All 14 contributions to the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

Read Full Bill Debate Texts

Wed 29th Apr 2020
Fire Safety Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading
Thu 25th Jun 2020
Fire Safety Bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Thu 25th Jun 2020
Fire Safety Bill (Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 2nd sitting & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Mon 7th Sep 2020
Fire Safety Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Report stage & 3rd reading
Thu 1st Oct 2020
Fire Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Thu 29th Oct 2020
Fire Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Tue 17th Nov 2020
Fire Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 24th Nov 2020
Fire Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 24th Feb 2021
Fire Safety Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendmentsPing Pong & Consideration of Lords amendments & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons
Wed 17th Mar 2021
Fire Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments & Lords Hansard
Mon 22nd Mar 2021
Fire Safety Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords Amendments
Tue 27th Apr 2021
Fire Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Tue 27th Apr 2021
Fire Safety Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords message & Consideration of Lords message & Consideration of Lords message
Wed 28th Apr 2021
Fire Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments

Fire Safety Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons
Wednesday 29th April 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

James Brokenshire Portrait The Minister for Security (James Brokenshire) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Almost three years have passed since the tragic events on the night of 14 June 2017. It was the greatest loss of life following a residential fire since the second world war. None of us will ever forget the events of that terrible night, and the Government are resolute in their commitment to ensure that they are never repeated. Those 72 people should never have lost their lives. Our thoughts today are very much with the victims’ families, survivors and fellow residents, who have had to rebuild their lives over the past three years.

I know from my time as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government the profound effect the events have had on the Grenfell community, but also that community’s sense of purpose and its clear demands for justice and change. I have had the privilege to meet survivors and their families, as well as those in the local community who joined together to support them. Those discussions have been humbling and harrowing. They have underlined the responsibility—indeed, the duty—on us to act. The Government will continue to provide support to the affected families and support the creation of a memorial on the site of the tower, a process that is rightly being led by the bereaved and the local community.

The House has had the opportunity to debate the tragic events at Grenfell Tower on a number of occasions. Despite the unusual circumstances we are operating under today, I have no doubt that we will hear once again many powerful and impactful contributions. There is considerable experience across the House, and we will continue to listen to views from all interested colleagues, as well as working with the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety and rescue. I welcome the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) to his new role as shadow Home Secretary. We will continue to engage constructively with him and his team.

Our home should be a place of safety and security. At a time when we are asking the people of this country to stay at home—indeed, many of us will contribute to this debate from our homes—we are reminded of the overriding importance of people being safe and feeling safe at home, especially in high-rise properties.

In the days following the terrible tragedy, the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), announced that there would be a full independent inquiry, led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to get to the bottom of what happened on that night and to understand why the building was so dangerously exposed to the risk of fire. Alongside the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Home Office commissioned an independent review of building regulations and safety, which was led by Dame Judith Hackitt. Dame Judith’s findings have underpinned our unprecedented programme of building and fire safety reform. We are resolute in our commitment to delivering on them, and significant steps have already been taken to address building safety and fire safety risks.

Where a fire and rescue service has been advised of a high-rise residential building with aluminium composite material cladding, the National Fire Chiefs Council is confident that that building has been checked by the local fire and rescue service and, where appropriate, additional interim measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of residents. The Government have established a fire protection board, chaired by the National Fire Chiefs Council, to provide oversight of the programme to ensure that all high-rise residential buildings are inspected or reviewed by the end of 2021; £10 million has been allocated to support the fire and rescue service in this endeavour.

In December 2018, the use of combustible materials on new high-rise homes was banned, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in this year’s Budget that the Government will provide £1 billion to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems for both the social and private residential sectors on buildings of 18 metres and above. The prospectus for this new building safety fund will be published in May and open for registrations soon after. The funding is an addition to the £600 million we have already made available to ensure the remediation of the highest-risk ACM cladding of the type that was in place on Grenfell Tower.

In January, MHCLG issued specific advice for building owners on assurance and assessment and how to ensure fire doors meet appropriate fire safety standards. We have pushed owners and local authorities hard to identify and remediate unsafe buildings. We work closely with local fire authorities and fire and rescue services to ensure that interim safety measures are in place in all buildings until the cladding is replaced, but there is an urgent need for remediation to progress, even at this challenging time, recognising the continuing risks and the financial burdens on leaseholders in maintaining waking watches. I therefore want to be clear that remediation work can and should continue wherever it can be done safely—wherever it can, whenever it can.

It is critical that this work continue, and to help support that we have published information for industry and stakeholders on the gov.uk website on how to ensure sites can operate appropriately under the current restrictions. We have also appointed a firm of construction consultants to provide specific advice for those carrying out cladding remediation work.

While the focus of much of our activity has been high-rise residential buildings, it is important to stress that our work rightly goes far beyond that. To support the protection work targeting other high-risk buildings. the Home Office will be providing fire and rescue services with a further £10 million to help deliver protection work within their communities.

While talking about essential work within communities, at this time of incredible national challenge I want to use this opportunity to recognise, and pay tribute to, the essential role fire and rescue services are playing in our response to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to their core duties, fire and rescue services have around 4,000 volunteers working to support ambulance services, coroners and local communities, as well as helping the vulnerable and those isolated at this incredibly difficult time. I want to thank firefighters and staff up and down the country for their incredible service, their dedication to duty and their desire to help others where they can, and for the incredible difference that is making.

The Queen’s Speech committed the Government to bringing forward two Bills on fire and building safety. The first is this short, technical, Home Office-led Fire Safety Bill, which will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The second, the building safety Bill, led by MHCLG, will put in place an enhanced safety framework for high-rise residential buildings, taking forward the recommendations from Dame Judith’s review. The purpose of the Bill before the House today is to clarify that the fire safety order applies to the external walls, including cladding and balconies, and individual flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings. The fire safety order requires responsible persons, often building owners or managers, to assess the risk from fire, to put in place fire precautions so far as reasonably practicable to keep premises safe, and otherwise to comply with the requirements of the order. The order does not apply to domestic premises, except in limited circumstances.

The Grenfell Tower inquiry’s phase 1 report found compelling evidence that the external walls of the tower were not compliant with building regulations. In January this year, the independent expert advisory panel on building safety set up by the Government shortly after the Grenfell fire published its consolidated advice. That includes advice on measures that building owners should take to review ACM and other cladding systems to assess and assure their fire safety and the potential risks to residents of the spread of external fire.

We have established that there are differing interpretations of the provisions in the order as to whether external walls and, to a lesser extent, individual flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings are in scope of the order. For that reason, we submit that the Bill is a clarification of the fire safety order. It will apply to all multi-occupied residential buildings regulated by the order. The current ambiguity is leading to inconsistency in operational practice. That is unhelpful at best and, at worst, it means that the full identification and management of fire safety risks is compromised, which can put the lives of people at risk.

Twenty flats in Barking were destroyed in June 2019 when a fire spread from a wooden balcony. Richmond House was a four-storey timber-framed block of flats in Worcester Park that burnt down in September. Only last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) highlighted a further significant fire in her constituency. Such fires are stark reminders of how a conflagration can spread on the external envelope of a building, and why those risks need to be identified or mitigated.

The Bill will therefore ensure that, when the responsible person makes a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks, it takes account of the structure, external walls, balconies and flat entrance doors in complying with the fire safety order, and allows enforcement action to be taken confidently by fire and rescue authorities. That will complement existing powers that local authorities have under the Housing Act 2004.

The Grenfell inquiry’s phase 1 report, published last October, provided a comprehensive picture of what happened on the night of 14 June 2017. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear at the time of publication, the Government accepted in principle all of the 14 recommendations addressed to the Government directly.

For high-rise residential buildings, the inquiry’s recommendations included new duties on building owners and managers: to issue information to the fire and rescue services; to ensure that there are premises information boxes; to carry out regular inspections of lifts; and to ensure that building floor numbers are clearly marked. For all multi-occupied residential buildings, the inquiry also called for new duties for regular checks of fire doors.

The objective is to ensure that fire and rescue services can plan for and respond to a fire in a high-rise residential building, alongside overall fire safety benefits for residents. As we said in our initial response to the report, we are committed to working closely with other organisations to ensure that the right changes are brought about to protect the public.

The Bill will also provide the firm foundation on which the Government will bring forward secondary legislation to enact those recommendations. Our proposals will be the subject of public consultation, to be published in the coming months. The consultation will also set out proposals to ensure that the fire safety order continues to regulate fire safety effectively in all the premises it covers, as part of the ongoing improvements to building safety following our 2019 call for evidence on the order.

The Bill will give the Secretary of State a regulation-making power to amend or clarify the list of premises that fall within scope of the fire safety order. That will enable us to respond quickly to any further developments in the design and construction of buildings and our understanding of the combustibility and fire risk of construction products.

As the order and therefore the Bill relate to matters within the legislative competence of the Welsh Assembly, the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government in the Welsh Assembly has confirmed that she will put the matter before the Assembly for a legislative consent motion.

I am aware that the provisions of the Bill will require potentially significant numbers of responsible persons to review and update their fire risk assessments. For many, that will require specialist knowledge and the expertise of the fire risk assessor. We are working with representatives of the sector to understand the particular challenges in delivery. That will inform our approach to the implementation of the Bill, while maintaining a clear and consistent approach to fire risk assessments. In any event, and in line with the independent expert advisory panel’s consolidated advice, I would none the less encourage those with responsibilities to carry out a fire risk assessment under the order as a matter of good practice and to consider flat entrance doors and external wall systems as part of their fire risk assessment for multi-occupied residential blocks as soon as possible, if they have not already done so.

As I have highlighted, there is further legislation to follow. Following the 2019 consultation, the building safety Bill will put in place an enhanced safety framework for high-rise residential buildings. It will establish a new system to oversee the performance of building control functions, with stronger enforcement and sanctions, and give residents a stronger voice in the system, ensuring that their concerns are never ignored. That Bill will be published in draft form before the summer recess.

We will also establish a new national building safety regulator within the Health and Safety Executive. The new regulator will be responsible for implementing and enforcing a more stringent regulatory regime for high-rise residential buildings, as well as providing wider oversight of safety and performance.

The Fire Safety Bill complements all the actions that we have taken to date. It demonstrates that we are applying the lessons from the Grenfell tragedy and will continue to do everything within our power to ensure the safety of people in their homes. While legislation alone can never provide all the answers, I believe that it will make a significant and lasting contribution to the safety of residents. It will provide a catalyst to drive the culture change that is needed within our building and construction sector to put safety and security at the forefront and provide responsibility and accountability where people fall short. Above all, it will help to provide the legal foundations to ensure that such a tragedy can never happen again. I commend the Bill to the House.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, who is asked to speak for no more than 15 minutes.

--- Later in debate ---
Christopher Pincher Portrait The Minister for Housing (Christopher Pincher)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure and an honour to wind up the debate for Her Majesty’s Government. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security and other hon. Members for the insightful contributions that they have made. I will try to answer as many of the questions asked as I can, although I am conscious that something like 32 Members have spoken today. The fact that we do not have a huge amount of time before the moment of interruption, and that there were so many contributions, may well preclude me from providing substantive responses to all the questions raised, but as the Bill makes progress through the House, I am sure that there will be further opportunities for everybody to debate and test its provisions.

I shall begin by commenting on some particular contributions. The hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the Chairman of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, made it clear that his Committee will treat the pre-legislative scrutiny of the building safety Bill very seriously. A number of Members have mentioned that Bill. Let me confirm that we will bring it forward in draft form before the summer recess, which will give Members an opportunity to begin to consider it.

I should also like to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), who noted how the survivors of Grenfell have conducted themselves throughout with grace and dignity—she is right. She was also right to say that we need to work collectively and with purpose to address what happened that night.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) said that he had not received a letter from me in response to his, written on 26 February. I will certainly look into that, because I know that he has long campaigned for his constituents living in Northpoint.

Members across the House campaign for their constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup), who is in the Chamber, campaigns for her constituents who lost their homes in the lace mill fire a little while ago. Homes were lost; thankfully, no lives were lost.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and others raised the question of fire risk assessors. The Government have been working with the fire risk assessment sector to develop a clear plan to increase its capacity and capability. We will work at pace to do that, and we will introduce a panel of expert fire engineers to ensure that there is expert assessment of more complex buildings. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher), who raised the question of the inspection of lifts. He may wish to continue to raise it as the Bill proceeds through the House.

All Members who have taken part in the debate have rightly put the need to safeguard residents such as those who were involved in the Grenfell fire at the front and centre of their contributions because, ultimately, what matters is saving lives. We cannot bring back those who lost their lives on 14 June 2017, but we can keep moving forward, applying the lessons that we continue to learn, and taking the necessary actions to keep others safe so that a residential fire such as the one we saw at Grenfell Tower can never be repeated.

As we have said and demonstrated by our actions over the last three years, we are committed to a generational reform of building and fire safety. We have to get this right. This is a short, technical Bill—I make no apology for that. It clarifies the law and constitutes a further step towards ensuring that there is better identification and management of fire safety risks in all multi-occupied residential buildings. It will also give us the firm foundation needed to bring forward further legislation under the fire safety order to deliver the recommendations from the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report, issued on 29 October last year, which called for new obligations for building owners. The Bill will give certainty to all those working under the fire safety order, those who are regulated by it and those who enforce it.

There are challenges in respect of how we implement the Bill, particularly regarding the assessment of external wall systems. We will continue to work closely with our partners to deliver assessments on the ground in a way that is manageable and that takes account of the capacity and capability issues that hon. Members have raised. However, the direction of travel is clear, and I urge building owners and managers, in line with the independent expert panel’s recent consolidated advice note, to start taking account of fire risks arising from external walls and cladding as of now, if they have not done so already.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security mentioned in his opening speech, my Department will bring further legislation before Parliament for scrutiny in the course of this year. The building safety Bill, which I have mentioned, will deliver an enhanced safety framework for higher-risk residential buildings and provide wider and stronger oversight of safety and performance across all buildings. Residents’ safety is at the heart of all these reforms.

The Government have already taken forward a range of other legislative and non-legislative measures, including the provision of £1 billion to remove unsafe cladding, such as high-pressure laminate and wood on all blocks of flats over 18 metres; the provision of £600 million for the replacement of unsafe aluminium composite material cladding on high-rise social and private buildings over 18 metres; banning the use of combustible materials in cladding systems on high-rise blocks, as well as in hospitals, care premises and student accommodation; publishing a summary of responses to the call for evidence on the fire safety order; and setting up, in shadow, the building safety regulator.

I hope that hon. Members will acknowledge that we are taking forward a comprehensive response to the tragedy of that night in June 2017. The system failures in building and fire safety that have been identified by Dame Judith Hackitt in her report—the next phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry will consider them further—are at the heart of our agenda. The importance of the work on building and fire safety is underlined by the fact that Lord Greenhalgh has recently been appointed to work jointly across both Departments to deliver these important reforms. In that vein, I remind the House that my right hon. Friend the Security Minister has huge expertise in this area because of his previous service in my Department and his current service in the Home Office.

As I anticipated at the start of my speech, I have not been able to address everybody’s concerns, but there will be further and ample opportunity, during the Bill’s passage through the House and through the scrutiny of other legislation, to address Members’ concerns. This is not the only piece of legislation coming forward and it is not the last piece of legislation coming forward; it is the first piece of legislation to address the concerns that colleagues have raised.

This debate has shown the House at its best. Despite the restrictions—the very physical restrictions—that have been placed on us by covid-19, the Members of this House have operated in a new way of working to ensure that we have meaningful and, for the Government, challenging debate. I welcome the strong measure of cross-party, collaborative support mentioned by the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones); I will work with her to make sure that we get the best piece of legislation on to the statute book.

As the third anniversary of the Grenfell fire approaches, the Government are steadfast in their determination to see this Bill enacted as quickly as possible as a prelude to further legislation. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Fire Safety bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Fire Safety Bill:

Committal

(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 25 June 2020.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Michael Tomlinson.)

Question agreed to.

Fire Safety Bill (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Fire Safety Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Michael Tomlinson.)

Question agreed to.

Fire Safety Bill (First sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 25th June 2020

(4 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 25 June 2020 - (25 Jun 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I believe we are not allowed to go beyond 12.30 pm by the programme motion, but the Minister has a quick point to make.

Kit Malthouse Portrait The Minister for Crime and Policing (Kit Malthouse)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was just going to try to draw out some of the complexities of access, not just for fitting, but for maintenance. Just to clarify, the way the Bill is commenced will have significant effects. I draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that one thing we have done is to convene this task and finish group, which Mr Davis referred to, with the various bodies, not least the NFCC and the Fire Sector Federation on it, to devise a recommendation to the Home Office as to how the Bill should be commenced. I know we have an amendment on commencement this afternoon, but that is going to be our method of making sure we get it right.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you, that is very helpful.

Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed. We have now run out of time. Thank you, Mr Carpenter and Mr Davis for excellent answers. The Committee is very grateful. We must move on to our last set of witnesses.

Examination of Witnesses

Adrian Dobson and Matt Wrack gave evidence.

Fire Safety Bill (Second sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 25th June 2020

(4 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 25 June 2020 - (25 Jun 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I very much sympathise with the motivation behind the amendments, but I am unpersuaded by the argument. There is sometimes a risk of seeking to make very precise what in reality is not at all precise.

Following the Grenfell Tower disaster and the Lakanal House fire, the Local Government Association, working with local authorities across the country, commissioned a huge piece of work to try to understand the inherent risks in tall buildings, but also in other types of building in the public estate, and to learn lessons that might be relevant to the private sector.

I want to refer to a particular type of structure known as a Bison block, which is common in west London and found across my constituency, and which my local authority has spent a good amount of time examining. It is particularly relevant to amendment 2, which is seeking a very tight definition. The blocks were large panel system builds. They are quite common across the capital and in other parts of the country.

A great many of these blocks were extensively refurbished, particularly in the 1980s, because they are not especially attractive buildings and in the past there have been concerns about their structural integrity and safety. The refurbishment was undertaken by a process that we might understand as cladding. In this case, a brick skin was erected around the entire outside of the building. New windows were installed, and the structure now looks considerably more attractive than when it was first constructed.

To manage the risk of fire spreading in the cavity between the floor where a fire occurs and another floor, a steel band needs to be installed between each storey’s-worth of brick structure. It ensures that a fire that gets into that cavity cannot spread up or down. On examination following the Grenfell disaster, it was discovered that some of the window installations, for example, had been changed, which had had an impact on the integrity of the fire safety system. The banding had been constructed many years ago. The challenges of inspecting something that is inside a sealed brick structure, the natural dilapidations of time and the consequences of a small amount of heave or subsidence around the site would all have had an impact on it. That is a significant issue for those of us who are concerned about the safety of those high-rise towers.

I am concerned that the amendment, by seeking to be very precise, could open the door to our not including a number of the elements that we would see in a variety of structures around the country. I have heard the Minister speak about this before when questions have been asked of him. I am satisfied that one of the motivations behind the Government’s choice of wording was to make the definition sufficiently broad that all the issues were captured. To ensure that the definition relates to all the different, unique types of structure out there, many of which there may be little evidence of on the public record today, it may be wise not to narrow our definitions too much. We could end up with a lawyers’ bonanza of arguments about whether, for example, the provision covers the steel band structure for fire safety in a Bison block. For that reason, I am unpersuaded of the merits of the amendment.

