must meet, and the building safety regulator will monitor and analyse the performance of building control bodies to drive up standards across the sector. Registered building control approvers and building control authorities will need to obtain and consider the advice of a registered building inspector before carrying out certain building control functions and use a registered building inspector to undertake certain activities. This greater scrutiny and accountability will provide greater incentive to ensure all buildings, including non-higher-risk buildings, are safe. With that explanation, I respectfully ask the noble Baronesses not to press their amendment.
I turn to Amendment 43. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for raising this important matter. I am afraid the Government will not be able to accept the amendment, as our assessment is that it would not achieve its intended effect. I assure the noble Baroness that paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Building Act 1984 already allows for the making of provision in the building regulations for all categories of buildings, as do the new powers that we are taking in Clause 32.
We are introducing a more stringent regulatory regime in design and construction, led by the building safety regulator, for high-rise residential buildings, care homes and hospitals that are 18 metres or more in height, or at least seven storeys, known in the Bill as “higher-risk” buildings. Those buildings to which this more stringent regime applies have been chosen to ensure that the regulation is proportionate to the level of risk, should a spreading fire or structural failure occur. We do not think it appropriate to apply the entire regime to all buildings. However, where appropriate, we intend to make elements applicable to all buildings, such as the duty-holder and competence requirements, which will apply to all building work where building regulations apply.
I turn to Amendment 127. I again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for raising matters relating to flood resilience. I appreciate the passion with which she outlined her desire to get this issue addressed, particularly in new homes, but I am afraid the Government will not be able to accept this amendment. I assure her that there is already a well-established regulatory system in place to ensure new homes have necessary flood-mitigation measures in place. The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided. Where development is necessary, it should be made safe and resilient without increasing flood risk elsewhere. Policies in that framework must be taken into account in preparing the local authority’s development plan and are a material consideration in planning decisions.
The new clause that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has proposed would require flood resilience measures to be introduced into the building regulations. Statutory guidance to the building regulations, in approved document C, already promotes the use of flood-resilient and resistant construction in flood-prone areas. Part H of the regulations also sets requirements for the rainwater and surface water drainage of individual buildings. The main sewerage system for a development is governed by the sewerage undertaker for the area—for example, Thames Water. The sewerage undertaker has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that drainage systems for new developments are built to a resilient standard that minimises flooding, and these duties sit outside the building regulations system.
I thank the noble Baroness for suggesting the amendment. I hope I have reassured the Committee that the Government already have well-established means of making sure that consideration of flood risk and flood mitigation is thoroughly accounted for in the planning system, and that approved document C already promotes flood-resistant and resilient construction. For these reasons, we believe that introducing new requirements into the building regulations is not necessary.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for reminding me that I should probably declare my commercial and residential property interests—none of which has any cladding issues—as set out in the register, specifically on the amendment around permitted development rights because I have benefited from those in the past, though probably will not do so in the future. I recognise the risk that he has outlined and that is why I thought I should declare those interests.
Amendment 135 seeks to ensure that homes delivered under permitted development rights—PDR—for change of use to residential meet the provisions of this Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for raising this important matter, but I am afraid the Government will not be able to accept this amendment. This is getting quite repetitive, really, is it not? However, the noble Lord is raising an important point and I assure him that planning permission, whether granted by a permitted development right or following an application to the local planning authority, does not remove the need to comply with other legal requirements. That means all new homes and buildings must meet, for example, the relevant building regulations and fire safety requirements, as well as any other legal requirements required under other legislation, regardless of whether they are permitted through a permitted development right or following an application for planning permission.
We introduced a number of new requirements into the planning system, called planning gateway 1, from 1 August 2021. These ensure that fire safety matters as they relate to land-use planning are incorporated at the planning stage for schemes involving a relevant high-rise residential building. For schemes that use permitted development rights, a similar requirement has been introduced. Through new prior approval processes, proposals to create a relevant high-rise residential building under the rights require submission of a statement about the fire safety design principles, concepts and standards that have been applied to the development. Consultation by the local planning authority with the Health and Safety Executive is required for residential buildings of 18 metres or more in height or seven or more storeys, whichever is reached first.
Once again, I thank noble Lords for this interesting debate. I hope that I have given some reassurance on each amendment, and that noble Lords will now withdraw or not press their respective amendments.
Can the Minister give us clarification on Amendment 135? He said that new homes and buildings are covered by existing legislation and will be covered by this Bill when it becomes an Act, but does the wording “new homes and buildings” include the conversion of offices, which are old buildings, to residential? I understand that this is a complex area but I wonder whether the Minister is willing to write on this point so that it is on the record.
I thank the noble Lord for giving me that get-out. He is absolutely right that this is a complicated matter. You often have an old office building from which you create a new residential dwelling. We will check whether that is included in the purview of this Bill, and I will write to the noble Lord on that matter.
Permitted development rights are not about just the conversion of offices into homes. Where I live, many old mill buildings have been converted. Some of them, particularly the one called Titanic Mills, are very large. There are additional risks in those buildings. Will the elements in this Bill apply to those conversions as well?
I will combine the letter for the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. Essentially, they want an answer to this question: “If you take a non-residential building, whether it is an office block or a Yorkshire mill, and you create a residential dwelling, will that be in scope when it comes to a new build?” The start point does not matter—it is non-residential—so is it included? I will answer both noble Lords in writing and lay a copy in the Library.
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate. It might be summarised by the Minister saying, “Don’t worry, it’s already all in the Bill and everything’s in hand.” I say to the Minister that we shall want to look very carefully to see the extent to which it is, or is not, in the Bill.
On the interaction between the two clauses to which the Minister referred—Clauses 32 and 33—with Clause 30, which is entitled “Higher-risk buildings etc”, the essence and nub of my amendment on this aspect is to ensure the capacity for the building safety regulator to get straight in as necessary with every building, not simply higher-risk buildings. The Minister seemed to tell me that Clauses 32 and 33 achieve this. I will look carefully at that. If that is the case, I will be absolutely delighted, but if it is not, I shall come back again.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendment 4 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4: Duty to facilitate building safety: higher-risk buildings
Amendment 4A not moved.