Kit Malthouse Portrait The Minister for Crime and Policing (Kit Malthouse)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very conscious, not least as the former London Assembly member for the area, that it is less than two weeks since we marked the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, which saw the worst loss of life in a residential fire since the second world war. I am sure that all those who died, the bereaved and the survivors will be in our minds as we do our work this afternoon and into the future.

On the day of the publication of the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister accepted in principle all 12 recommendations addressed to the Government directly. Eleven of the recommendations will require implementation in law. The Fire Safety Bill, which will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, is an important first step toward enacting those recommendations. As has been mentioned, the Bill is short and technical; it clarifies the scope of the order. We appreciate that this is the first Bill on fire safety since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and we intend to legislate further.

It is vital that regulatory standards and public confidence be increased across the whole system of building and fire safety. Next month we will publish a consultation on the implementation of the phase 1 recommendations that call for changes in the law, alongside proposals to strengthen other aspects of the fire safety order. I assure the Committee that the Bill is the start, not the finish, of a process through which we intend to improve the fire safety order.

Alongside the consultation, there is the building safety Bill, which will be presented in the House for pre-legislative scrutiny before the summer recess. That Bill will put in place new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products, and will ensure that residents have a stronger voice in the system. It will take forward the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of building regulations and fire safety.

Our programme of work is not limited to legislation, of course. It includes establishing a remediation programme, supported by £1.6 billion of Government funding, through which we will remove unsafe cladding from high-rise residential buildings. We are undertaking, in conjunction with the fire service, a building risk review programme for all high-rise residential buildings in England by December 2021, supported by £10 million of new funding.

This Fire Safety Bill is also a move towards enhancing safety in all multi-occupied residential buildings by improving the identification, assessment and mitigation of fire risks in those buildings. It will resolve the differing interpretations of the scope of the fire safety order in such buildings and provide clarity for responsible persons and enforcing authorities under the order. It will make it clear that the order applies to the structure, external walls—including cladding—balconies and flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings.

--- Later in debate ---
Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his response. He was basically saying that amendment 2 is unnecessary, which I would challenge, because the fire service has asked for the definition and thinks that it would be an important part of the Bill. I agree with the fire service, but I take the same approach as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and hope that these matters will be looked at as we go forward.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Fundamentally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner says, we are concerned that the definitions in the amendments might have a narrowing effect. Detailed guidance offering definitions will come out as a consequence of the Bill, and obviously we will work with partners to ensure that we get that guidance right.

It is worth pointing out that this approach is consistent with that in the Housing Act 2004, which uses similarly broad definitions to ensure that the many and various varieties of housing in this country, some built over many hundreds of years, all fall within a generalised definition in guidance that is put in place later on.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the Minister said, we recently passed the three-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. I just want to mention the letter that we will all have received from Grenfell United last night. It was not able to give evidence before us today, but it welcomes the Bill and is pushing for it to have the funding that it needs and for it to apply to all buildings. It reminded us of the fire in Canning Tower, in east London, only last week, when 100 people were evacuated. It used to be covered with Grenfell-style cladding, but that was removed last year, just in the nick of time. As the letter says, there were not any serious consequences.

The importance of the Bill is not to be underestimated. Small though it is, it is incredibly important. We support the Bill and we support clause 1. It provides clarification, although it is a shame that we could not take it a bit further with our amendments. There are many issues that we would want to bring into the Bill, but because it is too small in scale, we cannot. They include electrical safety—people are keen for us to talk about that, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith mentioned it. We tried to have some of those issues included in the Bill, but they are not within its scope. There is a huge raft of issues beyond that of cladding—important as it is—that we must address, through the building safety Bill and subsequent measures.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is right to raise with me whether there is a need to address the issue of cabling and ducting in buildings. That was raised with me when I was Housing Minister, and I hope that I have explained that there will be opportunities to look at that quite soon, in more comprehensive measures to follow. For the moment, the Bill is a small, tight, technical one, which creates the foundational stone on which we will build an entirely new regulatory and fire safety regime, which must be coherent. We must therefore proceed step by step. I fully appreciate the comments that Members have made, and they will be fed into the next stage of our work, and the consultation, which will be issued next month.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Power to change premises to which the Fire Safety Order applies

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 2, page 1, line 21, at end insert—

‘(aa) for the purpose of changing or clarifying any of articles 2 to 22 or 38 of the Order’.

This amendment aims to ensure that the key articles of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 can be amended to account for the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry Phase 1 and subsequently the Phase 2 recommendations and changes that may be brought about by the forthcoming Building Safety Bill.

--- Later in debate ---
Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Briefly, it is very important that there is the closest possible alignment between the Bill and what emerges from the Grenfell inquiry. We have had phase 1 of the inquiry, which dealt with what happened on the night. Phase 2 is coming, albeit not for some time. It relates to the wider issues of concern around building safety, and of course there is further legislation coming about building safety.

We heard evidence this morning from the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Fire Brigades Union. Despite their very different perspectives and experiences, they were essentially saying the same thing: that Grenfell has exposed not just the really criminal action of putting highly combustible material on the outside of tower blocks, but the huge weaknesses and inadequacies in the system, causing us to look again at the whole way in which building safety works.

Just one example of that is the stay put policy. Most experts will say, “Well, the stay put policy is still in effect.” That may be literally true, in the sense that for most blocks that do not have combustible cladding and where compartmentalisation works, it may be the opinion of experts—whether they are from the fire service, are building experts, or others—that it is safer to stay in a flat than to leave it while the fire is contained within a single flat in a high-rise block, but try telling that to the occupants of that block post Grenfell.

The Leader of the House made comments about the evacuation of Grenfell Tower that were not just unhelpful but disrespectful; he asked whether people were right to stay in Grenfell Tower in that way. A senior Member of this House has raised doubts about whether it is sensible to stay. If a fire is known to be occurring, people will try to exit the tower block.

Any review of the stay put policy will look at the way that evacuation procedures, alarm systems and sprinkler systems worked. Recommendations coming out of the Grenfell inquiry should be reflected in the Bill. That is my only point.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The amendments seek broad delegated powers to amend key articles of the fire safety order: articles 2 to 22, in parts 1 and 2 of the order, which relate to the interpretation of the order and to fire safety duties; and article 38, a miscellaneous article relating to a further duty on the responsible person to concern themselves with the maintenance of measures for the protection of firefighters. The amendments also seek to enable changes to be made to the fire safety order by secondary legislation, rather than primary legislation, that are consequential to changes made by other regulations. The amendments build on the delegated power in clause 2 of the Bill, under which it is proposed that the order can be amended for the purpose of changing or clarifying the premises to which it applies, and can allow for consequential provision to be made. I have already set out the purpose and limitations of that power.

The fire safety order already has a delegated power under article 24, which enables the Secretary of State to make regulations on the precautions that are to be taken or observed in relation to the risk to relevant persons. That can be used to provide additional fire precaution requirements over and above those already required under the order.

Although powers that enable legislation to be expedited when needed, and with the appropriate scrutiny, have clear benefits, the Government’s view is that it would not be appropriate to ask Parliament to delegate legislative power in the manner proposed. I have made the point already that this is a short and technical Bill. We intend to legislate further. The Government will shortly publish the second of our fire and building safety Bills, the building safety Bill. Alongside this, there will be pre-legislative scrutiny: we will publish a fire safety consultation, which will set out our proposals for strengthening the fire safety order and improving compliance on all regulated premises, leading to greater competence and accountability.

We will also implement the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s phase 1 report, which calls for new requirements to be established in law to ensure the protection of residents in multi-occupied residential high-rise buildings, with some proposals applying to multi-occupied residential buildings of any height.

As the Committee has heard, the Government are taking further steps to ensure that the fire safety order continues to be fit for purpose, as part of our consideration of reform of the wider building safety landscape. The consultation will propose changes to strengthen the order in a number of areas to improve fire safety standards. It will also seek further evidence and implement further legislation if required.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report examining the events of the night of 14 June—the night of the Grenfell Tower fire—was exhaustive. Of the 46 recommendations made in the inquiry’s first report, 12 were addressed to the Government directly, with 11 requiring legislative changes. They relate primarily to a number of prescriptive safety measures and checks, to be undertaken by building owners and managers. The Prime Minister accepted the principle of these recommendations on publication of the report in October last year.

Subject to the outcome of the consultation, our intention is to deliver, where possible, the Grenfell inquiry recommendations through secondary legislation under the fire safety order. Where an amendment to the order is required through primary legislation, we intend to do that in the building safety Bill. That Bill will also cover the consequential amendments that will be required to the fire safety order to ensure that the Bill, when enacted, and the order align and interact with each other. We will ensure that the legal frameworks and supporting guidance provide clarity for those operating in this area, and bring about the outcomes sought across the fire and building safety landscape.

The hon. Member for Croydon Central mentioned having a single point of responsibility, and that is very much on our minds. Intensive work is going on between the Home Office and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and with the wider sector, to ensure that there is no confusion as to who is the responsible individual.

One of the key principles that came out of Dame Carol’s review—I mean Dame Judith’s review; Dame Carol’s review is about drugs, which is also within my portfolio—was the need for the point of responsibility to be transparent and known to everybody. It is a key part of the proposals, and I have no doubt that it will form part of the consultation and, therefore, the legislation that will follow.

Sir Gary, I hope that explanation is enough to allow the Committee to be content for the amendment to be withdrawn.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We will see.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will be brief. I want to make a point about finances and resources, and it seems fitting to mention that as we debate clause 2. We heard a lot of evidence this morning about the need for proper resourcing. We heard from L&Q about the extraordinary amount of money that it and its colleagues will have to spend in the housing association sector on removing cladding. Although the Government’s £1 billion fire safety fund is welcome, that will not be anywhere near enough.

As for enforcement of the legislation, the fire service has had significant cuts, as was outlined excellently in the Fire Brigades Union’s written evidence to the Committee, particularly around inspection, where we need to beef up the resources. We will need a lot more fire risk assessors. We will have to try to fund all that. There is a point to be made about what the Home Office has done about the cost, because the resources are not anywhere near enough. That is all I want to say, but it is a really important point that the Government will have to grapple with.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I recognise Members’ impatience for us to get the measure through as quickly as possible and to put the new regime in place, not least because it will take time to bed in. There will be not only structural change, but cultural change in various parts of the building safety world. The Bill is a start. There will be a consultation shortly. The Bill will be scrutinised before the summer recess. There will be a flurry of activity. On the point made by the hon. Member for Croydon Central about coherence between Departments, as Housing Minister I recognise that issue, and she will be pleased to know that the old sparring partner of the hon. Member for Hammersmith—I am not sure he will be pleased—and former leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham is now the joint Minister between the Home Office and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. He has responsibility for fire, albeit in the Lords, which is why I am here today.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Extent, commencement and short title

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 6, in clause 3, page 2, line 25, after “may” insert “not”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that the Bill be brought into force at the same time for all buildings it will apply to, rather than adopting a staged approach that may make arbitrary distinctions between similar premises.

This amendment is slightly controversial, in that there are different ways to interpret it. It seeks to ensure that the Bill is brought into force at the same time for all the buildings that it will apply to, rather than us adopting a staged approach that may make arbitrary distinctions between similar premises. Some might have concerns about the amendment; the National Housing Federation—the only organisation that responded to all the amendments in writing, which is very impressive—is worried that if we bring everything into the scope of the Bill straight away, there will be a capacity issue. I understand that, but I will explain the thinking behind the amendment.

I have heard from several organisations that the Home Office was looking at perhaps bringing into scope buildings over 18 metres first, and then other types of buildings. The view put to me was that that is slightly arbitrary and not the best way to approach the issue. We heard this morning about the risk-based approach, which had its infancy and was undertaken excellently in my borough of Croydon, rather than people there saying, “We will do this set of buildings first and then this set of buildings.” People who knew what they were doing were trusted to look first at the areas that were most problematic.

I suspect that the Minister will say, “We have set up a task and finish group that will look at how all of this works,” but I think it important to make the point in Committee that we do not want an arbitrary approach or something that will take years. We potentially face the need to carry out risk assessments for hundreds of thousands of buildings, which will take time. The best approach is to look at it through the eyes of the experts who will decide how to manage that challenge, which is why we tabled the amendment.
Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We acknowledge that clarification of the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 will represent operational change for many, particularly responsible persons, who, as the hon. Lady said, will need to update their fire risk assessments to include external walls and flat entrance doors. The Bill will also have an impact on the fire sector, fire risk assessors and other competent professionals, such as fire engineers, who are needed to assist the responsible person in complying with the order.

We acknowledge that there are capacity and capability issues, particularly in relation to assessing the risk for external walls. This is not just the Government speaking, but a number of organisations from the fire sector, local authorities and housing associations. The Government are committed to ensuring that we commence the Bill in a way that is workable across the system, while ensuring that swift action is taken to address the most significant fire safety risks.

That is why, as I mentioned this morning, we have established a task and finish group—co-chaired by the Fire Sector Federation and the National Fire Chiefs Council—that will be responsible for providing a recommendation on how the Bill should be commenced. The group will advise on the optimal way to meet the Bill’s objective of improving the identification assessment of fire risks in multi-occupied blocks and addressing them as soon as possible to ensure resident safety while also effectively managing any operational impact.

The task and finish group is made up of representatives from the early adopters group on building safety at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; private sector developers; the fire sector; the NFCC; and a number of fire and rescue services. The group is expected to report no later than the end of September. It is tasked with providing a recommendation based on an assessment of the evidence and on their knowledge and expertise, which the hon. Member for Croydon Central said was preferable.

We expect that recommendation to address how the highest-risk buildings should be prioritised for assessment of the composition of, and risk associated with, their cladding systems. Ministers will consider the advice and make a final decision. The amendment would remove the ability to make regulations that enable the Bill’s provisions to be commenced on different days for different purposes. That is, it removes the possibility of using regulations to ensure a staged commencement. I make no comment on whether and how the commencement might be staged, but the Government will not prejudge the advice of the task and finish group, or support any restrictions on the ability of the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to make informed decisions about when and how regulations are made to commence the provisions in the Bill.

I am particularly conscious that this morning the hon. Lady raised the issue of individuals who might, because of a sudden commencement, find themselves in some kind of limbo, and be unable to undertake property transactions for many years, given the scale of what is required. Notwithstanding that risk is the primary concern, some of those issues will have to be taken into consideration. I hope that gives the Committee a suitable explanation as to why the amendment should be withdrawn.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will withdraw the amendment on the basis that there will be a task and finish group, but I stress that we have had a lot of groups, conversations and consultations. In my previous role in housing, we had 60 consultations on leasehold reform, yet we still do not have leasehold reform. We need to push this forward. Having some sense of when the Bill will commence and how it will be implemented would be helpful. It would also be helpful to know the implementation date, because that is not set out in the Bill. There is a lot of uncertainty, and we are putting a lot of faith in the experts and in the Minister to get this done as quickly as possible, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Very briefly—although, we are now doing well for time—I want to reiterate the point about the Bill not having a date for when the new requirements will come into force, aside from what is implemented and when. The Bill allows the Secretary of State to choose a date that is considered appropriate, and that makes us uncomfortable. Again, we need to do this as quickly as possible, because these are literally matters of life and death. That is the biggest issue with the clause; other than that, I am happy.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Streeter—Sir Gary. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I apologise. Again, I acknowledge the impatience. It is worth remembering that the Bill is a technical clarification of a fire safety order that should be functioning well in the vast majority of circumstances. Although there are respectable views about disagreements on definition within the order, which is why we are seeking to clarify it, in the end there is still someone out there who has responsibility for safety in all these buildings. Although I recognise the impatience of the hon. Lady and other hon. Members to get it under way—we share their impatience—I would give that background.

The task and finish group should be reporting by the end of September. There will be more consultation legislation on the way. I realise that the hon. Lady is suffering a little from consultation fatigue. Nevertheless, these are complex issues dealing with effectively unravelling and reknitting a huge system of building safety regulation that has grown up over many decades and needs wholescale reform. It is therefore no surprise that if we want to get this right for the future and avoid any possibility of a future Grenfell, we need to ensure that we do the detailed work, which is what we are trying to do—hence this foundation stone today.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1

Public register of fire risk assessments

“(1) The Secretary of State must, by regulations, make provision for a register of fire risk assessments made under article 9 (risk assessment) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (SI 2005/1541).

(2) Those regulations must provide that the register is—

(a) publicly available; and

(b) kept up-to-date.

(3) Regulations under this section are—

(a) to be made by statutory instrument; and

(b) subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”—(Daisy Cooper.)

This new clause would enable would-be renters and owners to check the fire safety status of their potential home, like the EPC register.

Brought up, and read the First time.

--- Later in debate ---
Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is shocking.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree; it is shocking.

We have all seen examples, and one was given to us this morning. In 2017 an independent fire risk assessor was given a four-month jail sentence when a court described his assessment of a Cheshire care home as “woefully inadequate”. In the same year, a private hire safety consultant was found to have given valueless risk assessments to several businesses in south Wales, putting people at serious risk of death because of poor escape routes, a lack of fire alarms and insufficient precautions to reduce fire and the spread of fire. In 2012 a fire risk assessor in Nottingham was fined £15,000 after it was found that fire precautions in two hotels he assessed were inadequate, potentially putting hundreds of lives at risk. I suspect there is much inadequacy that we do not know about because it has not come to light.

Therefore, what do we do about this? We propose a fire risk assessor accreditation system. There are ways of easily mapping skill levels and the competence of individuals that are used across many sectors. We could look at those and work with the experts to find the right balance. For many years, the further education sector has used regulated qualifications to train the workforce. Vocational qualifications, which have been around for many years, have been the main way of demonstrating that an individual has met a certain standard. I spoke at length to the chief executive of the British Woodworking Federation, who sits on the Build UK WG2 competence of installers working group in Government, which is looking at some of these issues and mapping the competence of an installer following the Hackitt review. It is looking at third-party certification routes, continuous professional development and different things that would be possible. There are relatively straightforward options through the Health and Safety Executive, Ofqual—there are all sorts of ways to do this.

In anticipation that the Minister might not accept the new clause, I ask him to take this matter seriously and accept that there is a problem that we must do something about. I also ask him to see it in the round with what on earth happens if it takes a long period of time to try to build up workforce expertise, with people potentially living in buildings without the piece of paper that tells them they can get insurance and mortgages, as the hon. Member for St Albans said. This job must be done—whether it is done now is for the Minister to decide—and it must be done sooner rather than later, to avoid deaths in the future.

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Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My role on this Committee is obviously becoming clear: it is to manage Members’ legitimate desire for urgent action and change, and to indicate that there is a process we need to go through in order to get this matter exactly right. I find myself in that position once again.

The fire safety order establishes a self-compliance regime. There is currently no requirement for responsible persons to record their completed fire risk assessments, save for limited provisions in respect of employers. They are simply required to record the significant findings of the assessment and any group of persons identified by the assessment as being especially at risk. The creation of a fire risk assessment register will place a new level of regulation upon responsible persons that could be seen as going against the core principles of the order, notably its self-regulatory and non-prescriptive approach.

There is also a question of ownership and maintenance, and where the costs of such a register would lie. A delicate balance needs to be struck. There are certainly improvements to be made, but we also need to ensure that such improvements are proportionate.

The Government acknowledge that there is work to be done to ensure that residents have access to the vital fire safety information they need in order to be safe and feel safe in their homes. People need to be assured that a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment has been completed, and that all appropriate general precautions have been taken or will be taken.

I also say to potential buyers of leasehold flats that any good conveyancing solicitor would ask for sight of the fire risk assessment from the responsible person—the freeholder—as part of their pre-contract inquiries. If the assessment was not forthcoming, one would expect that the solicitor would advise their clients accordingly and that all due inferences would be made. I can assure the Committee that the fire safety consultation will bring forward proposals for the recording of the fire risk assessment and the provision of vital fire safety information to residents.

New clause 2 would create a public register of fire risk assessors and require the fire risk assessors to be accredited. I agree that there is a clear need for reform concerning fire risk assessors, to improve capacity and standards. I understand the probing nature of the new clause, so it may be helpful to outline work that is ongoing in the area of fire risk assessor capacity and capability.

Some hon. Members will be aware of the industry-led competency steering group and its working group on fire risk assessors. The group will soon publish a report, including proposals for creating a register, third-party accreditation and a competency framework for fire risk assessors. The Government will consider the report’s recommendations in detail.

We are working with the NFCC and the fire risk assessor sector to take forward plans for addressing the short-term and long-term capability and capacity issues within the sector. I share hon. Members’ alarm at the existence of unqualified fire risk assessors; one wonders how many decades this situation has been allowed to persist unnoticed by anybody in this House or by any Government of any hue. The fire safety consultation, which will be issued shortly—I have already committed to that—will bring forward proposals on competence issues.

To summarise, the right approach is for the Government first to consider the proposals of the competency steering group and its sub-groups in relation to a register of fire risk assessors and accreditation. The Government’s position is that that work should continue to be led and progressed by the industry. I am happy to state on the record that we will work with the industry to develop it. Any future statutory requirements on fire risk assessors might be achieved through secondary legislation, which will offer us greater flexibility to add to it or amend it in the future. For those reasons, I intend to resist these new clauses.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 2

Public register of fire risk assessors

“(1) The Secretary of State must, by regulations, make provision for a register of individuals who are qualified to make fire risk assessments under article 9 (risk assessment) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (SI 2005/1541).

(2) Those regulations must provide that only persons on the register may make such assessments.

(3) Those regulations must provide that the register is—

(a) publicly available; and

(b) kept up-to-date.

(4) Regulations under this section are—

(a) to be made by statutory instrument; and

(b) subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”—(Daisy Cooper.)

This new clause would enable home owners to verify fire assessors qualified to conduct compulsory checks such as completing the EWS1 form, and would enable government and industry to assess the numbers of assessors to be trained.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division 1

Ayes: 6


Labour: 5
Liberal Democrat: 1

Noes: 9


Conservative: 9

New Clause 3
--- Later in debate ---
Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I applaud the hon. Member for St Albans for bringing the matter to the Committee’s attention, although the new clause may not quite be the way to deal with the issue in law. I say that because although Government have made funds available in a drip by drip way—it is quite a substantial amount of money, so perhaps drip by drip is the wrong phrase—it is an inadequate sum to deal with the necessary remediation.

The way in which the funding relating to ACM and other types of cladding has been announced to social landlords and then private landlords has not only created some degree of confusion, but meant that there are huge gaps in terms of accessibility to funds to leaseholders and freeholders for carrying out remediation work. Therefore, landlords—not the worst landlords, necessarily; in some ways, it could be the better ones—are seeking to deal with remediation works in relation to blocks that do not fall within the fairly restrictive criteria that the Government have set. They are saying, “Yes, we will remove cladding, or do other works, but it isn’t covered by the Government’s building funds at the moment. We will therefore look, with section 20 notices or in other ways, for leaseholders to carry the costs.”

We are right to draw attention to this point, and I hope that the Minister will respond to it. He has been reading out his ministerial brief, which is all to the good because we need to put it on the record, but it would be quite good for him to respond to some of the points spontaneously made by Opposition Members.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I say that because, in the previous debate, there were issues to do with the speed at which the process is going, and I do not think the Minister responded to my points about that nor to those about the qualifications of assessors. If he intends to resist the new clause, which I suspect he probably is, he needs to deal with the issue of leaseholders who, faced with the prospect of bills, cannot then be advised “Go to the Government funds”, because such funds are not available for those purposes.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I call on the Minister to read out his brief. [Laughter.]

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sir Gary, the hon. Member for Hammersmith knows the impositions put on Ministers of the Crown as to what they can and cannot say in public. Legal interpretations emanate from their words, such is the importance of the things that we say in this place, and many legal cases have been decided on the words, imprecise or otherwise, of a Government Minister in a Committee such as this, so we try very hard to be precise. I should point out that, although I previously had responsibility for this portfolio when I was Housing Minister, I am covering for a Minister who is shielding at the moment. Hence I have to make sure that the words I use are broadly those that he would use as well.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was seeking to flatter the Minister. We not only want to hear from the civil servants; we also want to hear from him.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Notwithstanding the fact that the hon. Member for St Albans obviously recognises that this blunt instrument, as she put it, might result in unintended consequences, not least driving a coach and horses through the notion of privacy of contract, which is a fundamental part of our economy and legal system, I recognise her aspiration and the obvious concern and distress that there has been across the country among people who have been caught in the nightmare. As the hon. Member for Croydon Central knows, as Housing Minister for 12 months I wrestled with that issue and lobbied the then Chancellor of the Exchequer with increasing ferocity that the Government should step in to assist, which we have now done. My efforts, along with those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who was then the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, managed to secure the first £600 million of the £1.6 billion now pledged for remediation of various types of cladding.

I should point out that the funding does not absolve the industry from taking responsibility for any failings that led to unsafe cladding materials being put on buildings in the first place. We still expect developers, investors and building owners who have the means to pay to take responsibility and cover the cost of remediation themselves without passing on the cost to leaseholders. We committed in a recent Government response to the building safety consultation to extend the ability of local authorities and the new regulators to enforce against building work that does not comply with the building regulations from two years to 10 years. Further details will be set out in the draft building safety Bill when it is published next month. The new regime in that Bill is being introduced to prevent such safety defects from occurring in the first place in new builds and to address systematically the defects in existing buildings. Moreover, as part of any funding agreement with Government, we expect building owners to pursue warranty claims and appropriate action against those responsible for putting unsafe cladding on the buildings. In doing that we are not only ensuring that buildings are made safe and that residents feel safe, and are safe, we are ensuring that the taxpayer does not pay for the work that those responsible should fund or can afford.

I appreciate the intent of the new clause, particularly to protect leaseholders from the very high cost of removing and replacing cladding. That is why we have made £1.6 billion available to cover the costs, particularly where experts say that they represent the highest risk, and we are working with industry to identify what funding structures would be most appropriate to help cover the cost of further remediation work. Leaseholders should not have to face unmanageable costs. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will provide an update on the work when he presents the draft building safety Bill to Parliament before the recess. I ask that Members recognise the complexity of this policy area, which cannot be solved, I am afraid, through the new clause. Indeed, it would make owners who, in some cases, would include leaseholders, responsible for funding any and all remediation work. For example, service and maintenance charges would at present meet the costs of safety work required as a result of routine wear and tear, such as worn fire door closers. Under the new clause, those costs would fall to building owners. I hope that hon. Members will agree there are more effective ways of achieving the same aim, which we all share, and I therefore hope this clause can be withdrawn.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 4

Meaning of responsible person

“In article 3 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (SI 2005/1541) (meaning of responsible person”), at the end of paragraph (b)(ii) insert—

‘(2) Where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises, a leaseholder shall not be considered a responsible person unless they are also the owner or part owner of the freehold.’”—(Sarah Jones.)

This new clause aims to clarify the definition of ‘responsible person’ to ensure leaseholders are not considered a responsible person unless they are also the owner or part owner of the freehold.

Brought up, and read the First time.

--- Later in debate ---
Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

New clause 4 also relates to leaseholders, and I think what it proposes is quite straightforward, easy to do and something that the Government could put on the face of the Bill relatively easily.

On Second Reading, the definition of a responsible person was raised again by Members from across the House. There were worries about the ambiguity of that definition, and about the risk that the responsible person might seek to use any such confusion or ambiguity to avoid their responsibilities under the Bill. There is a worry that leaseholders might be defined as the responsible person, which they are not unless leaseholders have collectively bought the freehold; that model is not used much, but it does exist. The point of this new clause is simply to ensure that unless that model exists—unless leaseholders have bought the freehold—leaseholders are not the responsible person. It is a relatively straightforward clause, and I cannot see that it would cause any problems.

I suspect that new clause 5 is a probing one, because there are many complex types of buildings, with different types of ownership within them. A block may well contain council housing, housing associations, leaseholders, and—although not part of the Bill—commercial premises within residential premises. All those different types of ownership within a block creates a complex situation when it comes to making the “responsible person” responsible for ensuring the safety assessment is done for the entire building. This clause is a question and challenge to the Government: how will the Bill work when we have all these levels of complexity, including commercial premises, different types of residential premises and different problems with access? This relates in part to some of the issues we were talking about this morning, such as getting access to domestic properties, but there are blocks in my constituency where half of the block is housing association, and half is a mix of all kinds of other private housing. We are worried about how that is going to work in real life when this legislation is introduced, so that is the point of new clause 5.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The fire safety order places the onus on the responsible person to identify and mitigate fire risks. For the most part, it engages responsibility for fire safety in line with the extent of control over a premises or part of a premises. That is the underlying principle.

In multi-occupied residential buildings, the leaseholder of a flat is unlikely to be a responsible person for the non-domestic premises. The exceptions to this would be where they own or share ownership of the freehold, as is acknowledged in new clause 4. However, the leaseholder can be a duty holder under article 5 of the order. This will be determined according to the circumstances in any particular case. This Bill does not change that arrangement; it does, of course, clarify that the order applies to the flat entrance doors. Depending on the terms of a lease or tenancy agreement, responsibility to ensure the door complies with the requirements of the order could therefore fall to the responsible person for the building, having retained ownership of the doors, or the tenant or leaseholder as a duty holder. The lease can also be silent.

Legislating for the removal of the leaseholder as a responsible person, or indeed duty holder, would undermine the principles of the order. It could leave a vacuum when it comes to responsibilities under the order, and therefore compromise fire safety. However, as part of our intention to strengthen the fire safety order, we will test further some of the relevant current provisions of the order with regards to flat entrance doors in order to support compliance, co-operation and, if necessary, enforcement actions. The NFCC has offered to support these considerations; again, the fire safety consultation is the right place for us to take such matters further. The Government are committed to ensuring that sufficient guidance and support is given to those regulated by the order. That is why the Home Office, working alongside our stakeholders, has established a guidance steering group that will be responsible for recommending, co-ordinating and delivering a robust and effective review of all the guidance provided under the order.

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Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will get it right before the end.

I have a brief comment about new clause 9, which goes to the heart of our discussion. It says that where there are

“two…sets of domestic premises, an inspector must prioritise the premises which they consider to be at most risk”.

That echoes what Mr Carpenter, the head of fire safety at L&Q, said in evidence this morning, and it must be right. It also mirrors the debate that we are having about covid-19 and the balance between the health implications and the economic implications. If all our eggs are put into the basket of buildings where there is believed to be a singular risk or multiple risks, there will be all the consequences we have already discussed relating to delays to sale and so on for buildings with a more marginal risk that nevertheless need remedial work. The Government have to grasp that dichotomy and say how they propose to deal with it.

At the moment individual landlords are dealing with it in their own way. My local authority, for example, has gone far beyond what are considered to be minimum standards. It has something called a fire safety plus programme, which means that fire safety experts visit tenants to check electrical and fire detection appliances. They replace white goods for free if they are faulty. I referred earlier to problems with flame failure devices, where gas leaks can occur, and the authority has now incorporated checks of all gas devices into annual boiler checks.

Some responsible landlords, and particularly social landlords such as Hammersmith and Fulham Council, take those responsibilities seriously and prioritise those matters. However, that has to happen across the board and not be left to landlords’ good will, as it were, or their responsible action. It has to be something that the Government enforce. It would be useful to include that with new clause 9 and provide for such prioritisation in the relevant circumstances. However—and yes, this is cake-and-eat-it, but this is a cake-and-eat-it Government, so I am sure they can incorporate it—we cannot forget those tenants or leaseholders who are at the back of the queue and who, as Mr Carpenter said at column 14 in the first sitting of the Committee, may be waiting 10 years for remedial work to take place. I should be interested to hear the Minister’s response to that—both whether he agrees with the content of new clause 9 with respect to prioritisation, and what he would do as a consequence.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the hon. Member for Croydon Central has pointed out, the Prime Minister has accepted the outcome of the Grenfell inquiry. However, Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report stated that his recommendation should command the support of those with experience of the matters to which they relate. That means that we need to make sure that everyone is on board with the proposals as we take them forward.

Our intention is to enact the proposals, subject to the views of the consultation, under article 24, which specifically requires the Secretary of State to

“consult with such persons or bodies of persons as appear to him to be appropriate.”

Once again I acknowledge the impatience of the hon. Lady and everyone else in the Committee to get on with it, and get the Grenfell inquiry measures in place, but there are stages that we need to go through to make sure that we get the measures right and to ensure that the changes made to building safety will be cultural as well as legislative and structural. That is an issue that became clear during my time as Housing Minister. The entire sector has to acknowledge its moral and legal duties for the safety of those in its care, whether that is in the design, building, management or maintenance of properties. That means we need to make sure everyone is bought in.

On new clause 9, I do not dispute the need to ensure that resources and enforcement activity are targeted, but I dispute the need for legislation to do so. Fire and rescue authorities are in the business of managing risk and are accountable for how they do so. The fire and rescue national framework for England requires fire and rescue authorities to have a locally determined risk-based inspection programme in place, for enforcing compliance with the order. It sets out the expectation that FRAs will target their resources on those individuals or households at greatest risk from fire in the home and on those non-domestic premises where the life safety risk is greatest. In parallel, the regulators’ code states that all regulators should base their regulatory activities on risk, take an evidence-based approach to determine the priority risks in their area of responsibility, and allocate resources where they would be most effective in addressing those priority risks.

We acknowledge the vital work that local FRAs do and the NFCC has done, and will continue to do, to ensure that building owners are taking all necessary steps to make sure that those living in high-rise buildings are safe and feel safe to remain in their homes.

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Division 2

Ayes: 6


Labour: 5
Liberal Democrat: 1

Noes: 9


Conservative: 9

New Clause 7
--- Later in debate ---

Division 3

Ayes: 6


Labour: 5
Liberal Democrat: 1

Noes: 9


Conservative: 9

New Clause 8
--- Later in debate ---
Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 8 refers to an issue about waking watch that has been raised with us many times by struggling leaseholders. The aim of the new clause is to clarify exactly when a waking watch must be in place and when one should not be. We have seen since Grenfell that this involves a huge number of buildings; tens of thousands of people are living in blocks where some kind of remediation work is necessary and so a waking watch has been put in place. There are lots of concerns about waking watch in general. How qualified are the people doing the job, and are there enough of them? Is it a suitable alternative to the work that needs to be done?

Many leaseholders have told us that there are conflicting instructions on whether people should have waking watch, depending on where you are and which block you live in. The National Fire Chiefs Council says that waking watch should be temporary, but there are residents living in blocks that have had a waking watch for nearly three years, at huge cost. I have spoken to leaseholders who are paying £14,000 a year for the waking watch. In one galling case, residents on the block spent £700,000 on waking watch, but when the building was tested, it was found to be safe, so they spent a lot of money collectively for something that they never actually needed in the first place.

We will clearly not remove all the cladding that needs to be removed for some time, given that the issue it is not just ACM cladding, but HPL and other forms, too. Those things take time and we do not have enough people to do the work. What will happen in that time? Do people really have to pay that much money for that long when, in some areas, people are told they need a waking watch, and in others, they are not? Other questions remain about whether people can have other alarm systems that would mean not paying as much. People are going bankrupt paying for something that is supposed to be temporary but is not needed or the best thing for them to do.

Through the new clause, we are saying to the Government that this issue has been raised many times. There is inconsistency about the waking watch and how it is applied. In any case, it is not supposed to be in place for only a short period, not three years. The issue was raised by Government Members on Second Reading and has been raised in housing questions for some time. We want a system where it is clear what waking watch is for and what it is not for, to resolve inconsistencies.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I should start by acknowledging the issue of waking watch. It is obviously very serious. In my previous position as Housing Minister, I met a number of groups that were struggling to pay for waking watch. I will speak later about what the Government are doing to support its proper use. I acknowledge the issue the hon. Member for Croydon Central raised, and I am sorry for the particular story she pointed to. However, expanding the scope of the Bill with this new clause is not the best way to achieve what she seeks.

There are significant issues with the wording of the new clause. First, it would introduce a regulation-making power that “must” be exercised to amend the fire safety order. Further, the term “fire safety failings” is very broad and subject to interpretation. There could be several circumstances where there is a fire safety failure that would not warrant the imposition of a waking watch—for example, cases where only a faulty fire door or smoke detector needed replacing. In such circumstances, swift remedial action can be undertaken, but the wording makes no distinction between fire safety failures.

Aside from the wording, we oppose putting this provision in primary legislation in any event. A decision on the use of waking watch is a matter for the responsible person when considering how to achieve compliance in particular premises. That decision must factor in the circumstances of the premises and other fire protection measures in place. Auditing for compliance is ultimately an operational issue, best dealt with by the relevant enforcing authority on a case-by-case basis. Specific circumstances will dictate what form of remedial action is necessary. The fire safety order already provides for an appropriate enforcement action to be taken. To impose a prescriptive legislative requirement of this type would be unhelpful and, worse, potentially inhibit an enforcing authority from taking the most appropriate action.

We are, however, taking forward work in conjunction with the NFCC on waking watches; it might reassure Members if I outlined it briefly. First, the NFCC is updating its guidance on waking watches. Once that guidance is available, we will ask fire protection boards to advise fire and rescue services on how best to ensure the guidance is implemented on the ground by responsible persons. That will include looking into other measures, such as installing building-wide fire alarm systems to reduce the dependency on waking watches wherever possible.

We are also looking to publish data on the costs of waking watches. That will ensure transparency on the range of costs, so that comparisons can be clearly made. Our aim is to help reduce the over-reliance on waking watch and, where it is necessary, reduce costs.

Furthermore, as Committee members may be aware, we are already working with the NFCC and fire and rescue services to undertake a building risk review programme on all high-rise residential buildings of 18 metres and above in England, which will ensure that all such buildings are inspected or reviewed by the fire service by the end of next year. It should give residents in high-rise blocks greater assurance that fire risks have been identified and action taken to address them, reducing the need for waking watches and other interim measures.