5: Clause 4, page 3, line 19, at end insert—
“(3A) In any higher-risk building within the meaning of subsection (3)(a) where works are proposed to be carried out that would require the regulator to be the building control authority by virtue of Part 4 the regulator shall be deemed to be the building control authority for all of those works.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require that in any higher-risk building the whole of any works undertaken are within the scope of one building control authority only.
My Lords, I will try to do a little better than last time, when I completely ignored my noble friend Lord Shipley. I apologise to him.
I very much hope that the Minister will be able to dismiss this amendment with the same dispatch as he did on my previous amendment because it seeks to achieve that for each building there can be only one regulatory authority and there is no circumstance where a higher-risk building has another regulator at work—another person supervising and signing off completions. There seem to me to be two situations in which, as I understand it, the Bill is not absolutely decisive on that point, as set out in Amendments 5 and 10.
The first relates to a situation where comparatively minor works may be carried out in a higher-risk building which do not, of themselves, directly affect fire resilience. It would therefore seem quite possible for that application to be under the regulatory eye of somebody other than the building safety regulator. That might be a private regulator or a local authority building control body. There are circumstances, and we could examine them in more depth if we need to. The second is that there are currently a number of trades and businesses which are self-certified: electrical works and heating works are self-certified, as are drainage and plumbing works, to a significant degree, and rewiring, internet and IT networks are in the same situation. Those self-certified cases, including, incidentally, replacing windows and so on, may result in the piercing of firewalls, the cutting through of cavity barriers or a loss of airtightness. Of course, a loss of airtightness means a loss of smoke-tightness, which can be vital in a fire situation.
What I want to hear from the Minister is that this loophole—or area of concern—that I have briefly outlined to the Committee is in fact covered by yet another clause somewhere in the Bill that deals with the issue completely. I hope that the Minister can give us a very quick, simple and straightforward reply. It will all be worked out for him on his piece of paper, and I look forward to hearing that, but if it is not forthcoming, we will of course want to return to this later because it is of central importance that we do not have divided authority or, indeed, work sneaking through, if you like, under self-certification, which inadvertently contributes to a diminution of the safety of that building.
There are plenty of practical examples at the moment. The reports I have had from the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service about fires in what used to be my constituency say that many residential fires of this sort are triggered by tradespeople who cause fires by their activities when they are carrying things out. Very often, they are the people who have cut through the cavity walls and the fire compartmentation, thus contributing to the damage that happens. This is not a hypothetical situation, and it is an important matter, which I hope the Minister will be able to satisfy us is covered by the drafting of the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will be participating remotely, and I invite her to speak now.
My Lords, just before I speak to the two amendments in this group, I ask the Minister whether I might be copied into the answer about permitted development rights on the previous group. We had an interesting case in Watford three years ago, where a small industrial unit was converted under permitted development rights into 15 tiny flats, and not one of the upstairs flats had windows. At the time, the planning inspector, who overruled the borough council, commented that it was within the rules and that planning permission was not required. Even the size of the flats was outside of the scope: normally, the minimum should have been 39 square metres; the largest flat was 22 square metres and the smallest was 16 square metres. I would be grateful if I could see the Minister’s written response.
I support both Amendments 5 and 10 laid by my noble friend Lord Stunell and signed by my noble friend Lady Pinnock. Dame Judith Hackitt talked about the importance of absolute clarity on who is responsible for which element of safety and control. The mistake in recent years has been to allow a multitude of different arrangements that have enabled a culture where matters of safety are somebody else’s problem; hence Dame Judith Hackitt’s focus in her report on the golden thread.
My noble friend Lord Stunell has talked eloquently about the issues thrown up by self-certification. I will not repeat his points, other than to say that destroying compartmentation by remediation works much reduces all other safety features, if not makes them redundant. I echo his concerns about that, and I would welcome the Minister’s response in order to see whether that is covered by the new arrangements. If it is not, these amendments should be given serious consideration.
My Lords, I will just say how important these amendments are. Although they are brief and innocuous on the surface, they are fundamental to building safety. In the Grenfell Tower inquiry, it became clear that the window replacement was not as satisfactory as one would hope and that the gaps between the window frames and structure of the building were filled with a flammable material. That is why the second amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Stunell is so important.
That is just one example. Electrical safety is also critical. Self-certification is all very well, but having oversight, as the Hackitt report points to, helps to create clarity and accountability and to ensure that there is proper documentation. I hope that the Minister will be able to put our minds at rest but, if not, it is certainly one of the areas that we will want to pursue at the next stage of this debate.
My Lords, I speak very briefly to Amendments 5 and 10 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. I thank the noble Lord for presenting his amendments in such an eloquent manner and just want to reiterate the case for clarity from government on these important amendments, which we on these Benches agree with.
These amendments are asking for the whole of the works to be considered under one building control authority. It is important to recognise the case that is made here, which is that, under the doctrine of self-certification, there is a big gap. By supporting these amendments, I hope that the Minister can address the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, provided a good example and emphasised the Hackitt report’s references to accountability and making things clearer.
I echo the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about who is responsible. This amendment would put the whole of the works under one regulatory authority, and situations in which remediation works could lead to other building safety effects would be addressed clearly. This would be better overall for home owners and for the safety of citizens. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for raising this important matter. I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept these two amendments, but I assure your Lordships that their intention has already been met in the Bill. The building safety regulator will be the building control authority for building work on higher-risk buildings as defined under Part 3. Clause 32 provides new powers to set procedural requirements in building regulations to govern building work. These powers will provide the basis for the new gateways process for creating new higher risk buildings and a new refurbishment process when carrying out certain building work on higher-risk buildings.
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, brought up very specific issues and situations. I will make sure that we write on those, because they are very specific and I do not have briefings on them, although I can say that minor works will still be covered by self and third-party certification, as the noble Lord, Lord Khan, said. However, the BSR can inspect those works if it wishes to, so it will keep an eye on them and will use its powers to do that. On trade and business self-certification and on window replacements, which the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, mentioned, I will get a specific answer to noble Lords and put a copy in the Library.