Essentially, we find ourselves in the same argument that my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner has raised on a number of occasions: by being prescriptive, we create a situation where anomalies may occur and lacunae open up in the fire safety framework, of which this foundational Bill is meant to be the keystone—or whatever firm word we want to use—for the future. For that reason, we hope that this new clause will also be withdrawn.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Heaven forbid that lacunae should open up! I immediately withdraw the new clause. I completely understand the point about this being a matter for the responsible person. The issue is that the freeholder is the responsible person, and the leaseholder is the one who has to pay, so there is a problem there.

I welcome the work that the Government are doing in trying to shine a light on some of the issues about costs; we have heard all kinds of accounts of different costs for the same job, so shining some light on that would be helpful. I think this is an issue that needs to be pushed, but I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill to the House.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Colleagues, we have done well. If anyone wishes to say anything pleasant about officials at this stage, that is the usual course of events.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Strangely, the officials have not provided me with a script of nice things to say about them. First, I am obviously grateful to all Members of the Committee for the constructive way in which our proceedings have taken place and to you, Sir Gary, for your benign chairmanship.

This is obviously a difficult and complex piece of work, and while we see the emanation of it in the clauses and the various bits of legislation that come before us, a whole team of officials at both the Home Office and MHCLG has been beavering away on this for some time, engaging with various industry groups and often with affected residents who are in distress, in as sensitive and proportionate a way as possible. I know the Committee express their appreciation for all that work as well.

I hope, as we move into the next phase of this very important journey and this enormous reform to the system, we can continue with not only that very forensic work that officials have done to put us in this position, but the collegiate and co-operative political atmosphere. As I say, this is a situation that, unfortunately, has arisen over a number of decades, under Governments of all colours, and it behoves us all as a political class to put it right.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will be brief; my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has put her jacket on, so I know it is time. I thank the officials who have helped me to find my way through this, not least when the House adjourned at 5.30 pm on Monday instead of 10.30 pm as normal, since that was the deadline by which we had to table amendments. There was a particular pickle at that moment, but the officials were incredibly helpful. Thank you, Sir Gary, for your chairmanship.

I will finish by saying again that we welcome this piece of legislation. We wish things had gone a lot further and faster. There is a lot more to be done, and we are very hungry to see it done and happy to help the Government in any way we can to get it done. We all keep top of mind the people who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire. That is what we are here for, and we must therefore act as quickly and as well as we can.

Fire Safety Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Report stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Monday 7th September 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 7 September 2020 - (7 Sep 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you for calling me to speak on this matter, Madam Deputy Speaker. There is a little more frightening than a raging fire, as it is then that we truly understand the little we are able to do in our human state. We are so thankful for those in the fire service, who use their expertise and training, yet, ultimately, lay their lives on the line every time they answer the call. Others have said it, but I want to put on record my thanks to them for all they do and have done.

The Grenfell tragedy had repercussions for all of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so although it happened on the mainland, and although this legislation is for England and Wales, I wanted to make a brief contribution to ask that the lessons learned are shared with Northern Ireland. When the Grenfell tragedy took place, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the bodies with responsibility for this area right away checked all their high-rise flats to see whether the danger that there was on the mainland was or was not apparent in Northern Ireland. Some steps were taken right away. I know it is a devolved matter, but I wish to mention something at the end that the Minister might take on board, and it relates to what we have learned in Northern Ireland.

This Bill is a devolved matter for Northern Ireland, so my comments will be brief. It is clear that the improvements in this Bill to create greater fire safety must be considered UK-wide. My colleagues in the Northern Ireland Assembly have taken seriously the lessons that we have learned from the absolute tragedy at Grenfell. I take this opportunity once again to remind all the families involved that our thoughts remain with them as they try to rebuild their lives. I do not think there is anybody anywhere in the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or further afield who was not touched by what happened, as we watched the tragedy unfold.

I echo other hon. Members’ comments about the danger of electric goods, and in particular about the need to have them checked so that they meet the standards that we have in the United Kingdom, which are some of the highest in the world. The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), who represents that great city of Southend, has been an excellent, outstanding spokesperson on this matter, along with our former colleague and friend, Jim Fitzpatrick. I remember him fondly; he, I and the hon. Member for Southend West shared many debates in that other great place, Westminster Hall, on electrical safety and other things. We had some very good and enjoyable times. One thing that was outlined was the opportunity for people to buy online goods that may not meet the standards. I am sure the Minister will say how the Government are addressing those issues for online purchases, which I believe need to be checked.

I welcome the remediation programme, supported by £1.6 billion of Government funding, to remove unsafe cladding from high-rise residential buildings, and the commitment of £20 million of funding to enable fire and rescue services to review or inspect all high-rise multi-occupied residential buildings by the end of 2021, but it is clear that more needs to be done. Right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House have said that, and hopefully the Minister will be able to say what other steps the Government are looking at to try to make improvements.

I do not want to be alarmist, but the Northern Ireland Assembly’s inquiries into safety standards raised not just the issue of cladding—the Northern Ireland Housing Executive carried out those risk assessments, because cladding is its responsibility—but concerns about reports that 63% of Northern Ireland Housing Executive wall cavity insulation may be defective. There was some concern that the cavity wall insulation could in some way lead to worse fires and could be a conduit, allowing fires to go through buildings. I do not expect an answer from the Minister today if he has not got one, but I know that he always follows up, and we thank him for that, so perhaps that could be looked at. We are awaiting more information, but that raises a pertinent issue. I believe that it must be absolutely clear in any legislation that it is the building owner’s responsibility to make safe not simply the outside of the walls but the inner cavities. I would appreciate it if the Minister could clarify how that is legislated for in this Bill.

Has the Minister had any discussions with other regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland about a UK-wide approach to this issue? I often say in this House that lessons learned in England and Wales can and must be shared with the devolved Administrations—the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. This debate is not about that, but none the less it is important that we share things. We can learn from each other in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. If things are learned in Northern Ireland, they should be shared with the rest of the United Kingdom. If they are learned in England and Wales, they should be shared with us in Northern Ireland, and with Scotland. An improvement can be made UK-wide so that all the people of this great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can benefit.

James Brokenshire Portrait The Minister for Security (James Brokenshire)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a privilege to respond to this debate. It is the first time I have had the chance to speak physically in this Chamber since March, so it is a great pleasure to be here tonight to respond to what has been a passionate, well-informed and very serious debate on issues that touch on concerns that we share across this Chamber. Like others, I very much underline our recognition of the context of the Bill: the Grenfell Tower fire and the need to ensure that people feel safe and are safe in their homes. I pay tribute to the community of Grenfell—Grenfell United and more broadly—on their determination to seek justice and change, and I recognise the responsibilities we hold to them in following through on that.

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Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In Grenfell Tower, there will have been secure tenants,

leaseholders and private tenants. Why should regulations apply to some of those groups and not others just on the basis of tenure?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was coming on to precisely that point. In her review, Dame Judith Hackitt recognised that residents themselves have a role to play and recommended clearer rights and obligations for residents to maintain the fire safety of individual dwellings, working in partnership with the duty holder. There are provisions on this within the draft Building Safety Bill, published in July, setting out a clear duty.

A number of different measures are in place, but I take the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West made very seriously. The Government are committed to ensuring that the electrical products that people buy are safe. I recognise the concerns, and we will look across Government at whether there are any gaps in the current regime and proposals to strengthen accountability in this area. I give that assurance to my hon. Friend to work with him. I would like to pay tribute, as he did, to Electrical Safety First for its important work in this arena. I hope to work with my hon. Friend and colleagues across the House to identify gaps, and if there are still gaps, we, like so many Members, want to see those filled effectively. With that assurance, I hope my hon. Friend will be willing to withdraw his amendment.

I turn to the new clauses, which were tabled in Committee, as the hon. Member for Croydon Central highlighted. On new clause 2, I agree that there is a clear need for reform in relation to fire risk assessors, to improve capacity and competency standards. That includes the role for the industry-led competency steering group under the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s building safety programme and its sub working group on fire risk assessors. That group is looking at ways to increase competence and capacity in the sector. The competency steering group will publish a final report shortly, including proposals in relation to creating a register of fire risk assessors, third party accreditation and a competence framework for fire risk assessors. The Government will give detailed consideration to the report’s recommendations.

The Government are also working with the National Fire Chiefs Council, the fire risk assessor sector and the wider fire sector to take forward plans for addressing both the short-term and long-term capability and capacity issues within the sector. The fire safety consultation will also bring forward proposals on issues relating to competence. Members are understandably keen for this work to be brought forward, but it is vital that we get this right and that the Government listen to the advice in order to frame this effectively and appropriately. Once the fire safety consultation responses have been considered—as I said, it closes on 12 October—the Government will be able to determine the most appropriate route to implement changes.

New clause 3 seeks to impose a new duty on inspectors to prioritise their inspections of multi-occupied residential buildings by risk. I would like to underline some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime and Policing in Committee. As he said, the Government’s position is that adequate and established arrangements are in place to ensure that enforcement authorities target their resources appropriately and are accountable for their decisions without the need to make it a statutory requirement. The fire and rescue national framework for England requires fire and rescue authorities to have a locally determined risk-based inspection programme in place for enforcing compliance with the fire safety order. The framework sets out the expectation that fire and rescue authorities will target their resources on those individuals or households who are at greater risk from fire in the home and on those non-domestic premises where the life safety risk is greatest. The national framework for Wales includes similar provisions.

In parallel, the regulators’ code states that all regulators should base their regulatory activities on risk, take an evidence-based approach to determine the priority risks in their area of responsibility and allocate resources where they would be most effective in addressing those priority risks. The building risk review programme, which will see all high-rise residential buildings reviewed or inspected by fire and rescue authorities by the end of 2021, is a key part of this.

The programme will enable building fire risk to be reviewed and data to be collected to ensure that local resources are targeted at the buildings most at risk. The Government have provided £10 million of funding to support that work, not only to facilitate the review of all buildings, but to strengthen the National Fire Chiefs Council’s central strategic function to drive improvements in fire protection. That is in addition to a further £10 million grant to bolster fire protection capacity and capability within local fire and rescue services. The allocation of funding is based on the proportion of higher-risk buildings, further demonstrating the need to target resources at risk. I remind the House that we have also established the task and finish group that will be responsible for providing a recommendation on how the Bill should be commenced before the end of this month—obviously I have commented on that work and how the group is expected to report.

--- Later in debate ---
20:22

Division 86

Ayes: 188


Labour: 171
Liberal Democrat: 9
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 1
Independent: 1
Alliance: 1
Democratic Unionist Party: 1

Noes: 318


Conservative: 317
Independent: 1

--- Later in debate ---
James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Grenfell Tower fire was a national tragedy that shook confidence in the building safety system to the core. As a Government, we remain fully committed to fixing that system, to reforming fire and building safety and to ensuring that the events of 14 June 2017 are never repeated. People have a right to be safe and feel safe in their homes.

On the day of publication of the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s phase 1 report, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister accepted in principle all 12 recommendations that were addressed to the Government directly, 11 of which will require implementation in law. The Fire Safety Bill, which will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005—the fire safety order— is an important first step towards enacting these recommendations.

In that context, I thank the Minister for Crime and Policing, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), who led the Bill in Committee on 25 June, all the Members who served on that Committee and applied scrutiny to the Bill, and indeed all right hon. and hon. Members who participated in the debate earlier today.

As Members are aware, this is a short and technical Bill to clarify that the scope of the fire safety order applies to the structure, external walls and flat entrance doors of multi-occupied residential buildings. This provides a firm foundation to implement the Grenfell Tower phase 1 legislative recommendations that focus primarily on inspection of high-rise residential buildings by building owners and managers and information sharing with fire and rescue services.

I want to take a moment to underline that this is part of a bigger picture. The Government have published the draft Building Safety Bill, which will shortly be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. The Building Safety Bill takes forward the recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of building regulations and fire safety, and will put in place new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products, and ensure that residents have a stronger voice in the system. Alongside the Building Safety Bill, the Government published a fire safety consultation, which includes proposals to strengthen the fire safety order, improve compliance with the order, implement the Grenfell Tower phase one recommendations, and progress arrangements for consultation between building control bodies and fire and rescue authorities in relation to building work.

Our programme of work is not limited to legislation and includes having established a remediation programme, supported by £1.6 billion of Government funding, to remove unsafe cladding from high-rise residential buildings. For those who register for the fund, they are now able to submit their funding applications. We are also undertaking, in conjunction with the fire service, a building risk review programme for all high-rise residential buildings in England by December 2021, supported by £10 million of new funding.

The Building Safety Bill is a very detailed piece of legislation that aims to create significant changes to improve building and fire safety. Moreover, our fire safety consultation contains proposals to strengthen a number of areas of the fire safety order. Together, the Fire Safety Bill, the draft Building Safety Bill and the fire safety consultation will create fundamental improvements to building safety standards and ensure that residents are safe and feel safe in their homes.

During the passage of the Fire Safety Bill, we have had good and robust debates in this House which have benefited the Bill in airing and showing the issues that are at stake. Hon. and right hon. Members have underlined why this matters to their constituents, why this matters for safety and why this matters for people feeling confident in their homes. That is a message and an objective that the Government absolutely will follow through on. It is why we believe the Bill is important in setting good and solid foundations upon which we can now proceed. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

Fire Safety Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 1st October 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 7 September 2020 - (7 Sep 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am very pleased to bring this Bill before the House today for its Second Reading. While short, it introduces important measures designed to keep people safe from the risk of fire.

None of us will ever forget the tragic events at Grenfell Tower in the early morning of 14 June, nor will we forget the 72 people who lost their lives in the most appalling circumstances. Our thoughts today are very much with the victims’ families, the survivors and fellow residents, who have had to rebuild their lives over the past three and a half years. Yesterday evening I was privileged to visit the Grenfell Tower site and tour the Lancaster West Estate at the invitation of the Lancaster West Residents’ Association. I thank its members for a constructive meeting thereafter.

A full independent inquiry was established in the aftermath of the fire, which is being led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to understand what happened and make recommendations to ensure it can never happen again. The Government also commissioned an independent review of building regulations and safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt. Her findings have underpinned our unprecedented programme of building and fire safety reform.

We are resolute in our commitment to delivering change, and significant steps have already been taken to address building safety and fire safety risks. The Bill is just one part of that wider programme. There is considerable experience across the House and, as we take forward the Bill, we will be listening, as well as working with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue.

Before I go further, I take the opportunity to thank our fire and rescue services for their incredible response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Across the nation, around 4,000 firefighters and staff are now helping in the broader Covid-19 efforts. The National Fire Chiefs Council very quickly agreed a framework with unions and employers for firefighters to support the vulnerable and their emergency service partners. This has enabled firefighters to provide support to the NHS and ambulance trusts, the most vulnerable people, and coroners: at one stage, 300 firefighters were helping ambulance services in London alone. As the Minister with responsibility for fire, I am incredibly proud of the way they have responded to the crisis.

As soon as possible after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Government started working with relevant authorities and building owners to identify the risk and prevalence of buildings with unsafe aluminium composite material cladding and set up a comprehensive programme to remediate buildings of 18 metres and above with unsafe ACM.

We have since taken many other steps. These include setting up an independent expert panel on building safety, chaired by Sir Ken Knight, a former London Fire Commissioner and Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, to provide advice to government and building owners, and making £600 million available to social and private sector landlords to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe ACM cladding on residential buildings over 18 metres. Progress by building owners has been far too slow. However, as of 31 August 2020, of the 458 high- rise residential buildings identified as having unsafe ACM cladding, 74% of them have either started or completed works to remove it.

My right honourable friend the Chancellor announced in this year’s Budget that the Government are providing a further £1 billion to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems for both the social and private residential sectors on buildings of 18 metres and above. Those who registered for the £1 billion fund are now able to submit their funding applications.

Every single person in this country, no matter where they live, has the right to feel safe in their own home. Alongside the risk it posed, ACM cladding placed an enormous psychological and emotional burden on residents of high-rise buildings, each wondering whether their home would be next. It is right that we act to remove this danger.

In addition to the removal of ACM cladding, the Home Office has also provided £30 million of additional funding for fire and rescue services. Some £20 million of this is to allow them to increase their capacity and capability, while £10 million has been allocated specifically to the National Fire Chiefs Council—to strengthen its protection activity—and to the building risk review programme, which will ensure that all high-rise residential buildings in England are inspected or reviewed by December 2021. A further £10 million has been made available via a protection uplift fund so that fire and rescue services can increase their focus on other high-risk categories of buildings, and £10 million has been provided to build the NFCC’s central capability and ensure that it can implement the lessons from the Grenfell tragedy in local services contained in the phase 1 inquiry.

The Queen’s Speech committed the Government to bringing forward two Bills on fire and building safety. The first is this short, technical Fire Safety Bill, which will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The second, the building safety Bill, will later be led by me in this House, and was published in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny on 20 July. The draft building safety Bill proposes to put in place an enhanced safety framework for high-rise residential buildings, taking forward the recommendations from Dame Judith’s review. It will bring about a fundamental change in both the regulatory framework and industry culture, creating a more accountable system.

The proposed Bill will put in place an enhanced safety framework for higher-risk buildings, taking forward the recommendations from Dame Judith’s review. This framework will include a new regulator, clearer accountability and duties for duty holders. The Bill will also ensure that the residents of high-rise buildings have a stronger voice, alongside giving them better access to safety information about their building, clarifying their rights and providing recourse to raise safety concerns directly to the building safety regulator. The pre-legislative scrutiny for that Bill is currently under way. I am determined that we will bring forward as soon as possible after that process concludes a Bill that reflects views and expertise from across this House and expert advice from beyond.

At present, there are differing interpretations of the existing fire safety order on whether the external walls and, to a lesser extent, the individual flat entrance doors fall within the scope of the order. This ambiguity is leading to inconsistency in operational practice. This is unhelpful at best; at worst, it means that the full identification and management of fire safety risks is compromised, which could put the lives of residents at risk.

This Fire Safety Bill clarifies that the fire safety order does apply to the structure, external walls—including cladding and balconies—and individual flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings. This clarification will also ensure that fire and rescue services can confidently take enforcement action and hold building owners or managers to account if they are not compliant with their duties under the FSO. Clarifying the scope of the fire safety order through this Bill will also pave the way for the Government to bring forward subsequent secondary legislation to deliver on the Grenfell recommendations. I will return to this later.

I wish to clarify a couple of detailed points about Clause 1 before I explain Clauses 2 and 3. First, Members in the other place and industry representatives have raised as an issue the express inclusion of “structure” in the Bill. The concern is that this term will mean that structural assessments should more routinely be carried out as part of fire-risk assessments. I assure noble Lords that that is not the case. The intention, as set out in guidance, is that this should be a visual inspection of the construction and layout of the building on the basis that it will have been built to resist early structural collapse in the event of a fire.

As such, although dependent on the circumstances in any particular case, intrusive surveys of buildings are likely to be required rarely and only on the basis that the fire risk assessor has serious concerns about the risks that the structure of the building could pose. Otherwise, non-intrusive surveys should normally be carried out. This will be set out in a fact sheet that we will publish and will be reflected in the industry-recognised guidance.

Secondly, some fire and rescue services have also asked for clarification on what is meant by “common parts” in the Fire Safety Bill. The fire safety order applies to all premises and to all parts of premises unless they are expressly excluded by Article 6. One such exclusion is for “domestic premises”, for which the definition includes parts of the domestic premises that are

“not used in common by the occupants of more than one such dwelling”.

This has led to some confusion about which parts of the overall building are covered by the order. I can clarify that walls and structure are expressly within the scope of the FSO, and that “common parts” applies whether they are “used” by residents or not. An example of a common part that could be routinely used by residents might be a communal area that is immediately outside flat entrance doors. An example of a common part not frequently accessed by residents could be a boiler room.

Clause 2 provides the Secretary of State with a regulation-making power to amend or clarify the premises that fall within the scope of the fire safety order. Through this, we will be able to respond quickly to any further developments in the design and construction of buildings and our understanding of the combustibility/fire risk of construction products.

The territorial extent of the Bill is set out in Clause 3. The fire safety order extends and applies to England and Wales. The order, and therefore the Bill, relates to matters within the legislative competence of the Senedd Cymru, or Welsh Assembly. This matter will be put before the Welsh Assembly for a legislative consent Motion in relation to these provisions on 6 October.

Finally, the Bill will provide a power to commence the provisions of the Bill on “different days for different purposes”. This acknowledges the operational implications of this Bill, in particular the potentially significant number of responsible persons who will need to review and update their fire risk assessments. For many, that will require specialist knowledge and expertise from competent professionals who can advise on the fire safety risks for external wall systems.

In recognising these operational implications, the Home Office established a task and finish group, which is chaired jointly by the Fire Sector Federation and the National Fire Chiefs Council. It includes representatives from local authorities, private sector housing developers, the fire sector and fire and rescue services. We are currently considering their advice, which we received earlier this week, and I intend to set out the Government’s position on how they will commence the Fire Safety Bill to this House in Committee.

As I just mentioned, we recognise that there are capacity issues relating to fire risk assessors and concerns around competence. It will be helpful to touch on the measures that we are taking to address them. Significant work has been undertaken within the MHCLG-led building safety programme by the industry-led competency steering group—in particular, its sub-working groups on fire risk assessors and fire engineers—to look at ways to increase competence and capacity in the industry, which proposes recommendations in relation to third-party accreditation and a competence framework for fire- risk assessors. The final report from the CSG will be published next week, and MHCLG, the HSE and the Home Office will consider the recommendations of the report in detail.

It is extremely welcome that there is a shared commitment across all parties to implement the recommendations of the inquiry and legislate where necessary. That commitment bears repeating: we will honour the memory of those who died in that appalling fire and implement the Grenfell inquiry recommendations in full.

On 20 July, the Government launched a consultation that included proposals to implement the recommendations and further strengthen the fire safety order. The consultation closes on 12 October 2020.

It is important to deliver the Fire Safety Bill first, then subsequently the secondary legislation taking forward the outcomes of the fire safety consultation. This is a matter of sequencing to ensure that we consult the relevant parties appropriately on the measures we propose, which in a number of areas go further than the inquiry’s recommendations. It will mean that the legislation will be informed and properly enacted. It is in everyone’s interest that we get this right. The Government will bring forward the necessary secondary legislation as early as practicable following commencement of the Fire Safety Bill.

Nothing can bring back those who lost their lives in the Grenfell tragedy. Nothing can undo the errors that led to their deaths. Yet, if anything is to come from this disaster, let it be the lessons we have learned from those errors and our solemn determination to ensure that they can never happen again.

I spoke earlier of how proud I was in taking this Bill forward. Legislation alone can never have all the answers, but this, the first Bill since the Grenfell fire, will, I believe, make a significant contribution to protecting residents in multi-occupancy buildings from the dangers of fire. I commend it to the House and I beg to move.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank everyone across the Chamber for contributing so constructively to this Second Reading debate. There have been a number of powerful contributions, but it is clear that all noble Lords who have spoken today have rightly focused on the safety of residents. Ultimately, what matters is saving lives from the terrible impact of fire. I will address many of the points raised, although time will likely preclude me from providing a substantive response to all of the questions raised by noble Lords. Prior to that I will make a few comments.

As Members know, I have only relatively recently started in this post, but it underlines the importance that the Government place on building and fire safety that we now have a Minister working across two departments with the aim of driving forward these important reforms. I commit today that the package of reforms that has been mentioned will be driven at the fastest possible pace.

There have been a number of criticisms today about the lack of action from the Government since the Grenfell fire. I have outlined in the all-Peers letter and in my opening speech the measures the Government have undertaken, which have been supported by an unprecedented level of funding that has been made available, not just to support remediation of cladding but to improve the fire safety capability of fire and rescue services.

We are driving forward a once-in-a-generation change. The Bill is the first legislative step in this process and, as noble Lords can already see, we are committed to delivering the Grenfell recommendations through regulations following on from the fire safety consultation. As I have said before, the building safety Bill, which is currently subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, will deliver extensive and much-needed building safety reforms.

I extend my personal and sincerest welcome to my noble friend Lord Herbert of South Downs and offer my congratulations on his fine maiden speech. He brings formidable intellect and a first-class record of delivery as a Minister. I look forward to his contributions and to working with him in future. He was very eloquent about the social injustice involved in the Grenfell fire tragedy.

My noble friend Lord Kirkhope asked how individuals or businesses can determine whether they are a responsible person under the fire safety order. The order clearly sets out who is a responsible person, and their duties. To make it easier for individuals to confirm whether they are a responsible person, we are looking at ensuring that easy-to-understand guidance is available to aid self-identification.

I thank my noble friend Lady Sanderson for highlighting the importance of implementing the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 recommendations in full. We have made that commitment, as I said in the all-Peers letter. We have a statutory duty to consult on the proposals to deliver these recommendations, and the responses to this will help us get the legislation right. I reassure all noble Lords that this Government are and have always been committed to implementing, where appropriate, legislation for the inquiry’s recommendations, as was set out in our manifesto.

The noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, asked whether HMOs are in scope. They are clearly in scope, except for the domestic premises within that. The noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Whitty, also raised the issue of scope. This is for all multi-occupied residential buildings, not just buildings over 18 metres, which is a difference from the building safety Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, also asked about impact assessments. An impact assessment has been carried out for both this Bill and the fire safety order consultation. I can direct her to that if necessary.

My noble friend Lord Bourne wanted some statistics, and I am happy to give him some. So far, 50% of the 458 buildings have completed remediation or removed the unsafe ACM cladding.

My noble friends Lady Sanderson and Lord Bourne, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, all raised the need to get the package of reforms right. I will provide information on the implementation of the fire safety consultation and the building safety Bill as far as I can, because that package of measures—together with the creation of a new regulator, which already exists in shadow form in the Health and Safety Executive—is how we will coherently reform the system needed to ensure we never see this tragedy happen again.

I reassure my noble friend Lady Sanderson that we are committed to delivering the reform and bringing the legislation forward to underpin this. The fire safety consultation, as she mentioned, will close on 12 October. Following on from this, we aim to publish a response in early 2021. Where these proposals require legislative changes, the intention is to deliver those through regulations in spring 2021 where appropriate, and, where amendment to the fire safety order is required, through primary legislation in the draft building safety Bill. That Bill is currently subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, which should conclude by the end of the year. We will look to finalise it for introduction to Parliament as soon as practical.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, raised the subject of access to information for residents. This is covered in our proposals in the fire safety order consultation: responsible persons have to provide comprehensive information to residents, including sharing fire risk assessments with new responsible persons. There is always a golden thread of continuity in providing that information.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, wanted information on the timing for the commencement of the Fire Safety Bill. Recognising the operational implications that the Bill could have, we have established a task and finish group made up of operational experts in fire safety. Its role is to advise the Government on the most optimal way of commencing the Bill. The Home Office received the group’s advice earlier this week. Its broad recommendation is to implement the Bill’s provision all at once and to take a risk-based approach to do that. We are considering a number of more detailed policy and operational issues; I intend to set this out in more detail in Committee.

The noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Shipley, my noble friend Lady Eaton and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, all mentioned the burden that could fall on leaseholders in many cases. We recognise this issue and are working on measures to address these concerns as part of the process of finalising the building safety Bill as it passes through the other place and this House.

The noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, asked what funding had been provided to support the fire and building safety reforms. I mentioned in my opening speech that £30 million of additional funding will be provided to fire and rescue services and the National Fire Chiefs Council this year in response to the Grenfell Tower fire, and I have gone through the elements of that funding package.

The noble Lords, Lord Whitty, Lord Monks and Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, all mentioned the concerns raised by the Fire Brigades Union on this Bill, particularly on capacity issues and funding. Fire and rescue services have the resources they need to do their important work. It is the responsibility of each fire and rescue authority to assess the risks in its area and determine how best to allocate its resources effectively across all its prevention, protection and response functions to mitigate the risks facing its community. This includes deciding the number of fire safety officers needed to deliver its fire safety enforcement duties under the fire safety order. As I have stated, the Government are investing £30 million of additional funding to help with this approach.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady McDonagh, and the noble Lords, Lord Stunell, Lord Whitty and Lord Shipley, and my noble friend Lord Kirkhope, mentioned issues around shortfalls of fire engineers and fire risk assessors. We are working with the sector to develop a plan and a clear approach. We are also funding the British Standards Institution to develop guidance and work with professional bodies on training.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, on the speed of carrying out these fire risk assessments, I say that we will take a risk-based approach. That is the advice we have received. I also point out to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, that there is no intention to have anything other than properly qualified fire safety officers carrying out the fire risk assessments. Indeed, we are also looking at plans to build the capacity to carry out the assessments needed for high-risk buildings, as we recognise that there is a shortage of fire engineers. There are plans afoot to work with professional bodies to do this.

My noble friends Lord Bourne and Lord Randall, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, raised electrical safety and the importance of thinking about the causes of these fires and how we respond to them once they have occurred. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked what the Government were doing with regard to electrical equipment and appliances. The Office for Product Safety and Standards was created in 2018 to lead and co-ordinate the product safety system, including responding to incidents and recalls. The Government have also provided £12 million a year of additional funding for product safety regulations since 2018.

The new Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 are now in force and will apply to new tenancies from 1 April 2021. These regulations require that electrical installations be inspected and tested by a qualified person at least every five years. Social landlords are expected to comply with the decent home standard by the Regulator of Social Housing. This includes homes being free of hazards, including electrical hazards, as set out under the housing health and safety rating system. In the social housing Green Paper, we asked whether new safety measures in the private rented sector should be extended to the social sector. We are considering responses to the consultation and will bring forward a social housing White Paper soon.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tope: let us work together and see whether there are specific gaps that we can address through appropriate legislation. The building safety Bill may be a vehicle in which to address some of the gaps that we may be able to plug. I look forward to working with him constructively on these matters. We are happy to meet Electrical Safety First at officer level and discuss further our approach.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, mentioned flat entrance doors. Regarding entrance doors to communal areas, under the fire safety order, the occupier of any private domestic premises should co-operate with responsible persons to enable them to carry out their duties, which include assessing the full fire safety risks for flat entrance doors. Our fire safety consultation seeks views on whether the provision under the fire safety order ensures the effective co-operation between the occupier of any domestic premises and the responsible person. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, also raised difficulty of access. Most of the powers in that area come under the Housing Act 2004.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, gave a characteristically positive overview of what is happening in Wales. I make a commitment that we will work with all the devolved Administrations in ensuring that our approach takes in all the best practice that we can learn. I noted her point that a White Paper will be published. However, the context in Wales is different from that in England. There are only 147 high-rise residential buildings in Wales and well over 11,000 in England. The sheer scale and magnitude of the issue is much greater here. However, I make a genuine commitment to her and my noble friend Lord Bourne that we will learn lessons from the Welsh Assembly.

My noble friend Lord Bourne and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, raised the progress of the path to justice and asked about the number of people interviewed under caution in relation to the Grenfell Tower tragedy. I shall have to write to noble Lords on that matter. We all want to see justice done for the 72 people who lost their lives.

I have not been able to respond to all the substantive points raised by noble Lords. Where that is the case, I will make sure that I respond in writing. Noble Lords should feel free to contact me. Although I appreciate that some would wish us to go much further, I welcome the cross-party support for the provisions in the Bill. Where noble Lords wish to go further, in most instances it is not the case that we disagree but that we see it as something we are seeking to address either through the fire safety consultation or the draft building safety Bill, already published.

This Government are steadfast in their determination to see this Bill enacted and implemented as quickly as practicable. I commend it to the House and beg to move.

Bill read a second time.

Fire Safety Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 29th October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 132-I Marshalled list for Committee - (26 Oct 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of the Heart of Medway Housing Association and a non-executive director of mhs homes. Amendment 1, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, with cross-party support, and Amendment 24, also in the name of the noble Lord, seeks to put improvements and protections for people living in high-rise residential buildings in the Bill.

As we have heard in this short debate, electricity causes more than 14,000 fires each year—almost half all accidental house fires. The amendments seek to provide practical protection for residents living in high-rise buildings, which total more than 1 million people. We are all sadly aware of the tragic and sometimes fatal consequences of people caught in fires in their own homes. As we have heard, these amendments would build on the regulations that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, worked so hard to introduce. It took some time for them to come into effect; the noble Lord was always committed to them and I always pushed him to bring them in sooner, but we are grateful to him for this work. I also join him in paying tribute to Electrical Safety First, which is a great charity that highlights the problems we have with electrical fires and how we need to ensure that electricity is made as safe as possible for us all.

These regulations go further and extend the protections in the regulations introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, so that tenants living in high-rise buildings will benefit from mandatory electrical safety checks every five years, with records kept by the responsible person and made available to the fire services, local authorities and, importantly, the residents association if one is in place.

In introducing the amendment, the noble Lord made a powerful point, in that those who live in a high-rise block of flats include social tenants and owner-occupiers, neither of whom need electrical safety tenants, but private tenants would now need checks. If you are not checking the whole building, it is not safe at all. That is an important and powerful point, so I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, addresses it in his response.

Secondly, these amendments would require the responsible person to keep a register of white goods in the high-rise buildings for which they are responsible. I am supportive of these proposals, as we need high standards to keep people safe from the risk of fire started by electrical ignition. We have already mentioned the tragic incidents in recent years—not only Grenfell but Lakanal House and Shepherd’s Court—but equally I accept that there can be issues with getting access to flats and keeping the register of these goods up to date, which can provide a logistical challenge for people. There is also the question of new and second-hand goods.

I entirely accept that the product recall system is not working well. The London Fire Brigade had its Total Recalls campaign, which highlighted the problems with the recall system. We need something better than we have now because, as I said, keeping track of white goods is a huge challenge. Whether we accept these amendments or not, what we have at present cannot continue. We have to do something else.

I hope that, when the Minister responds to the debate, he sets us on that path. I suggest that he facilitates a meeting between Electrical Safety First, his officials and Members of this House who want to discuss how we can find a practical solution to the serious point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. I also suggest that the London Fire Brigade in particular is involved in those discussions because of its campaigning work. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this debate and his delivery of that meeting.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I would say first that we do need to look at the effective Berlin Wall between social housing and private housing, and in mixed sustainable communities where there are different tenures, we need to look at how we can ensure consistency and thus the safety of all residents. I am of course prepared to meet the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, Electrical Safety First and other groups as soon as possible.

I thank my noble friends Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty, for the amendment. This is clearly an important issue. Faulty electrical appliances are often the causes of fires in high-rise residential buildings, a point that has been made clear. However, before turning to the amendment, I would like to explain the work being done across government to improve electrical safety in residential buildings.

As my noble friend Lady Eaton pointed out, in 2018 a new national regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, was created to lead and co-ordinate the product safety system including responding to safety incidents and recalls. The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016 place strict legal obligations on manufacturers to ensure that electrical equipment is safe before it is placed on the market and to ensure that manufacturers monitor products already on the market where appropriate and undertake sample testing of equipment. There are criminal sanctions for those who do not comply. Importantly, the draft building safety Bill proposes an obligation on residents to keep electrical installations and appliances that they are responsible for in their property in working order. There is also a provision for the accountable person for a building to take action where they or a competent person have reasonable grounds for believing that a resident or their landlord is failing to meet this obligation. In addition to this, the Home Office’s “Fire Kills” campaign plays an incredibly important part in promoting electrical fire safety messages, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Bourne.

The new Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 are now in force for new tenancies and will apply to existing tenancies from 1April 2021. These regulations require that electrical installations must be inspected and tested by a qualified and competent person at least every five years, as highlighted by noble Lords, and that an electrical installation condition report be provided to tenants and local housing authorities on request.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, on why mandatory checks apply only to private housing and not to public housing, the situation is that social landlords are expected to comply with the Decent Homes standard from the Regulator of Social Housing. This includes homes being free of hazards, including electrical hazards, as set out under the housing health and safety rating system. In the social housing Green Paper, we asked if new safety measures in the private rented sector should be extended to the social sector, including electrical safety checks. We will bring forward a social housing White Paper soon. I will however take the issue away for further consideration, I have already offered to hold a meeting, and I will provide an update on Report.

My noble friend Lady Couttie raised the practicalities of the implementation of such a system by registered social landlords and local councils with a large amount of council stock. I want to reassure your Lordships that we will continue to work across government to identify any further gaps in the electrical safety regime.

I now want to explain some of my concerns with this amendment. In particular, it does not achieve its intended effect. For example, there is doubt that the amendment would result in electrical appliances in private dwellings being brought within scope of the fire safety order. I suspect that this was not the intention. In any case, my noble friend will be aware that domestic premises are specifically excluded under the fire safety order, so this amendment intends to significantly broaden the scope of the legislation. I am also concerned that it proposes to require occupiers to provide access to the responsible person to enter the private dwellings. This would result in a significant level of intrusion and the implications of this need to be carefully thought through before any decision is made to legislate on the issue.

The proposed new schedule also intends for the responsible person to keep a register of electrical appliances for their building. This proposed duty will have a significant impact on the responsible person. For local authorities, and indeed all responsible persons, I do not want to create this additional burden. It is unrealistic to expect responsible persons to have an up-to-date register of electrical appliances for their building. This will also have a significant impact on fire and rescue services, who will need to check whether the electrical appliances register is accurate, which could involve inspecting all homes in a block of flats.

Given the assurances that I have provided, coupled with my commitment to provide an update on the next steps with regard to the social housing White Paper, along with my commitment to the meeting requested by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, I would ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

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I look forward to the Minister’s response to these amendments, as they both raise important issues which the Government must address.
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for their amendment on the consultation required when introducing any changes to premises to which the fire safety order applies. I agree that it is important that we get the implementation right when introducing any changes to the types of premises falling within the scope of the order. It is sensible that we make sure that there is capacity to assess any new premises type, and that the cost of any changes is identified before using the provision to introduce this.

The importance of costs was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. Of the additional £30 million funding for fire and rescue services to implement the findings of the Grenfell inquiry, £20 million goes towards fire protection. We will look very carefully at the recommendations of the competence steering group on the level of competence required by fire safety officers to carry out fire risk assessments. However, I will also write to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, on this matter, before Report. There will be an opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of these matters as part of the passage of the secondary legislation that would be required to effect any changes to premises types within the scope of the order.