The building safety regulator will be solely responsible for overseeing compliance with all aspects of building regulations, not just fire and structure, when building work is carried out on higher-risk buildings. This responsibility will not be split between the building safety regulator and the relevant local authority. Furthermore, these amendments refer to the building safety regulator acting as
“the building control authority by virtue of Part 4.”
The meaning of the term “building control authority” is inserted into the Building Act 1984 by Clause 31 and does not relate to Part 4 of the Bill, which is concerned with higher-risk residential buildings when they are occupied. In addition, Clause 31 provides the legal framework to enable the building safety regulator to be the building control authority for building work carried out on higher-risk buildings. It also provides that on multibuilding sites where one or more of the buildings are higher-risk buildings, the developer may, for convenience, seek an agreement with the building safety regulator that it will be the building control authority for the whole site, including in respect of any low-rise buildings.
I thank noble Lords for suggesting these amendments, but with that explanation I respectfully ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment. I will write.
I thank the Minister for her reply and shall await the letters with the greatest interest. A central point here is who notifies who and who knows when stuff is going to happen. For instance, in the current situation, whether it is installing a new boiler or a new window or having some electrical work done, the work is not necessarily commissioned by the owner—it might be by the flat occupier or the leaseholder. On the completion of those works, a certificate is issued to the client and, as I understand it, a copy goes to the building control authority and goes on to its register. It is a post hoc situation; it is not cleared in advance.
I want to see what is in the letter and to understand clearly that we have not left any loopholes, perhaps literally loopholes through which smoke can go or fire can spread. If it is not already clear, we want to see an improved Bill, a strengthened Bill, and we in no way want to weaken it or make it more difficult to enforce or enact. We shall be watching. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5: Duty to keep safety and standard of buildings under review
6: Clause 5, page 3, line 26, at end insert—
“(2) The regulator must within two years of this section coming into force carry out and publish an assessment of the benefits and costs of measures on improving the safety of people in or about buildings relating to—(a) fire suppression systems;(b) safety of stairways and ramps;(c) certification of electrical equipment and systems;(d) provision for people with disabilities.(3) The regulator’s assessment may—(a) make proposals in accordance with section 7(2) for regulations in respect of any of these matters, and(b) identify and give notice of such other matters relating to safety of people in or about buildings that they determine require further examination.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to ensure that major issues of public concern about safety in buildings are addressed in a timely way.
With Amendment 6, we are in completely different territory. Second Reading produced many concerns felt by noble Lords about different aspects of the fire safety and building safety situation. Many arguments were advanced, with great strength, on what should be done about them. Some of those appear as one-off amendments which we shall debate subsequently; when we get to them, the Minister may say exactly what he has already said earlier today—that it is inappropriate to put into primary legislation some of the very specific matters people have been calling for.
Having that in mind, but not wishing to lose the importance of dealing with those concerns, we have tabled this amendment to set out a process whereby the building safety regulator will, in a timetabled review, look at each of those concerns raised at Second Reading and produce a report within two years with recommendations on what should happen. As the building safety regulator, it will also have the ability to give its views on other issues that merit investigation to improve building safety.
The list in proposed new paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) is not necessarily exhaustive; we are trying to establish the principle that, for those matters which are clearly of public concern and in some cases the concern of authorities and regulators of systems themselves—chief fire officers being one example—there is a timetabled and formal way to take them forward and bring them back to the Minister and this Parliament for consideration.
I will also speak to Amendment 149 in this group, which refers to a regulatory audit from the building safety regulator, again to make sure that we hear in Parliament about the progress being made. We are very concerned to understand how the Government see that link between the regulator and the Secretary of State and between the Secretary of State and Parliament, to make sure that progress continues to be made in a measured but effective and rapid way to solve the problems we are tackling in this Bill.
Again, I look forward to hearing the Minister explain all the different reasons why it is not sensible to do this, but we will want to push the matter. I suggest that, if he is looking for a way to respond effectively to those advocating particular solutions, such as work on sprinklers, to be incorporated in the Bill, we have provided a process here which allows that to take place in an ordered, measured way. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is participating remotely, and I invite her to speak now.
My Lords, I shall speak specifically to Amendment 6 but I endorse the others, for reasons that will become apparent. One thing we have all become aware of, post Grenfell and the Hackitt review, is concerns about repeat problems emerging, whether they are systemic ones to do with the way a building has been built or newly emerging issues. They happen time and again, and yet the industry, councils and Parliament do not seem to learn from them. I shall give one brief illustration to explain.
In my role as health spokesperson for my group in the Lords, I know that we are increasingly concerned about some of the mould and damp issues increasingly found in more recent 1960s buildings, to which landlords have been very slow to respond. There is clearly a public health issue where especially children and the clinically vulnerable remain at risk and become ill, and yet there does not seem to be a mechanism to provide a review to make sure that there is learning from this, especially since it is happening across the country.
The other amendments in this group set out a swathe of mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability for the BS regulator, the Secretary of State and Parliament. Returning to Dame Hackitt’s review, these amendments would be a strategic element to push the culture change that she sought, to make sure that those who have some responsibility have to look at a higher level to make sure that buildings are safe and are dealt with, and that the costs, both in building and in human experience, are monitored.
Briefly, I support the idea of review clauses and of learning from mistakes. Obviously, I have not been a Minister in this area, but I was a Minister in other areas and I did agree, occasionally, to review clauses where people had concerns. I found that the reports that came along two years later—if one survived that long—were actually extremely useful, and ensured that the Civil Service system was behind the objectives of the Bill. Exactly what one would put in a review clause is another question. I would certainly want added some of the points I made earlier—which the Minister helpfully said were contained in a code of practice for regulators—bringing up the agenda the sort of good practice we have seen at some of our better regulators, such as the HSE. I hope the Minister will think about whether there is scope for a review clause to help on some of these issues.
We talked about sprinklers. As people know, I have run supermarkets, so I have had practical experience of all these different fire safety methods. Certainly, when sprinklers were put in, it took away a lot of headaches, provided you could secure the water supply. That sort of innovation—whatever the new ones are; AI or whatever—can form part of a review process two, four or six years later.