I agree with the principle of consulting relevant persons before enacting any changes or clarifications to the order in respect of the premises that it applies to. Clause 2 of the Fire Safety Bill provides a broad requirement to consult with appropriate persons. I agree about the importance of consulting with many of the organisations that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, has pointed out. It is important that we consult broadly with local authorities and trade unions, the National Housing Federation, representing social landlords, the NRLA, and the ORPM, which represents managing agents. The noble Lord raises an interesting point, and I accept that he is seeking reassurance on that wide-ranging consultation. We will take it on board as we move to Report.

As it stands, the wording of Clause 2(5) contains a broad consultation requirement. This will include the stakeholders that both I and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned, and others that are deemed appropriate. The specified list in the amendment identifies certain groups whose identities, or the way in which they are formally referred to, could change over time. This would risk rendering the legislation out of date, creating a need for future primary legislative changes. The current approach in the Bill is future-proof and will ensure that relevant groups are not omitted. If the need arises to use this clause, we will consider who is appropriate and whether a full public consultation would be the most suitable approach to make sure all interested and potentially affected groups have the opportunity to comment. We just need to find the right legislative way to ensure the objectives of noble Lords. With that, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Stunell.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, pointed to some potential deficiencies in our Amendment 17. Nevertheless, the basic issue is right. We cannot expect leaseholders to bear the enormous costs of remediation work, which is from no fault of their own; they did the right checks before they purchased, a mortgage was granted to them on that basis, and now they find themselves, potentially, in a bankruptcy situation. That cannot be right. There have been excellent contributions to this debate and many questions asked; I trust that the Minister will be able to answer them.
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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First, I draw attention to my commercial and residential property interests as set out in the register. I should have done that some time ago, so I apologise to noble Lords.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his amendment on the duties of an owner. However, before turning to the points made, I want to put a few comments on the record. The Grenfell Tower fire was a national tragedy. For nearly six years, I was the leader of the neighbouring borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, so I was affected personally by it. In fact, our town hall served to help people in the community and give them shelter on the night of that event. I point out that it was the greatest loss of life in a residential fire since the Second World War. From the outset, I want to make it clear to this House, as I did in my all-Peers letter, that the Government are, and have always been, committed to implementing and, where appropriate, legislating for the inquiry’s recommendations. An unequivocal commitment to doing that was set out in our manifesto.

In some areas, we are going further than the inquiry’s recommendations, for instance on the information about cladding, building plans, lift checks and smoke control systems. In other areas, we are seeking to implement the recommendations in the most proportionate, pragmatic and effective way. The vote in the other place in no way signals that this Government have altered this commitment in any way. I will set out our approach on this issue.

It is right that we consult before we act with legislation on the Grenfell recommendations. This is not just because we have a statutory duty to do so. It reflects Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s own view on the need to ensure broad support for his recommendations and an understanding of the practical issues associated with implementing them. In his report, Sir Martin noted that it was important that his recommendations

“command the support of those who have experience of the matters to which they relate.”

Our 12-week consultation did just that. It gave all those affected—residents, responsible persons, including building owners and managers, the fire sector and enforcing authorities—the opportunity to make their voices heard. I am pleased to say that they responded, with more than 250 responses received.

This amendment is not necessary and will not speed up the legislative process; it would simply require us to make regulations on the specified areas in the amendment relating to the sharing of information, flat entrance doors, lifts and personal and emergency evacuation plans. We already plan to lay regulations on these areas; we do not need further primary legislation to do that. Subject to the outcomes of the consultation, we intend, where possible, to use secondary legislation under Article 24 of the fire safety order to implement the recommendations. Our intention is to introduce these regulations as soon as possible after the Bill has commenced.

I hope that this explanation of the Government’s plan to implement the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s phase 1 report has gone some way to satisfying honourable Members in the other place and noble Lords. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.

On the other amendments in this group, I agree there is a clear need for reform in relation to fire risk assessors. Other amendments focus more on capacity issues, whereas these rightly shine a light on competence. As was set out in the other place, a lot of work is already in hand, and industry has largely been leading the way. The industry-led Competence Steering Group is looking at ways to increase competence and capacity in the sector. I am very pleased that the group recently published its final report, which includes proposals on creating a register of fire risk assessors, third-party accreditation and a competence framework for fire risk assessors. The Government are carefully considering the detail of this report and its recommendations.

The Government are also working with the National Fire Chiefs Council and the wider fire sector to take forward plans for addressing both the short-term and long-term capability issues within the sector.

I want to share the Government’s views on this amendment. First, it is important we establish a basic principle of competence so that everyone carrying out an assessment should be appropriately qualified. This is regardless of whether they are a fire risk assessor or other fire safety professional, such as an engineer. We put forward a proposal on this in the fire safety consultation, which closed on 12 October. Considering the merits of accreditation will be a more detailed process. For example, assessing external wall systems with cladding will sometimes require significantly greater expertise than is likely to be that of a specialist fire engineer. It is our view that we should implement a competence requirement first and then look at the best way to increase professionalism across the sector.

Secondly, this amendment, understandably, would have the effect of applying an accreditation requirement to individuals undertaking fire risk assessments only in buildings with

“two or more sets of domestic premises”—

for example, in multi-occupied residential buildings. It would not cover all other premises within scope of the fire safety order, including, for example, care homes and hospitals. The risk is that if this amendment is passed, it will create a two-tier system whereby such premises would require an assessment from an accredited fire risk assessor but all other premises covered under the fire safety order would not. This would mean we would have to legislate further to ensure parity. I do not believe that that was the noble Lord’s intention in tabling this amendment. I can assure the House that work is already in hand to address competency issues, and we will take forward our proposal in the consultation to strengthen the competence requirements within the fire safety order.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for raising the important issue of prioritising enforcement action in respect of the risk of buildings and targeting of resources, which I also covered earlier in the debate on amendments relating to commencement. The task and finish group has told us to start in one go and then use a risk-based system, so I hope that will reassure the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I note that this amendment was raised in the other place; our position on this, which I will set out in a moment, remains unchanged.

The amendment is unnecessary in the context of established operational practice, which ensures that enforcement authorities target their resources appropriately and according to risk. The fire and rescue national framework for England requires fire and rescue authorities to have

“a locally determined risk-based inspection programme in place for enforcing compliance with the”

fire safety order. The framework also sets out the expectation that fire and rescue authorities will target their resources on individuals or households who are at greatest risk from fire in the home and on non-domestic premises where the life safety risk is greatest. The national framework for Wales includes similar provisions.

Enforcers are obliged to have regard to similar requirements in the Regulators’ Code, which states that all regulators should base their regulatory activities on risk and use an evidence-based approach when determining the priority risks in their area of responsibility. In addition, the building risk review programme, which will see all high-rise residential buildings reviewed or inspected by fire and rescue authorities by the end of 2021, is a key part of this work. The programme will enable building fire risks to be reviewed and data to be collected to ensure that local resources are targeted at buildings most at risk.

The Government have provided £10 million in funding to support fire and rescue services to deliver the Government’s commitment to review all high-rise residential buildings over 18 metres—or six floors and above—by the end of December 2021. This funding will also strengthen the NFCC’s central strategic function to drive improvements in fire protection and is in addition to a further £10 million grant to bolster fire protection capacity and capability within local fire and rescue services.

I reiterate that we are aware of the capacity issues. Our approach to commencement has been informed, as I said, by the recommendations of the task and finish group, co-chaired by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Fire Sector Federation, which brought together fire safety experts, building managers and representatives of the wider fire sector, who considered capacity and risk in the context of commencement of the Bill.

I have set out the Government’s position on this issue and why we consider this amendment unnecessary. For the reasons set out above, I ask that the amendments in this group not be pressed.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for raising the issue of waking watches, which has a profound impact on the lives of many people. The amendment places a duty on the relevant authority to specify whether a waking watch is necessary in event of “fire safety failings”. It is unclear how this would work or what it would mean. One interpretation is that the relevant authority would have to try to specify a list in regulations of all the potential circumstances where there had been a fire safety failing and then establish whether each of those individual failings would require a waking watch to be put in place.

Such a duty on the relevant authority would be disproportionate and onerous without necessarily being effective. It would largely remove or reduce the ability of a responsible person to consider the specific circumstances of the premises and other fire protection measures in place, all of which can vary considerably from building to building. The other risk of this wording is that such a list could be prescriptive. What if there are specific individual circumstances, or a combination of various failings, that do not fall within the list? The common-sense view may be that a waking watch should be put in place but such a decision could be inhibited by legislation. Restricting the responsible person’s discretion to assess exactly what is required in each situation would not be right. A decision on the use of waking watch should be taken on the basis of the individual circumstances of each case.

I can provide reassurance that we are taking forward work on waking watches in conjunction with the National Fire Chiefs Council, which I will briefly outline. The National Fire Chiefs Council revised its guidance relating to waking watches, a copy of which I have here, on 1 October. It now provides very clear advice which supports the fire and rescue services and its implementation on the ground by the responsible persons. The updated guidance now advises responsible persons to explore cost-benefit options with leaseholders and residents. It also encourages the installation of common fire alarm systems, which means reducing the dependency on waking watch wherever possible. The guidance also emphasises that residents can carry out waking watch activities when fully trained, if necessary. However, we assume that in many cases a common fire alarm system will suffice.

On 16 October, we published data on the costs of waking watches which provides transparency on the range of costs, allowing comparisons to be clearly made. It also highlights the importance of identifying at what point waking watch costs exceed the cost of an alarm system, in an attempt to help reduce interim costs for leaseholders and residents. The calculations show that having a common alarm system pays back within seven weeks, compared with paying for the average cost of a waking watch.

Our aim must ultimately be to reduce the need for waking watches and the costs that they bring. A key plank of this is to progress remediation. It is the pace of remediation that matters, and despite having a global pandemic, I am pleased that, with the help of the mayors of our city regions and local authorities, we have seen the pace of remediation increase in removing the most dangerous type of cladding—aluminium composite material. The projection is that over 90% of buildings will be on site or will have remediated the cladding in question, which is great progress, with over 100 starts over the course of this year so far. As a Minister with joint responsibility for fire and building safety, obviously, I attach the highest priority to ensuring that all buildings with unsafe cladding are remediated.

On Amendments 15 and 16, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for raising important issues regarding establishing public registers of fire risk assessments and fire risk assessors. I will address fire risk assessments first. The fire safety order sets a self-compliance regime. There is currently no requirement for responsible persons to record their completed fire risk assessments, save for limited provision in respect of employers. If they fall within that category, they are required to record the significant findings of the assessment and any group of persons identified by the assessment as being especially at risk.

The creation of a fire risk assessment register will place upon responsible persons a new level of regulation that could be seen as going against the core principles of the order, notably its self-regulatory and non-prescriptive approach. There is also the question of ownership, maintenance and where the cost of a register such as this would lie. A delicate balance needs to be struck. There are improvements to be made here but we need to ensure that they are proportionate.

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, I do not disagree that the amendment should be withdrawn. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, my noble friend Lady Eaton and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, have drawn attention to the problem that I raised earlier about leaseholders caught by the Government’s Grenfell-related changes being unable to afford repairs or waking watches and/or unable to sell their properties. In some cases, the leaseholders are joint owners, as my noble friend Minister has just said.

Will my noble friend agree to a meeting to map the way forward before Report? This could look at the options to see whether primary legislation—which I think he is reluctant to pursue—secondary legislation, fire brigade or health and safety guidance or changes to the regulatory codes would work. There has to be a risk assessment and we need to make sure that this is possible.

I have some experience of dealing with these fire difficulties. As noble Lords will recall, this used to be the responsibility of the fire brigade and then it was all changed. I oversaw that transition. I also know from experience in China how wrong you can get things, particularly if you do not consult. I remember that China did not consult on changes to fire safety laws. They were not aware that most modern premises had sprinklers. As someone has already said, sprinklers limit what you have to do with fire safety measures. It is a modern approach.

I should find a meeting helpful, perhaps to limit the number of amendments that it might otherwise be necessary for us to put forward on Report.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for making those points and representing the deep issues faced by consumers. Essentially, there are three. Thousands of leaseholders are facing the terrible situation that their property is valued at nothing. They have put in their life’s savings to buy a property, and they cannot remortgage or move. The pace of remediation has now slowed because of an inability to get assessments carried out by the relevant person or because they do not feel that they have insurance cover to do it. That is another issue. At the same time, because the pace of remediation has been affected, they face interim costs. I pointed out that they could be dramatically reduced, in most instances, by putting in an alarm system.

My noble friend is quite right—I have had these discussions with the insurance industry—that there are great measures, such as sprinklers, that reduce risk and ensure that a building is safer. That is why the Government legislated to put in sprinklers in all new builds above 11 metres. I am happy to meet my noble friend and any other noble Lords on these important issues, because we all share the objective of finding the right approach to deal with these great issues that face many hundreds of thousands of leaseholders in high-rise residential buildings up and down the country.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, it was good to hear the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, in responding to this debate. I have no doubt of his sincerity in wanting to address the issues raised by the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry, but my view, held with equal sincerity, is that we have not moved as quickly as we should have. The Government have moved too slowly. They need more urgency in dealing with the issues that arose from the fire at Grenfell Tower, which took place on 14 June 2017—some 40 months ago.

Capacity to deliver the requirements is an issue, which has been raised in a number of groups of amendments, as is the qualification level of the people undertaking this work. We must have professionally qualified experts undertaking such important work. If unqualified people are approved to do work arising from the Bill, it would show me that the Government have not learned the lessons. This is a slippery slope to further failures in the future. If one more life is lost, it will be one life too many. It is really important to get this right.

The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, mentioned sprinklers; she is absolutely right. Sprinklers have been in new homes, flats and halls of residence in Wales since 2011. It was the Labour Member Ann Jones who passed the legislation through the Welsh Assembly, some nine years ago. That is one case where the Government could learn from what has happened in another institution in our United Kingdom.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. As in other debates, we have highlighted significant outstanding issues. The Government should take this opportunity to reflect on the issues that have been raised in Committee; I hope that they will agree to come back on Report and actually move on some of them. Although we all want to make progress, speed is the issue for us and we want to move forward where we can. As I said before, it is 40 months since the tragedy of Grenfell Tower.

I will come back to this and many other issues on Report. I will make it clear to the noble Lord now: if we do not see some progress, we will divide the House many times on Report. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the “responsible person” definition has a key duty in this legislation, which is why I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, which seeks to clarify it. I apologise to the Committee that a lack-of-sound issue has meant that I was not able to hear the contributions by the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley or Lord Whitty, or the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, so my remarks are going to be quite basic as a consequence.

I agree with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that it is not just or practical to expect a tenant or leaseholder, unless they are owners or part-owners of the freehold, to fulfil the responsibility of being the so-called responsible person. I agree completely that it is important to have no room for uncertainty as to who is indeed the responsible person.

My noble friend Lord Stunell has just raised the very important issue that the responsible person has to actually be a person, not an entity—someone with an address and a telephone contact within the UK. I cannot imagine how awful it would be if the responsible person were some distant corporation based in the Cayman Islands, a fire arose and there was no obvious route to seeking a practical or legislative remedy for that disaster.

I have heard a little about the importance of water sprinklers and water misting in high-rise blocks, and of course I know that in 2009, Wales introduced a requirement for that. I look forward to learning what others have said about this important issue when I read Hansard, because I understand that it has been a priority of the fire and rescue services for a long time. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for this amendment, which seeks to amend Article 3 of the fire safety order. It seeks to remove leaseholders from being a responsible person unless they are also owner or part-owner of the freehold for the premises in question. It is important to remember that the fire safety order places the onus on the responsible person to identify and mitigate fire risks. In multi-occupied residential buildings, the leaseholder of a flat is unlikely to be the responsible person for the non-domestic premises. The exceptions to that would be where they own or share ownership of the freehold, which is acknowledged in the amendment. However, a leaseholder can be a duty holder under Article 5 of the fire safety order, which provides that the responsible person can be determined by the circumstances in any particular case.

Depending on the terms of a lease or tenancy agreement, the responsibility for flat entrance doors could rest with the building owner, having retained ownership of the doors, or the tenant/leaseholder as a duty holder. The lease can also be silent. Accepting this amendment would undermine the principles of the order and could have the unintended consequence of leaving a vacuum in terms of responsibilities under it. That, in turn, could compromise fire safety.

We will look at the responses to our fire safety consultation, which contained specific proposals to support the identification of responsible persons, with a view to ensuring that they are not the entities described by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. It also contained proposals to support greater co-operation and co-ordination between multiple responsible persons within a single premise. The Government are also committed to providing guidance on this issue. That, alongside our legislative proposals in the consultation, will support all those with responsibilities under the order in understanding and complying with their duties.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for tabling Amendment 18. Water-based systems can be an effective and appropriate fire-fighting tool in the event of a fire, and they command broad support across the fire and rescue service and the broader fire sector. However, a water-based system is just one of many measures that can be adopted to counter the spread of fire within a building.

The amendment seeks to ensure that responsible persons for multi-occupied residential buildings consider the installation of sprinklers or water-mist systems as “appropriate fire-fighting equipment” options. On the retro-fitting of sprinklers or water-mist systems, it is up to the responsible person to decide whether those are appropriate mitigating measures.

Noble Lords may be aware that earlier this year the Government amended approved document B to require the provision of sprinkler systems in new blocks of flats over 11 metres in height. This amendment will come into effect next month to ensure that this is the new standard for buildings of that height in the future.

For existing buildings, the fire safety order requires the responsible person to maintain and keep in an efficient state and working order fire-fighting equipment, which may include water-based systems. In blocks of flats where these are not present, retro-fitting water-based systems may not always be a cost-effective solution, if they are desired at all by residents. Existing guidance suggests considering alternative fire safety measures, taking into account the absence of sprinklers.

The Government do not support using the fire safety order to promote one form of equipment over other measures which, depending on the building, might be more effective. The fire safety order rightly places the onus on the responsible person to have regard to the specific characteristics of their building in determining which fire-fighting equipment and mitigating measures are appropriate to ensure the safety of relevant persons.

It is important that the legislation leave open the range of options available to responsible persons, who, with the support of competent professionals and government guidance, which we are reviewing, are best placed to make those decisions based on local need. Some building owners may decide to install sprinklers as part of their overall fire strategy, while others might choose alternative measures, provided that they are effective. Nevertheless, the Government will review our fire safety order guidance for responsible persons, including references to fire-fighting equipment and other fire safety measures available to them.

I hope that I have provided sufficient reassurance and that the noble Lord is content to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank everybody who has spoken in this debate, which has been very useful. In particular, I thank the noble Lord for his response.

I agree very much with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, about the need for swift action. As we have discussed on previous amendments, there is the whole issue of building owners, insurance, guarantees and warranties, and we need to get to the bottom of that. I know that in the weeks ahead the noble Lord will be meeting people who are concerned about that, and that is very good.

I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that the responsible person must actually be a person. It cannot be a company or some entity, particularly one based on the other side of the world. It must be a real person in the UK, and we must have their name, address, phone number and email address so that we know exactly how to get hold of them. That is really important.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley spoke about the importance of sprinklers. The Government have made some progress on that, which is good, but they should look carefully at what has happened in Wales. Since 2011, no new home has been built without sprinklers. That measure was brought forward by the Labour Member, Ann Jones, following a Private Members’ ballot and it has been a really good thing. The Government should look at the initiatives of other institutions in the United Kingdom to see how these things work; that is one they could learn from.