My Lords, Amendment 129 in my name proposes to add a short new clause to the Climate Change Act 2008. Section 56 of the 2008 Act says:
“It is the duty of the Secretary of State to lay reports before Parliament containing an assessment of the risks for the United Kingdom of the current and predicted impact of climate change.”
All I am seeking is to put in something to make more precise the need to refer to the impact of climate change on buildings and to say something about the location of those buildings that will be affected. It would require the Secretary of State to include in a report an assessment of the risks and the locations of such threats to buildings caused by climate change. We all know only too well, just today, the real problems we are facing because of climate change, yet climate change is not mentioned in the Bill at all. The amendment aims to rectify that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has already referred to flood resilience and our concerns. We all know the problems we have had, not only with Storm Franklin today but with Storms Dudley and Eunice before. Many of us have seen the flooding and heard the stories of people being moved from their homes, traffic chaos and so on, so we are well aware of all the issues around flooding. There is quite a lot of data around if you go out and search for it. The Climate Change Committee tells us:
“Surface water is the most widespread form of flooding in England, with around”—
here, it refers to buildings and properties—
“3.2 million properties at risk.”
NASA does these satellite things and flooding maps, which show us the huge areas of London that could have regular flooding as soon as 2030. Back in November last year, the property industry said that climate change will leave 1.5 million homes at risk of flooding by 2050.
That is just flooding; there are so many other risks, such as coastal erosion. We know, again according to the Climate Change Committee, that, by the end of this century, something like 80,000 additional homes are likely to be at risk of coastal erosion. We know from the British Geological Survey that the problem of subsidence is getting worse. Incidentally, we know that it has already cost us £3 billion over the past 10 years, but it will get significantly worse, rising from affecting around 3% of buildings back in 1990 to something like 10% of buildings by 2070. So a lot of properties in a lot of places are in a lot of difficulty because of climate change. It therefore makes sense for details of all that to be brought together, included in a report and so on.
We have been around these Committees, so we know how the Minister will respond, I think. Let me see if I can predict how he will respond and see how good I am at it. I may get it wrong, but we will see. The first thing he will say is, “The noble Lord, Lord Foster, has just given a ton of detail about all these things, so why do we need this report to be done? The information is already out there”. If that is the argument he is going to use, let me say that I had to spend a lifetime searching out all this information. It should be easy for people to find. It should be gathered together and made easily accessible so that local councils—those responsible for new buildings, looking after existing buildings and so on—can have easy access to it. The Minister is likely to say that but it is not a good enough excuse.
Of course, the Minister will also say that we already produce reports and point me to the climate risk assessment dated 7 January 2022; if he is not going to do that, he should do because it is well worth a read. On page 3, it says:
“Full details of the risk assessment are contained”
not in it but
“in a series of reports published by the CCC which are fully endorsed by both the UK government and devolved administrations.”
I went to have a look at those reports because, if the information was already there, why would I waste my time on this? They contain references to and a lot of detail on threats to buildings caused, for example, by erosion and the other things I have mentioned. However, you really have to dig through those reports to find it all. The problem is that they do not tell us anything about where those risks will occur. There is nothing about location and the details are hard to find.
It is important that the Government be required to produce a report under the Climate Change Act that would bring all that data together and make it easy and simple for people to access it. It would give details of what the risks are over the forthcoming period and say where they are going to occur. That seems a fairly simple thing to do and it would be really helpful and important for all sorts of people. I hope that the Minister will not use either of those excuses but just say, “Yes, it’s a good idea and we’re going to do it”.
My Lords, Amendments 6 and 149 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, draw attention to timing and delivery. For example, his Amendment 6 would ensure that safety is dealt with in a timely fashion. If we consider that this spring it is five years since the Grenfell tragedy and that progress on that has been painfully slow, with leaseholders waiting many years for any kind of justice to be done, people need to know that with the passing of this Bill there will be no further delays. We agree with the noble Lord and would certainly strongly support a regulator’s assessment within a two-year period that would aim to improve safety.
Amendment 149 looks at a requirement for regular reporting to ensure transparency and accountability to Parliament of the enhanced building regulations regimes. Again, we very much support it; it is similar to Amendment 134 in my name, which would force the Government to publish annual reports on data collected as part of the implementation and monitoring of this Act, when it is passed, as well as steps to increase transparency. I am sure all noble Lords would agree that transparency, accountability and monitoring are important to instil confidence and deliver the ambition in this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, spoke to his Amendment 129. Having heard from him, it is very much in the same spirit as my Amendment 127 on flood resilience, which we debated in an earlier group. Of course, his amendment would force the Government to publish an assessment of the impact of climate change on building safety, including coastal erosion and flooding, both of which are huge concerns where I live in west Cumbria. I am sure he will not be remotely surprised to know that I am extremely pleased to offer our very strong support on this amendment.
Looking at the amendments in my name, first, Amendment 89 would force the Secretary of State to publish an estimate of how much leaseholders have spent on building safety remediation work each year for the past 10 years. We have tabled this because it is disappointing that there is still no robust legal protection for leaseholders who face ruinous costs for remediating historical cladding and non-cladding defects. We know that, despite the long catalogue of people and organisations who can be held to blame for many of the failings on building standards, up to now the leaseholder has been expected to foot the bill. These bills, as the Minister knows, involve huge sums on many occasions.
During Committee in the other place, evidence was taken from some of those who have been badly affected: Alison Hills, Stephen Day and End Our Cladding Scandal. They all talked about the enormous bills they face and the fact that they simply cannot afford to pay them. If we are to resolve this issue so that affected leaseholders are properly compensated, we need to know how out of pocket they really are. My Amendment 89, by forcing the Secretary of State to publish this estimate, would provide information and enable us to properly give full recompense.
My Amendment 126 would force the Government to publish an assessment of the effectiveness of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, plus proposals to increase the number of homes which would comply with that Act. We need to ensure that all homes, existing and new build, are of the highest standards. We have heard many examples from people in our discussions and debate today where this simply is not the case and has not happened.
We think it is important that the Government should publish an assessment of the effectiveness of that Act. I hope that the Minister would in particular be sympathetic to this amendment because his Government brought in that important legislation, and any legislation has to be complied with to be truly effective. This amendment would provide that reassurance and remind rogue builders that minimum standards simply must be met, so I await the Minister’s response with great interest. I hope I will see him tearing up his speech to prove the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, completely wrong.
The Minister is far too eager.
During the course of the debate on this group of amendments, it has struck me that the challenge of this Bill is that it is primarily in response to a terrible tragedy. That has meant that the scope of the Bill is quite narrow, in response to the terrible Grenfell fire—perhaps rightly so but then, from what we have heard, opportunities to improve building safety do not come round that often. So it is not surprising that noble Lords across the piece are trying to say, “Why don’t we include this?” An opportunity to do so will not come again for a long time.
The passionate argument made by my noble friend Lord Foster is a case in point. Climate change is the most serious challenge facing all of us. If we do not address the building regulations to deal with the challenges it poses, we are definitely missing an opportunity. I apologise for my cough; it must be all this sitting and standing on crowded trains. Excuse me; I am okay. There is an opportunity for the Government to think about including the issues of the particular challenges of climate change as they relate to buildings during the debates on the Bill, otherwise it is an opportunity lost.
On Amendments 6 and 149 in the name of my noble friend Lord Stunell, who has spoken on them and to which I have added my name, building safety is not just about construction; it is about the safety of people once they live in them. Having been a councillor for a long time, I have heard about a number of issues from private sector and housing association tenants. The dangers of stairways in particular often come up. That is the reason for Amendment 6 in my name and that of my noble friend. We need to consider those risks and how they are going to be addressed. If people are concerned about them, what are we going to do about it? There is no obvious way of doing that at the minute.
Any new system—such as the one we have now, which is quite complicated in parts—ought to be reviewed. There is a huge gulf between theoretical improvements to building safety and actual improvements. Does the new system work? I bet that parts of it will not; that is almost inevitable. So let us agree to Amendment 149. I know that the Minister is going to stand up and say, “All the others I have said no to, but this one is such a good idea that we will agree to it”.
Obviously, I agree with Amendment 89 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, because, as the Minister will know, I have consistently and persistently gone on about the costs of building safety remediation that currently lie with leaseholders. I know that the Bill will alter that but some leaseholders have paid. It would be really helpful to the discussion on this Bill to understand the extent of those payments and the number of those who, worse still, have chosen to become bankrupt —I know at least one person has—to avoid the burden of huge, unwarranted bills for safety remediation that is not of their doing, as I know the Minister agrees. The least we can do is pursue this and find out how much leaseholders have already paid out—over and above waking watch, insurance and higher service charges—for structural improvements, which they should not have done. That is now the view of the Government, which is good. Let us find that out and see whether there are ways in which they can receive compensation for work done that they have paid for but which was clearly not their responsibility. This is a question of justice and I shall pursue it.
My Lords, I am getting used to the free-wheeling nature of these debates. I apologise that I stood up before the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, had her say.
There is no doubt that a large part of this is focused on high-risk, high-rise residential buildings, not least because of the tragedy of Grenfell, which followed the tragedies in Lakanal House and Garnett Court. We have also had near misses, such as the Bolton Cube, which was just under 17 metres and is one of the reasons why we talk about the cut-off being six storeys or more as it was a very big near miss.
There is that focus but, equally, it is fair to say that the Building Safety Bill also encapsulates building regulations for the entire built environment and makes a contribution to increasing competence among key actors, such as approved inspectors, duty holders, the accountable person and the building safety manager, to ensure that buildings in occupation remain safe. There are contributions around competence that will have wider benefit but what the noble Baroness said is right: this is very much part of our response to a broken regulatory system that we need to fix. I think that we recognise the need to do precisely that collectively in this Committee.
I thank noble Lords for a lively debate. This group of amendments is essentially around new reporting requirements. I shall respond to each amendment in turn.
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, opened this short debate with Amendment 6 and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, spoke on it. I thank them for raising this important matter but I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept the amendment. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe with her background as a civil servant who took that expertise to play a leading role in a supermarket. She did not mention which one but I know it was Tesco—every little helps—because I remember when she was in that position. It is important to reflect on when we can hold the Civil Service to account, as she put it. I understand where my noble friend is coming from, even if I do not accept it on this occasion.
Our assessment is that this amendment would unnecessarily prescribe issues to which the regulator must attend. I must also point out the unintended effect that this amendment would have in effectively restricting the regulator’s work to a limited list of subjects. Such prescription could unwittingly narrow the scope of the regulator’s focus and efforts. Furthermore, the imposition of a time limit could have the perverse effect of constraining the assessments being sought only to factors that can be determined within the timescales afforded.
I assure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that their intention to ensure that major safety issues are reviewed and assessed by the regulator has been met through the measures in the Bill. The building safety regulator will have a duty to keep the safety and standard of buildings under review and to be transparent about its work, reporting annually on the delivery of its functions under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and Clause 3 stipulates that it must be transparent.
I can also assure your Lordships that the specific areas of building safety identified in the proposed amendment are actively being considered by the Government under research projects being undertaken with the help of academia and stakeholders. These projects include the technical review of approved document B, which includes research on means of escape in blocks of flats, including stairways and ramps, and means of escape provisions for people with disabilities. As I am sure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness are aware, the Government have already conducted an assessment of the effectiveness of sprinklers as a means of fire suppression and, in 2020, we changed the statutory guidance so that sprinklers should be provided in all new residential buildings more than 11 metres in height, as opposed to the previous 30-metre threshold. I want to thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for raising this important matter and hope that I have been able to assure them that all aspects of building safety are of importance for the Government.