With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
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My Lords, mindful of my interests as declared at the opening of Committee, I support Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, although an additional cost must not be imposed on local authorities as a consequence of the requirements of the Bill. It is well documented that many local authorities are already facing very challenging circumstances as a result of the costs of dealing with the local impact of the pandemic. This is on top of years of deep cuts in government funding.

The new burdens agreement between central and local government is supposed to ensure that the costs of new duties required by the Government are met by the equivalence of the costs. This amendment seeks to underline this commitment and to ensure that sufficient additional finances are made available. The consequence of failing to do so would undermine the purposes of the Bill, for which there is unanimous support.

There has already been an extensive debate on skills shortages and the definition of competences during consideration of other amendments. Many noble Lords have expressed their concerns. I wish to underline the importance of this issue, which has been expressed throughout Committee.

Amendment 10 seeks to ensure that the Scottish Government consider similar legislation. It highlights how Governments across the UK are slowly beginning to mirror a federal system. I find this fascinating. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 10 seeks to introduce a review of Scotland and Northern Ireland, to take place no later than 24 months after Royal Assent on the Fire Safety Bill, which would subsequently be laid before Parliament.

From the outset, I remind the Committee that the Fire Safety Bill applies only to England and Wales. Fire safety is a devolved matter. The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, does not consider the vastly different fire safety regimes in place in Northern Ireland and Scotland. It is unlikely that the Scottish Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly could make an equivalent legislative provision to reflect the fire safety legislation in England and Wales. In any event, the review proposed would not have any legal effect in either Scotland or Northern Ireland as the Bill extends and applies to England and Wales only. Such a review would be to no purpose.

I accept that noble Lords have an interest in fire safety in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. However, these matters are the responsibility of the respective devolved Governments, who are best placed to provide an update.

The fire safety regimes in Scotland and Northern Ireland are significantly different from that of England and Wales. There is no direct equivalent of the fire safety order in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Existing fire safety legislation does not have the same features as in England and Wales. This includes a review of the fire safety regime for high-rise domestic buildings in Scotland and delivery of the recommendations from that review. A single source of fire safety guidance for those responsible for these buildings is now available online and fire safety information has been delivered to residents in all high-rise buildings in Scotland. I have been in close dialogue with Kevin Stewart, my opposite number in the Scottish Parliament, about the issues we have been debating in Committee.

I am pleased to inform the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that the Scottish Government have today published a formal response to the Grenfell phase 1 report. I look forward to reading it. It is an important step in advancing fire safety in Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, a cross-body building safety programme group has been established and is sponsored by the Department of Finance. The group will consider what actions are necessary in Northern Ireland to improve and develop building safety and how best to incorporate relevant recommendations arising from the Grenfell public inquiry phase 1 report. The group is in the earliest stage of development, identifying relevant representative group nominations to centrally co-ordinate the Northern Ireland response from an operational, regulatory and legislative perspective.

I turn to Amendment 11 and thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for raising the issue of the Bill’s potential impact on local authorities. Obviously, we should mention not just local authorities but fire and rescue services. On a point of principle, we are very clear on the purpose of the Fire Safety Bill, which is to clarify that the structure, external walls and flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings are within scope of the fire safety order. However, this should not prevent local authorities from acting under their existing powers to address safety risks in multi-occupied residential buildings. They have a duty under the Housing Act 2004 to review areas of risk relating to social housing for which they are responsible, which we would expect to include issues relating to both fire and building safety. With regard to the private rented sector, local authorities also have a duty to take enforcement action if they consider that a serious category 1 hazard, including fire, exists on any residential premises.

We expect that the initial impact on local authorities and fire and rescue services under the Bill to be limited, with the focus being on responsible persons updating fire risk assessments on high-risk buildings, as considered under the risk operating model. I will address this in more detail when responding to amendments on commencement. The costs of the Bill have been set out in the published economic impact assessment. This shows that the costs are shared across all responsible persons for high-rise residential buildings, the majority of which are privately owned rather than social housing. We will keep the impact on local authorities under consideration in future spending reviews as work progresses on fire and building safety in their capacity as both landlords and enforcing authorities. I will also give an undertaking that we will consider the impact on local authorities of the Bill and consultation in line with the new-burdens principles. I should also inform noble Lords of the additional funding support being provided. We have invested £20 million in funding fire safety protection and a further £10 million for the fire risk review programme.

As regards the draft Building Safety Bill, we are planning measures to strengthen the fire safety order, and the impact of these on fire and rescue services and local authorities will be considered. I should warn noble Lords that the Bill will have about 140 clauses, whereas this Bill has three clauses, which we seem to have spent several hours debating in some detail.

Amendment 12 calls for a review of fire skills 12 months after the passing of the Bill. Significant work has been undertaken by the industry-led Competence Steering Group and its subgroup on fire risk assessors and fire engineers, to look at ways in which to increase competence and capacity in these professions. This includes proposing recommendations in relation to introducing a register of fire risk assessors, a competence framework and a system of third-party accreditation for fire risk assessors. The final report from the CSG was published on the Construction Industry Council’s website on 5 October and the MHCLG, the HSE and the Home Office are considering the recommendations of the report in detail.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will be aware that we recognise the concerns raised by the fire risk assessor sector on its capacity and competency to undertake and update fire risk assessments for the buildings in scope of this Bill. We want to ensure that we will take a proportionate approach to commencing the Bill that limits any potential impact on the fire risk assessor sector. The noble Lord has raised a very important issue with this amendment. The Government have been working with the fire risk assessor sector to develop a clear plan to increase its capacity and capability. The Home Office and the MHCLG are jointly funding the British Standards Institution to develop technical guidance to support professionals to assess the fire risk posed by external wall systems. This guidance will support industry to upskill more professionals to take on this work and will increase the quality and consistency of these assessments.

Although this amendment is in line with our plans to develop the capacity and capability of the sector, I do not think that this work needs to be enshrined in legislation. I also think that a slightly longer timeframe for such a review of 18 to 24 months would be more appropriate, as such a period would allow for more meaningful change, given the need to recruit against the background of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Finally, I emphasise that understanding the skills shortage and having a plan to address that, as raised by the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Stunell, must be a driving mission of this Government. Therefore, I would be happy to meet with the noble Lords in relation to Amendment 12 before Report to discuss the ongoing work that I have outlined. In the meantime, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank everybody who has spoken in this short debate and thank the Minister for his response. All the issues that have been highlighted here are important; I will look carefully at what the noble Lord has said, particularly on skills. We need to ensure that in this new regime we have properly skilled, competent professionals doing this work. As many of us have said before, there should be no race to the bottom, and it is really important that we do not have unqualified people doing this work. On the issue of funding the fire service and local government, there are issues about the capacity of local authorities and the fire and rescue services to do the work, so funding is important. We need to see that done well.

On the noble Lord’s comments in respect of learning from institutions in other parts of the United Kingdom, there are many examples where one particular part of the United Kingdom might do something a different way, and that sometimes might be better than the way we do it here. It is good that we learn from those, whether it is sprinklers in Wales or what they do on modern slavery in Northern Ireland or in Scotland, or the way we do things here in England. We need to ensure that we all learn from each other. If the Minister is meeting ministerial colleagues in other institutions, that is a very welcome and a good thing to know. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Porter, is not able to move his amendment today, as his is a good idea. A fire safety code of practice would draw together many of the issues raised elsewhere in the debate into one place. I am confident that there will be, of course, prioritisation of buildings at risk, but this amendment would ensure that this is set out and therefore legitimised. Sharing the costs of fire risk assessments according to assessed risks is another important element of fairness that has to be acknowledged, and putting it in the Bill, as this amendment does, is wholly positive.

Throughout today’s debate, it is clear that there is full support for the Bill and its purposes. All the amendments seek to do is to improve it for the benefit both of fire safety and for residents’ peace of mind. I look forward, therefore, to the Minister’s response.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Porter for his sterling efforts regarding building and fire safety, and for his leadership over many years in local government and as a former chairman of the Local Government Association. I thank him for tabling amendments on a proposed improved code of practice to support the commencement of the Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for stepping up in his stead, and for his amendment, which would ensure that the Bill is not commenced until the Government have completed a full review of the capacity of fire safety inspectors to undertake the duties set out in the Bill.

I will respond to the amendments relating to commencement guidance. As noble Lords are aware, the Home Office established a task and finish group, chaired jointly by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Fire Sector Federation, whose role was to recommend the optimal way to commence the Bill. Members of the group were drawn from local authorities, housing associations, private sector developers, the fire sector and selected fire and rescue services. My noble friend is aware that the Local Government Association was represented—as I said, he served as chairman until July last year.

The Home Office received the group’s recommendations on 28 September. It advised that the Bill should be commenced at once for all buildings in scope on a single date, subject to prior conditions being met: first, that responsible persons should use a risk-based tool to develop an effective strategy to prioritise their buildings for an updated fire risk assessment—a tool is currently being developed by a sub-group of the task and finish group; and, secondly, that the Government issue statutory guidance to ensure that this tool is used by responsible persons.

I thank the task and finish group for providing its expert views to the Home Office. I understand the intention behind this amendment: that guidance—whether or not it is defined as a code of practice—needs to have the appropriate legal status to ensure effective use of the risk-based tool by responsible persons. I am aware my noble friend also has concerns that fire engineers and competent professionals might increase their fees, making it difficult for social sector landlords to get expert advice on buildings that may be high-risk.

This Government want to ensure that the resources of fire engineers and other competent professionals are targeted to buildings based on risk. Equally, this Government want to ensure that there are no delays to commencing the Bill. I am sure this is a view we all share. The Government are concerned that this amendment will delay the commencement of the Bill; for example, it would place a statutory duty on the Government to undertake a public consultation on a draft code of practice and to lay the final code before Parliament before the Bill and the code come into effect by order. This process will delay the Bill’s commencement until at least summer 2021.

I do not consider that guidance alone will resolve my noble friend’s concerns about how fire engineers and other competent professionals prioritise their resources. The right building blocks need to be put in place to create system change. That is why we are working with the fire risk assessor sector to develop a clear plan to increase its capacity and capability. The Home Office and MHCLG are jointly funding the British Standards Institution to develop technical guidance to support professionals to assess the fire risk posed by external wall systems. This guidance will support industry to upskill more professionals to take on this work and increase the quality and consistency of these assessments.

We continue to work closely with the joint chairs of the task and finish group, as well as the LGA, to ensure that the Government provide a proportionate response to their advice.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, aims to ensure that the Bill is not commenced until the Government have completed a full review of the capacity of fire safety inspectors to undertake the duties set out by the Bill. The Bill clarifies the role of fire and rescue services in enforcement against responsible persons who have not adequately assessed the fire safety risks of a building’s structure, external walls or flat entrance doors in multi- occupied residential buildings and, where appropriate, put in place general fire precautions. The amendment aims to ensure that before the Bill is commenced the Government undertake a review of the fire and rescue services’ capacity to carry out inspections and, where appropriate, take enforcement action in line with the clarification the Bill provides.

Fire and rescue services have the resources they need to do their important work. Decisions on how resources are best deployed to meet their core functions are a matter for each fire and rescue authority. This includes deciding on the number of fire safety officers needed to deliver their fire safety enforcement duties under the fire safety order.

The amendment is unnecessary as the Government issued an impact assessment for the Bill, which considered the impact on fire and rescue services. The impact assessment sets out that additional work for fire safety inspectors arising from the Bill will cover reading and reviewing of relevant parts of the updated fire risk assessment and, where appropriate, undertake a visual inspection of the external walls and flat entrance doors. Our central estimate of the additional cost to fire and rescue services is £5.9 million over the 10-year period assessed.

Overall, fire and rescue authorities will receive around £2.3 billion in 2020-21. Stand-alone fire and rescue authorities will see an increase in core spending power of 3.2% in cash terms in 2020-21 compared with 2019-20. The Government have invested a further £30 million of funding in fire and rescue services and the National Fire Chiefs Council this year. This includes: £10 million allocated to fire and rescue authorities to improve protection capability and undertake more audits of high-risk premises; £7 million to allow fire and rescue authorities to respond effectively to the findings of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry; £3 million to bolster the NFCC’s Grenfell improvement capacity and capability and to drive strategic change from the centre; and £10 million to deliver the Government’s building risk review programme and to form a central protection hub within the NFCC.

The National Fire Chiefs Council published a revised competence framework document earlier this year for business fire safety regulators to assist fire and rescue services in assuring the competence of their fire safety staff. This work will support common competence standards across fire and rescue services’ protection staff.

Fire Safety Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 132-R-I Marshalled list for Report - (12 Nov 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I refer to my relevant commercial and residential property interests as set out in the register. I thank my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth for his amendment, which shines a light on the important issue of electrical safety. Indeed, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for his clear focus and mission to prevent fires happening in the first place as a result of electrical faults as absolutely the key. I also thank my noble friend for the constructive meeting that we had on this issue last week, involving my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I recognise the covering fire received from the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty, for this amendment, and in particular, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, mentioned, the work of the Electrical Safety First organisation. I commend the latter for the work that it is doing to raise awareness of the risks of electrical fires. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Mann, for pointing out the issues around second-hand electrical goods; this is a particularly difficult area to regulate and something that we need to look into.

I will not reiterate all the points that I raised in Committee, but I will mention two concerns that I have in relation to this amendment. First, I note that the wording has changed to focus on high-rise buildings, but I am still concerned that it would not have the effect that my noble friend seeks to achieve. In particular, it is doubtful that the amendment would result in electrical appliances in private dwellings being brought within the scope of the fire safety order. This in turn will thwart the amendment’s underlying objectives for systematic checks on electrical appliances and for the responsible person to keep a register of appliances, as required by the additional schedule proposed in this amendment.

My other concern is that the amendment risks delaying the implementation of necessary reforms to fire safety regulation. A number of concerns have been raised in both your Lordships’ House and the other place about the pace of reform to fire and building safety legislation. We now have a package of reforms: this Bill, the upcoming fire safety order regulations, and the building safety Bill. The amendment would impact on the delivery of this package of legislation, and in particular on the fire safety order regulations.

A lot of the detail of this amendment is left to be implemented through regulations, and the work that this would require would lead to significant delays in our being able to deliver other key recommendations from the Grenfell inquiry. The answer to addressing the concern about electrical safety lies in the work that is being undertaken across government, which includes a number of strands. I will not repeat all of the work that I referenced in Committee but will pick out some key aspects.

A regulatory regime is in place on product safety, underpinned by legislation and overseen by a national regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, which was created in 2018. This regime places responsibility for the safety of products on those actors best placed to ensure this before products are placed on the market. The draft building safety Bill reflects the role that all parties have to play in ensuring the safety of high-rise dwellings, from the developer to the accountable person to the residents themselves, and electrical safety is an important part of this. As mentioned by a number of noble Lords, there are standards for electrical checks in private rented accommodation, which require that electrical equipment is checked at least every five years. This is already in place for new tenancies and will apply to existing tenancies from 1 April 2021.

I recognise the concerns expressed by a number of noble Lords with respect to there being no mandatory checks on social housing. The inequality between social and private housing was raised by my noble friend Lord Randall and the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Kennedy. I am pleased to say that today we have published a social housing White Paper, which sets out our charter for social housing residents. It includes a commitment to undertake a consultation on keeping social housing residents safe from electrical harm. Among a range of issues, this will consider extending the safety measures already in the private rented sector to social housing.

I assure my noble friend that the Government take the issues raised in his amendment very seriously indeed. In that regard I am happy to give him a firm commitment that, outside the Bill process, my officials will engage Electrical Safety First and other key stakeholders in an official-led working group to inform the content of our consultation. Given the assurances that I have provided, I ask my noble friend to agree to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I first thank everybody who has participated in the debate on the amendments in this group. It has been a very worthwhile discussion, and every noble Lord who participated added something valuable. It is clear that there is broad support within the House for action, and a recognition of the inequality that exists between private tenants on the one hand and social tenants—and indeed owner-occupiers—on the other hand.

I note what my noble friend the Minister said in relation to some of the detailed points in the consideration of the amendments that may cause concern; clearly they are matters that could be looked at. I agree with my noble friend the Minister on the importance of what has happened today in relation to the White Paper, although I note that there is no timescale attached to that. Before I withdraw my amendment, which I am minded to do, I will press my noble friend a little on two matters. First, would he be willing to meet with me and the other signatories to the amendment ahead of the building safety Bill to see how we can dovetail what we are seeking to do here with that Bill? I know from discussions with him that he felt that that Bill was a more appropriate medium to use, so I seek that from him.

Secondly, I thank him very much for the undertaking that he has given to meet with Electrical Safety First, along with officials, to consider the proposals in the social housing White Paper as to possible timescales. He will understand that we are now three and a half years after the dreadful events of Grenfell. The social housing White Paper has been a long time forthcoming, for reasons that I do understand, and we are now looking at a future consultation; we do not—and I am sure he does not—want this stretching out a long time into the future. So I will just press him a little bit on those two matters before I withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I am very happy to give my noble friend the assurance that we can meet together before the introduction of the building safety Bill. Indeed, as soon as I have more information about the timescales in relation to the social housing White Paper being turned into legislation, I will be able to provide that to my noble friend. I am happy also to agree to meet with the Electrical Safety First organisation; I would find that very constructive indeed.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I know my noble friend and I know his sincerity so, with those undertakings, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I remind the House of my interests, as recorded in the register, as a councillor in Kirklees and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I turn first to Amendment 6, through which the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, has raised concerns about the inclusion of all multi-occupied domestic premises within the scope of the Bill. The issues raised relate to leaseholders who find that they are, in effect, unable to move as their property is within the scope of the Bill and, therefore, that the fire risk exists but is not quantified. The later amendment in my name explores these issues in more detail.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, spoke on behalf of the Minister and confirmed that the Government intend that all multi-occupational buildings are within the scope of the Bill and the fire safety order 2005. He also argued in Committee that the height of a building is only one factor in assessing fire risk, and others have given recent examples of fires in such buildings that support that argument. The issue, then, is about prioritisation, as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has so expertly explained, and what actions the Government are able to take to minimise the impact on properties deemed low priority and, therefore, presumably of lower risk. It is that issue that the Minister needs to clarify. Will the Government bring forward regulations or guidance to demonstrate the criteria to be used to fire assess properties? Can these be used by leaseholders to demonstrate low risk, and thus release their property from being frozen out of the housing market? I look forward to the Minister’s response to these concerns.

The other amendment in this group, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, raises issues about consultation. It lists consultees, as a very similar amendment did in Committee. My colleagues and I are always in favour of the widest possible consultation on any issue. However, there is an inherent risk in a list that becomes exclusive while intending to be inclusive. The list of consultees is one which we would expect, however, to be involved in all relevant consultations. As my noble friend Lord Shipley said, the list is inherently sensible, so I hope the Minister will be able to accept such a list. Again, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for raising the issue of engagement to make sure the right groups and organisations are consulted on any changes or clarifications to the types of premises that fall within the scope of the fire safety order. The Government have given this matter further consideration since Committee stage. I support the noble Lord’s aim of ensuring that the widest range of groups are given an opportunity to comment. It is sensible to seek views from all groups impacted by any future changes, which is why Clause 2 of the Fire Safety Bill provides a requirement to consult anyone appropriate, which is likely to include all the parties highlighted in the amendment.