Before turning to Amendment 89, I pay tribute to Alison Hills and Steve Day, who were mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. I got to know Steve Day in particular, but also Alison Hills. They worked very hard on constructive amendments which will help the thinking around getting the polluter to pay, because they are victims. In the case of Steve Day, it is a sign of triumph, because he is part of a group of people who, in their spare time, without pay, essentially fought a big developer to get it to pay for the remediation of their building, bit by bit. We need to pay tribute to these heroes who work tirelessly on behalf of their fellow residents to get the polluter to pay; they are people for whom I have huge fondness and regard. It is right that some people have shelled out huge costs and have not been able to get the polluter to pay, and there are many orphaned buildings—if you like—for which we cannot easily find out who is liable to pay. The question is, how do we deal with that? That is something that we as a Government recognise that we need to have an answer to, but let us leave that until a later part of this Committee stage. I am sure we will return to it on Report.
Turning to Amendment 89, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, spoke, I thank her for raising this important matter, but I am afraid that, again, the Government will not be able to accept this amendment. The Government remain committed to ensuring that those responsible are held to account to protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs, but our assessment is that the amendment would not constitute an appropriate use of the Government’s time and resources. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to quantify the impacts for any leaseholders who may have carried out remediation of cladding and fire safety defects over the past 10 years, regardless of the nature and scale of the works.
I draw the attention of the noble Baroness to the amendments tabled on 14 February, which make clear that freeholders with links to developers and those with the resources to fund remediation in full must do so. In other cases, the contributions of leaseholders will be subject to a legal cap. The new schedule to be inserted before Schedule 9, tabled on 14 February, also provides the Secretary of State with the power to make regulations providing for the recovery of sums due that have not been paid. These amendments ensure that leaseholders will no longer be susceptible to large costs. The supplementary requirements that would be introduced by Amendment 89 would therefore present an unnecessarily onerous task that would increase costs and burden to the Government, where resources could be better employed. I thank the noble Baroness for raising this important matter and assure her that this Government are committed to ensuring that those responsible are held to account to protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs.
Turning to Amendment 126, I again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for raising this important matter. Unfortunately, the amendment would have the effect of unacceptably increasing the burden on the Government at a time when we are concentrating on our programme of reform and raising standards in rented homes.
The 2018 Act built on the existing regulatory framework and empowered tenants, for the first time, to take action in the courts for breach of contract if their home was unfit to live in. That is why we supported it. It is right that this is in addition to, but separate from, enforcement of standards by local authorities, which we also strengthened in 2016. There is therefore limited benefit in requiring officials to spend time interrogating court records when we are, at the same time, concentrating on building on the 2018 Act and further raising the standard of rented homes, higher even than the requirement introduced by the Act. We will do this by consulting on introducing a legally binding decent homes standard in the private rented sector and by reviewing the decent homes standard itself, and we will provide more detail in due course.
I now turn to Amendment 129. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, had provided my speaking notes as he has such command of detail. It is quite incredible and testament to his long-term passion, commitment and interest in the subject. I certainly learned a lot about the almost dystopian future that certainly my children—probably not me—will to have to deal with. It is probably why school-age kids are so nervous about this. It is horrendous. Amendment 129 raises a very important issue and while the Government will not be able to accept this amendment, I hope to reassure the Committee that Clause 5 already makes appropriate provision for this and that risks to buildings as a result of climate change are already being dealt with through existing locally driven action.
Clause 5 places a duty on the building safety regulator to keep under review the safety and standards of all buildings. This would include advising industry and government on research into new or emerging risks, such as those presented by climate change. The regulator will also advise on and prepare proposals for changes to building regulations. Climate change mitigation and adaptation are intrinsic components of the building regulations and will remain so. We also recognise the importance of ensuring local authorities work with their communities to understand the risks buildings may face as a result of climate change. However, the amendment would duplicate existing locally driven action; for example, the requirement on lead local flood authorities to assess flood risks across their area through the local flood risk management strategy or the requirement for local authorities to develop the best approaches to managing the risk of coastal erosion and flooding through shoreline management plans and local planning policies.
I turn now to Amendment 134 and will respond to Amendment 149 at the same time. I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baronesses for raising how we monitor the effectiveness of the Bill and hope to reassure them that the Bill makes appropriate provision for monitoring. Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review recommended that we ensure that the new system works through regular independent reviews. Clause 135 requires that these reviews happen at least every five years and that the resulting report must be published. In addition, the building safety regulator must report annually on the performance of its functions under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Clause 3 further stipulates that the regulator must be transparent and accountable. The Government intend that the regulator’s published strategic plan, required by Clause 17, will set out further detail on what it must report on.
Finally, the Bill ensures that crucial aspects of the new system are included in the regulator’s annual reporting, notably engagement with residents under Clause 19 and mandatory occurrence reports, which can help industry track safety issues, under Clause 20. Further reporting requirements risk duplication, complexity and additional bureaucracy. Amendment 149 would also require the Government to report on the exact number of certified building safety managers and fire risk assessors when certification is not a function of government under the Bill. In light of the strong existing provisions, I hope that I have provided sufficient reassurance and that your Lordships will be content that the Government have fully addressed the concerns raised in the amendments.
I have a question about flooding in London. I am sure the noble Lord is aware of an article in the Observer yesterday—I declare an interest in that I live in Shepherd’s Bush, where a month’s worth of rain fell in one day in July last year. The point of this article was that in London very many people live in basements, which are at serious risk of flooding, and it suggests that people may drown in their own homes if there is flash flooding. The further aggravating point is that no one seems to be aware how many people live in such basements.
I simply ask the noble Lord whether there is any intention to take a strategic look across London; there are clearly responsibilities on local authorities but, at the London-wide level, there seems to be no requirement to look at this. I would be very interested to know what he thinks, particularly in light of Hammersmith and Fulham having been afflicted so badly.
My Lords, I have some experience of this, having led the council that includes Shepherd’s Bush and Hammersmith and Fulham for six years. Even in that time, there were significant incidents of flooding in basements and quite serious concerns. It did not just happen in Shepherd’s Bush, but from Hammersmith and Fulham right up to Old Oak, and it is the same for many inner London boroughs that have basements as well. It was a very significant issue for local authorities, but I think it is quite proper that the mayor, as the first port of call, should have strategic oversight of how we develop the built environment in our capital city. I expect the mayor to take a lead role on this, if I were to pick any level of government. At a national level, I am the Resilience Minister and am happy to take away anything else we need to do to address the specific concerns the noble Baroness has raised, because it is important we recognise that this is a real risk to our built environment, which will get worse in the coming years.
My Lords, I listened carefully to what the Minister had to say. Here we are, on the first day in Committee, with one set of amendments dismissed for one set of reasons and an absolutely contrary set of reasons given to deal with this one. Previously, the case was that we should not add any extra duties to the list of requirements of the building safety regulator because it would confuse it; now the risk is that, by listing only four things, we are limiting the scope of the building safety regulator to take on additional things.
I would have thought that, if in two years we had reports before us on what to do about fire suppression systems and whether the safety of buildings would be enhanced—and, if so, to what effect—by making some changes to the current regulatory environment; if we had a similar thing on the safety of stairways and ramps, on which a number of noble Lords spoke eloquently at Second Reading; if we had the certification of electrical equipment and systems properly analysed by the building safety regulator, with the expertise it can bring, and a proper evaluation of their importance, or lack of importance, brought back to us; if we had provision for people with disabilities, which the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and my noble friend Lady Brinton spoke about so eloquently earlier; if all those matters could be brought back in two years, the building safety regulator would have done a real service to the safety of homes in which people live and would have answered many of the questions and put in train solutions to many of the concerns that noble Lords raised at Second Reading.
I absolutely do not believe that that limits the subjects the building safety regulator might be able to get to grips with. In case it did, the amendment goes on to say that it should also
“give notice of such other matters relating to safety of people in or about buildings that they determine require further examination.”
That is the “and anything else” requirement to go with those four. I do not accept that the Minister’s criticisms of this amendment are right—there may or may not be other criticisms he could have made, but he did not choose to do so. Although I will withdraw this today, I give notice that this will certainly come back at a later stage.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Clause 5 agreed.
Clauses 6 to 8 agreed.
Clause 9: Building Advisory Committee
7: Clause 9, page 4, line 20, at end insert “(and any other function that the regulator considers appropriate)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to allow flexibility in the operation of the Building Advisory Committee.
My Lords, this amendment relates to the operation of the building advisory committee itself and of its constituent parts. Clauses 9 to 11 of the Bill put in place not just the building safety regulator but three components of it. One is the building advisory committee, the second is the committee on industry competence, and the third is the residents’ panel. All three will clearly exercise vital parts of the function of the building safety regulator, not just in relation to high-rise buildings—higher-risk buildings—but to the whole of the building stock of this country.
The Bill goes on to define what the functions and powers shall be of the various constituent parts. For instance, the committee on industry competence will establish and maintain a body
“with the competence of persons in the built environment industry … with the following functions”,
which are then listed,
“and any other function that the regulator considers appropriate”.
Those are the vital words saying that the committee on industry competence has a wide brief that can be widened further.
Clause 11, on the residents’ panel, says that the regulator will
“establish and maintain a committee with the functions mentioned in this section”,
which are all listed,
“and any other function that the regulator considers appropriate”.
The surprising thing about the building advisory committee, bearing in mind that what has triggered this whole Bill and the legislation that goes with it is all about buildings themselves, is that it has a much more limited brief. It has listed functions, but no capacity for any other function that the regulator considers appropriate. We are setting up in primary legislation a part of that body that cannot be modified as time goes on in the same way as the other two can be.
Therefore, this amendment would simply introduce the phrase
“and any other function that the regulator considers appropriate”
so that it applied to the building advisory committee as well as the other two parts. It will be fascinating to hear what the Minister believes is a good argument for the omission of those words in Clause 9—other than a drafting error—when compared with their use in Clauses 10 and 11.
Also in this group of amendments is the question of whether Clause 12 should stand part of the Bill. Clause 12 states that
“The Secretary of State may by regulations amend or repeal any of sections 9 to 11”,
which, in other words, is the three bodies underneath the building safety regulator: the building advisory committee, the committee on industry competence, and the residents’ panel. The Secretary of State may, by regulation, amend or repeal any of those, and
“The regulations may make consequential amendments of this Act.”
In other words, the Secretary of State will have the capacity to step in, independent of the primary legislation that sets this up, not just to change the functions of these bodies but to get rid of them completely. They could repeal any of Section 9 or delete it completely and then there would be no building advisory committee.
This is a detailed point but for me it comes to light because the building advisory committee takes the part of what used to be—and, for that matter, still is—the Building Regulations Advisory Committee. The new committee is the BAC; the previous one was the BRAC, and the interesting thing is that it was very nearly abolished in 2010. Ministers of the day did not know exactly what BRAC was or did but were very keen to get rid of extraneous organisations that they saw as being on the payroll and contributing to red tape.
As the Minister with responsibility for building regulations at that time, I had some idea of what the Building Regulations Advisory Committee did, which was to supply a great deal of free specialist advice to the department on the implications and likely consequences of regulatory change. When I discovered that its total budget was £20,000, of which something like £12,000 was actually a notional sum about the committee occupying space and having the very part-time use of the civil servants who serviced it, I resisted the abolition of BRAC. I am happy to report that it was not abolished. I would not say that it was either my greatest or only triumph as a Minister, but I can report that the Building Regulations Advisory Committee was rescued from ministerial interference at that point, by good fortune rather than good political management.
I should think the Government have subsequently been rather grateful that they did not abolish BRAC, because it has been a useful buffer between ministerial responsibility and the regulatory outcomes leading to Grenfell. Indeed, evidence has been given to the Grenfell inquiry about the role of BRAC leading up to the fire, and its role in the whole architecture of support to the department in its regulatory function.
I put it to the Committee that the building advisory committee is replacing the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, with the important difference that BRAC was statutory and could not be abolished by Ministers. The only reason why the debate came to light in 2010 was that there was a deregulation Bill and it was proposed, in a long list of bodies, to stick that committee in. So I ask the Minister: why are the Government restricting the committee’s scope? Why do they want the power to abolish it, behind the back of Parliament, when that committee’s predecessor was entrenched in statute and gave a great deal of good value, for no cost at all? This seems to be entirely against the grain, and indeed the reputational impact, of what we are trying to achieve with the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, has eloquently outlined Amendment 7 and Clause 12 to the Grand Committee. I want to ask the Minister—the noble Baroness, Lady Scott—a few questions about the wider committees.
We on these Benches welcome the establishment of the three committees: the building advisory committee, the committee on industry competence and the residents’ panel committee. It is important to ask what the work of these committees is and how will it be funded. This is quite a broad question, so the Minister may wish to come back to me at some stage. Could she also provide details of how the committees will be staffed? How will the Government ensure that this committee will be independent from government?
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, outlined the concerns. We on these Benches also emphasise that Amendment 7 is very simple—it would basically just add an extra line to be consistent with Clauses 10 and 11 relating to the other two committees. I am sure that the Minister could add those words regarding the building advisory committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, made a pertinent point about the Building Regulations Advisory Committee—BRAC. It is a statutory committee and the Minister needs to reflect on that. The idea that the Secretary of State could just change the new committee, amend its regulations and abolish it does not make sense. This is a very important point. Tonight we have had a lot of sympathy and no movement; on this, I would rather have less sympathy and more movement to get this addressed.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Khan, for raising these important points, particularly the role of the building advisory committee and its functions.
I will first respond to Amendment 7. I hate to say this again, but I am afraid the Government will not be able to accept the amendment. We seem to have said this all afternoon, but I sincerely hope to reassure the House that the Bill already makes appropriate provision in Clause 9 for a wide set of functions for the committee.
Clause 9 provides for the establishment of a new expert advisory committee—the building advisory committee—as recommended by Dame Judith Hackitt in her independent review. The building advisory committee is to be established by the building safety regulator. That is important: it is a committee under the building safety regulator. It will provide expert advice and information to the regulator about matters connected with any of the regulator’s building functions, except those functions relating to the competence of persons in the built environment industry and registered building inspectors. This will include validating and assuring technical guidance, such as approved documents, to ensure that it is fit for purpose. Clause 9 will play an important part in ensuring that the building safety regulator has access to the support and expert advice required to enable it to deliver its critical work. That is why I respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, to withdraw his amendment.
I turn to the question of Clause 12 standing part of the Bill. I first thank the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and noble Lords today for their scrutiny of the delegated powers in the Bill. I am sensitive to the concerns that have been raised about Clause 12. The Government believe that the Bill sets up the right committees for the near future, but the Bill also needs to enable the building safety regulator’s committee structure to adapt and improve over the longer term through these delegated powers. We have heard many challenges about the future of building in Committee this afternoon and it is therefore important that there is flexibility within the system.
The Government included Clause 12 because of expert advice from the Health and Safety Executive, as the future building safety regulator, that this is needed to enable its committee structure to adapt and improve. This reflects HSE’s more than 40 years’ experience delivering regulation at an appropriate distance from government. Since 1974, HSE has needed to change its industry and subject advisory committees to reflect industrial, technical, legal and administrative developments. This has resulted in HSE having a rich mix of advisory and stakeholder-led bodies.
I hear the concerns about any use of this power to remove a statutory committee and so offer noble Lords additional reassurances. First, the Government would bring forward regulations to repeal a statutory committee only after a recommendation from the building safety regulator that this is needed as part of changes to improve the working of the regulatory system. Secondly, the Bill provides that such regulations would be subject to the affirmative procedure. Therefore, this House can hold the Government to their assurance that the regulations will not be brought forward without a specific recommendation from the regulator and a convincing case about how it will improve the regulatory system. With those assurances that this power is intended only to ensure the new regulatory system works well over time, I suggest that this clause should stand part of the Bill.
On the detailed questions from the noble Lord, Lord Khan, I do not know whether I have details on funding, staffing and independence. Oh, I have—that is very timely. The statutory committee sits within the building safety regulator. Its activities will be funded by the regulator through a mix of central government grant funding and fee income. Once the amount of funding is decided, we will make sure that noble Lords get a letter. I assume that the same will be the case on staffing—that how it is staffed will come down from the regulator to the committee—and that it will be independent.
My Lords, I slightly got the impression that I might even have got a draw on one of those, and I thank the Minister for her reply. In relation to Clause 12, we will want to see the detail of what the Minister has said. It is somewhat reassuring that she understood the concerns that have been expressed, and we look forward to examining it in more detail.
I have to say that she did not do quite such a convincing job on why the building advisory committee should be treated in a different fashion from the committee on industry competence or the residents’ panel. If the whole point of the procedure in Clause 12 is to stop the fossilisation of a set of structures in primary legislation and to give the possibility of changing them as time goes on, which is really the argument she deployed, it does not seem consistent with that line of reasoning that she has been resisting giving some flexibility to how the building advisory committee uses its functions, acting obviously under advice from the building safety regulator itself. That may well be something we come back to. Perhaps the Minister might like to think, in terms of her reply and the reason she gave for retaining Clause 12, about why that search for flexibility in the longer term is not an argument that also applies to Clause 9 in respect of its difference from Clauses 10 and 11.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, and I apologise for interrupting. I merely wish to apologise to the Committee for not having been able to speak to my amendments today. I got to London five hours later than I had planned. We had a bit of a breeze, and it was not a breeze getting here. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for introducing them and I apologise once again to the Committee. It is a pity in a way as they were my smallest amendments. I have a few larger ones later on, so I was hoping today that I could show the Committee that I can be very brief on occasion.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
Clause 9 agreed.
Clause 10 agreed.
Clause 11: Residents’ panel
Amendment 7A not moved.
Clause 11 agreed.
Clause 12 agreed.
Clauses 13 to 19 agreed.
Clause 20: Statement of regulator’s engagement with residents etc
Amendment 7B not moved.
Clause 20 agreed.
Clause 21 agreed.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Clauses 22 to 26 agreed.
Schedule 3 agreed.
Clauses 27 to 29 agreed.
Clause 30: Higher-risk buildings etc
Amendments 8 and 9 not moved.
Clause 30 agreed.
Clause 31: Building control authorities
Amendment 10 not moved.
Clause 31 agreed.
Amendment 11 not moved.
Clause 32 agreed.
Amendment 12 not moved.
Clauses 33 to 37 agreed.
Committee adjourned at 7.12 pm.