Robust policy-making can be achieved only by reaching out to all sections of the fire sector and other interested parties, such as responsible persons and residents, not by relying solely on the expertise of certain groups. To be clear, of course we will consult with the National Fire Chiefs Council but equally, we will consult with the Fire Brigades Union and with tenants’ and residents’ associations.

The Government are committed to considering the most appropriate means of conducting any future consultation before making any regulations—regulations which Parliament would have an opportunity to scrutinise, should it so wish. It remains the case that the specified list as presented identifies groups whose role, name or function may change over time, potentially creating the need for future primary legislative changes or making such provision ineffective. However, the Bill as drafted safeguards against this while ensuring that relevant groups are not excluded. I want to assure your Lordships’ House that we recognise the importance of consulting relevant stakeholders, but the wording of Clause 2 already allows us to do just that, without the need to be prescriptive in the way the noble Lord’s amendment suggests.

I turn now to the very important consumer issues raised by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. I had a meeting with my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lord Shinkwin, and I am very happy to commit to a further meeting before the introduction of the building safety Bill. These are huge consumer issues, and I praise my noble friend for being a champion of the consumer. We recognise that many leaseholders’ properties have been valued at zero, they are waiting for remediation of their properties and they are unable to remortgage or to move. They are effectively trapped, and the Government recognise that that is a considerable issue for them. We also recognise that the costs of historic building safety and fire safety remediation will be considerably more than the £1.6 billion already committed. It is important to address that in a way that is affordable to leaseholders, and there are only certain ways of doing that. We will make announcements on that in due course.

Equally, we recognise that the pace of remediation is important. I have talked to many people in the social housing sector about the fact that they have probably overspent on waking watch. I am very pleased that we provided guidance on waking watch, the cost of which is exorbitantly high; it can be replaced by a fire alarm system within six or seven weeks, which reduces some of the costs of interim measures. I draw the attention of those using waking watch for extended periods to the most recent guidance from the National Fire Chiefs Council and the work on waking watch costs. I am very happy to commit to a further meeting.

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Moved by
7: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Risk based guidance about the discharge of duties under the Fire Safety Order
(1) Article 50 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (S.I. 2005/1541) (guidance) is amended as follows.(2) After paragraph (1) insert—“(1A) Where in any proceedings it is alleged that a person has contravened a provision of articles 8 to 22 or of regulations made under article 24 in relation to a relevant building (or part of the building)—(a) proof of a failure to comply with any applicable risk based guidance may be relied on as tending to establish that there was such a contravention, and(b) proof of compliance with any applicable risk based guidance may be relied on as tending to establish that there was no such contravention.”(3) After paragraph (2) insert—“(2A) Before revising or withdrawing any risk based guidance in relation to relevant buildings the Secretary of State must consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”(4) After paragraph (3) insert—“(4) In this article—“relevant building” means a building in England containing two or more sets of domestic premises;“risk based guidance” means guidance under paragraph (1) about how a person who is subject to the duties mentioned there in relation to more than one set of premises is to prioritise the discharge of those duties in respect of the different premises by reference to risk.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that, where the Secretary of State issues risk based guidance under the existing duty to ensure the availability of appropriate guidance, proof of compliance or a lack of compliance with that guidance can be used in legal proceedings. It also requires the Secretary of State to consult before revising or withdrawing risk based guidance.
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 14. In Committee I made a commitment to set out during today’s debate the Government’s position on how the Fire Safety Bill will be commenced. Your Lordships’ House is aware that the Home Office established an independent task and finish group, chaired jointly by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Fire Sector Federation, which brought together interested parties from across the fire and housing sectors. Its role was to provide a recommendation on the optimal way to commence the Bill. The group advised that the Bill should be commenced at once for all buildings in scope. I have accepted this recommendation to commence the Fire Safety Bill at once for all buildings in scope on a single date.

The group also recommended that responsible persons under the fire safety order should use a risk-based approach to carrying out or reviewing fire risk assessments upon commencement by way of using a risk operating model, and that the Government issue statutory guidance to support this approach. I also agreed to this recommendation, which will support responsible persons to develop an effective prioritisation strategy for such assessments, which will be supported by a risk operating model currently being developed. The Home Office, with support from the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Fire Sector Federation, will also host this model once it has been finalised.

The government amendments tabled today intend to take forward the provision of statutory guidance to support this approach. These amendments ensure that the risk-based guidance which will be issued by the Secretary of State to support commencement of the Bill for all relevant buildings will have the legal status to incentivise compliance with it. It does this by stating explicitly that a court can consider whether a responsible person has complied with their duties under the fire safety order by compliance with the risk-based guidance. Equally, if a responsible person has failed to provide evidence that they have complied, it may be relied on by a court as tending to support non-compliance with the duties under the order.

The government amendment also creates a provision to allow the Secretary of State to withdraw the risk-based guidance, but this can be done only after consultation with relevant stakeholders and appropriate persons. Our rationale for inserting this provision is that we believe that a point will eventually be reached where, having followed a risk-based approach to prioritisation, responsible persons will have assessed all the fire safety risks for the external walls of their buildings in direct consequence of the commencement of the Bill. At that stage there may no longer be a need for the guidance to remain in place. I assure your Lordships’ House that the Government will commence the Bill at the same time as issuing the guidance. Amendment 14 achieves this effect.

I thank my noble friend Lord Porter of Spalding for his amendment in Committee, which would have placed a duty on the Secretary of State to issue an approved code of practice to support the commencement of the Bill. I had a very constructive discussion with my noble friend and officials from the Local Government Association last week, and I am pleased that he supports our approach and agrees that there should be no delay in commencing the Bill.

One of the issues that the task and finish group considered was how responsible persons will be able to update their fire risk assessment where there is limited capacity in the fire risk assessor sector, primarily fire engineers, to advise on external wall systems. This underlines the recommendation for a risk-based approach to an all-at-once commencement, on which we are acting. Our approach sends a signal to the fire risk assessor sector, mainly fire engineers, that their expertise should first be directed to where it is needed most: to the highest risk buildings.

I draw attention the statement of the Fire Sector Federation, which supports our approach to commencement. It said that

“the introduction of further new measures … using systematic risk- based guidance, will lead a prioritisation approach towards helping to identify the fire risk status for a … building such that those presenting the highest threat to life are afforded the highest priority”

for “remedial action.”

I thank all members of the task and finish group for their work in developing advice to the Home Office and my officials. I consider that the group has provided an optimal solution to commencing the Fire Safety Bill, allowing the Government to introduce the provisions at the earliest opportunity. It is important that we continue the good work undertaken with relevant stakeholders on the task and finish group, with a view regularly to monitoring the effectiveness of the risk-based guidance and risk-operating model. My amendments seek to take forward the recommendations from operational experts in the field of fire safety. I beg to move.

Earl of Lytton Portrait The Earl of Lytton (CB) [V]
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My Lords, the proposed risk-based guidance set out in the amendment is extremely welcome, particularly if it means what I think it means: assessment not only by building type but in relation to the specifics. The risk-operating model is especially welcome in this respect, and I thank the Minister for tabling the amendment. When is the guidance likely to be finalised? It is linked to the Bill coming into force and it is important that it be done as soon as possible, subject to reasonable scrutiny. We need reasonable certainty and to calm financial, insurance and property market fears.

Knowing the limited scrutiny that secondary legislation receives, can the Minister give an assurance that the guidance will be unequivocal—in clear, jargon-free and plain English, capable of consistent application and not liable to misleading or alternative interpretations? I say that with some feeling, having had to deal with matters of regulation over many years. Can the Minister also say whether there will be consultation on the details —in the knowledge that, within reason, the sooner this measure is brought in, the better—and whether there will be parliamentary scrutiny of it?

I particularly welcome the Minister’s reference to the signal that will be given to the accreditation sector and the insistence on indicating priorities. Getting capacity will clearly be an issue and the person responsible for a building—as happens in some employment situations—does not necessarily need to be an externally trained professional.

I will raise one further issue. A member of my family, as I mentioned earlier, has a flat in a relatively low-rise block in a London borough. I spent a bit of time on the borough’s website looking for details of the 2006 planning consent that governed its construction. Unfortunately, all the information—bar the notice—was missing from the website. I was told that I could make an application; it is not clear whether or not I would have to pay for that.

The other aspect of this is the information that goes into building control, which should be the details of how the building is to be constructed. If people are to be able to make a reasoned assessment of the safety or otherwise of their building, having that constructional information is rather important. The standard approach, however, is that building regulation information is not readily accessible on demand and may involve copyright issues where plans are provided. This may be fair enough, but there is an overriding need to know. If the architect, or the approved inspector—or whoever might have this information, since it might not be in the local authority records—cannot be traced, the only solution, which may have to happen anyway to some extent, would be for someone to take intrusive steps to open up parts of the building for inspection.

That basic information, which at some stage must have gone into the public domain or been used for an approved building regulation inspection, needs to be rounded up. Can the Minister offer any comfort or reassurance that steps will be taken to make sure that this essential information is recovered and available to those who need it?

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I am very happy to support government Amendments 7 and 14 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh. These amendments respond to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Porter of Spalding, whose amendments I moved in Committee because he was having connectivity issues.

I have read the briefing from the Local Government Association, which confirms its support for the government amendments but reflects the concerns it raised about the fact that there were far too few fire risk assessors competent and insured to carry out the fire risk assessments of buildings with external wall cladding systems required under the Fire Safety Bill. We need to implement these powers quickly, and this is a reasonable way forward. The LGA is happy and I, too, am happy to support what the Minister is proposing today.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. I will address a couple of points. I assure the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that I will endeavour to see that the regulation is written in plain English that even I can understand. In response to the noble Earl and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I agree that the timing is important, and guidance will be available at commencement.

These government amendments ensure that the risk-based guidance issued by the Secretary of State to support commencement of the provisions in the Bill that apply to all relevant buildings has the right legal status to incentivise compliance. These amendments also ensure that the Government can commence the Bill for all relevant buildings as early as possible after Royal Assent and at the same time as the risk-based guidance is issued.

I am sure that noble Lords will agree that there should be no delays in bringing this Bill into force. I thank the task and finish group for all its hard work in developing the advice to the Home Office, which I consider the optimal solution for commencing the Bill. It is important that we get this right, which is why we have listened to the views of the experts who will have to implement the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment 7 agreed.
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Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
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The report continued:

“I therefore recommend that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law:


a. to provide their local fire and rescue services with up-to-date plans in both paper and electronic form of every floor of the building identifying the location of key fire safety systems;


b. to ensure that the building contains a premises information box, the contents of which must include a copy of the up-to-date floor plans and information about the nature of any lift intended for use by the fire and rescue services.”


So last year, the Grenfell inquiry report asked for the speedy introduction of these recommendations. A year later, we are waiting.

I know that the Government have stated a firm commitment to implementing the recommendations of the inquiry, and the amendment seeks to rectify this absence of government legislative action. As my noble friend Lord Stunell so wisely said, we all agree that this action needs to be taken and we are all impatient for it to be put in place.

The Government said that this was a high priority. However, even the building safety Bill is silent on the matter. How then can we be assured that it is a high priority for them? Here we have an opportunity to show intent, as a consequence of that tragic fire at Grenfell, to ensure that others do not endure what Grenfell residents endured. If the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, pushes this amendment to a vote, we on this side will vote in support of this vital change.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, the Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy of epic proportions. It was the largest loss of life in a residential fire since the Second World War. We have to recognise that a lot has happened and that a lot of actions have been taken by the Government since that event over three years ago.

The Government took early and decisive action to announce an independent Grenfell Tower inquiry. They took decisive action to start the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, and they took decisive action to establish the building safety programme. The Government took decisive action in setting up a comprehensive aluminium composite material—ACM—remediation programme. They took decisive action in setting up an independent expert panel to provide advice to government and building owners. They took decisive action in providing £600 million to help with the remediation of ACM high-rises. They took decisive action in providing a further £1 billion to remediate high-rises with other forms of flammable cladding. They took decisive action to ban combustible cladding on buildings within the scope of the ban. The Government took decisive action in introducing a protection board.

I accept that the pace of remediation has been slow, but I point to the progress that has been made this year in particular. This was a year when we had a global pandemic with two national lockdowns, and nevertheless we have seen a considerably greater number of on-site starts in those buildings—high-rises with the same cladding as Grenfell—and we are on track to see that around 90% of buildings will either have had the cladding removed or people will be on-site to complete that in a matter of months. That is real progress. This is cross-party; I thank Mayor Burnham, and Mayor Khan in London, but also the local authority leaders for their work to make sure that there has been real pace in the remediation this year. It is not easy to continue these construction programmes in that sort of environment.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for the amendment on the duties of an owner or manager. It is important that we discuss this amendment given the attention it has already received in the other place and in Committee in your Lordships’ House. I know that the noble Lord and other noble Lords have strong views on this issue and wish to see the Grenfell inquiry’s recommendations implemented as soon as possible. I share that intention. However, the Government do not consider that this amendment provides the most effective means of giving effect to the inquiry’s recommendations.

I hope to reassure the noble Lord that our shared objective can be achieved without the need for his amendments, which may in fact work against the swiftest possible implementation of the recommendations. I reiterate, as I said in my all-Peers letter and in Committee in your Lordships’ House, that the Government are, and always have been, committed to implementing and, where appropriate, legislating for the inquiry’s recommendations. This was a manifesto commitment and I am determined to ensure that we deliver on it.

I will set out our approach on this issue. It is right that we consulted before making regulations to deliver the Grenfell recommendations. As I set out in Committee, this was not solely because we have a statutory duty to do so—but we do, and this amendment is not in keeping with that duty. It also reflects Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s own view on the need to ensure broad support for recommendations and an understanding of the practical issues associated with implementing them. Our 12-week public consultation, which closed on 12 October, is allowing us to do just that. I am pleased to say that over 200 responses were received. It is important that we consider carefully those responses before finalising the precise policy detail to implement these new duties. Due consideration has to be given to the views of those who have submitted a response to the consultation.

I will highlight an example of that. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord prescribes a minimum set period for checks of both fire doors and lifts. As we consider our responses to the consultation, other approaches may be suggested that may provide more practical and proportionate options which are no less effective. The amendment may hinder our ability to deliver what may be a better solution for the safety of residents. I hope that is not the noble Lord’s intention, but I ask him to reflect on that fact. Understanding and acting on the consultation responses will ultimately help us to produce better, informed legislation, which we will deliver through regulations under the fire safety order as soon as possible after the Bill is commenced.

I reiterate that this amendment is not necessary and will not speed up the legislative process. It requires us to make regulations to amend the fire safety order to introduce new duties on the face of the order, but we consider that we already have the ability to implement such new duties through the power in Article 24 to make regulations, which we plan to use to implement a number of the Grenfell inquiry recommendations. Our intention is to introduce these regulations as soon as possible after the Bill is commenced.

I am also concerned about the impact of the misleading media coverage—even in recent media coverage written by Pippa Crerar that quotes the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark—after this amendment was voted on in the Commons on the Grenfell community’s faith in our commitment to deliver the Grenfell recommendations. I reassure the Grenfell community that the Government remain absolutely steadfast to their manifesto commitment to implement the inquiry’s recommendations.

I think that all noble Lords are seeking the same thing—the swift implementation of the Grenfell inquiry’s recommendations—and that is what the Government are committed to. While I understand the spirit of the amendment, it will not do that and may risk undermining our efforts. As such, I hope that the noble Lord will be content to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy.

--- Later in debate ---
15:43

Division 1

Ayes: 269


Labour: 124
Liberal Democrat: 78
Crossbench: 45
Independent: 15
Green Party: 2
Bishops: 1
Plaid Cymru: 1

Noes: 250


Conservative: 212
Crossbench: 21
Independent: 8
Democratic Unionist Party: 5
Ulster Unionist Party: 2
Labour: 1

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to support the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, on their amendments in this group. Both have comprehensively explained the intent of their amendments and, as I said, I fully support them. If the noble Baroness decides to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 10, I can assure her that the noble Lords on these Benches will support her in that endeavour.

Amendment 10 is particularly important as it talks about the public register of fire risk assessments, and I fully support it. As we heard from the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry and from elsewhere, the complete lack of important information about buildings is a huge issue. This amendment requires the Secretary of State to make provision for a register of fire risk assessments that is publicly available so that tenants and residents can see it. Importantly, the amendment also requires the register to be kept up to date. The relevant regulations would be brought before Parliament and subject to parliamentary procedure. I very much agree that there must be a safety-first approach to fire risk, and that is why I fully support these amendments.

Amendment 11 provides for a public register of fire risk assessors, which we have talked about. This amendment again raises an important issue that has arisen in a number of amendments throughout our consideration of the Bill; namely whether people are sufficiently qualified to do the assessments. Like many other noble Lords, I am concerned that we must never have fire risk assessment on the cheap. We need to have properly qualified people who know what they are doing and who can spot and correct the problems. A publicly available and up-to-date register of such people will make the difference.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, in speaking to Amendment 12, again made the point about permitted developments. It is absolutely right that fire safety and the work of the fire authorities is paramount when we are building buildings.

I fully support all the amendments in this group. As I said, if the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, tests the opinion of the House on Amendment 10, these Benches will support her.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord for raising this important issue on establishing a public register of fire risk assessments. The fire safety order currently places no requirement for responsible persons to record their completed fire risk assessments, save for in limited and specified circumstances. The self-regulatory and non-prescriptive nature of the fire safety order is the cornerstone of the legislation. It provides for a proportionate approach to effective regulation of fire-related risks across the wide range of buildings that fall within its scope.

I do, though, agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that it is of paramount importance that residents have access to the information they need to feel safe and be safe in their homes. However, the creation of a fire risk assessment register would place a new level of regulation upon responsible persons that could be seen as disproportionate. There are also questions in relation to the ownership and maintenance of such a register and where the costs would lie. There is a delicate balance to be struck.

The Government do, however, acknowledge that there is work to be done and that improvements can be made in respect of the sharing of important information with residents and other relevant persons. That is why the fire safety consultation set out a range of proposals to ensure that those persons are provided with vital fire safety information.

First, the fire safety consultation proposed to change the current position that a responsible person does not have to record their fire risk assessment by including a proposed new requirement on all responsible persons to record their full fire risk assessments. This would provide a level of assurance that their duty to complete a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment has been fulfilled. In addition, the consultation also included proposals for responsible persons to take steps to provide vital fire safety information to residents, including the fire risk assessments on request. We are considering responses to the consultation to ensure that we take the needs of residents into account when establishing the final policy approach. The full consultation can be found online at GOV.UK and we will publish a response at the earliest opportunity.

I turn now to the related amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, which seeks to create a public register of fire risk assessors. I agree with the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that there is a clear need for reform in relation to fire risk assessors to improve standards. That is why the Government included a proposal for a competence requirement for fire risk assessors and other fire safety professionals in the recent fire safety order consultation.

Noble Lords will recall that, in Committee, I mentioned the work of the industry-led competency steering group and its subgroup on fire risk assessors. The group published a report on 5 October, which included proposals in relation to third-party accreditation, a competence framework for fire risk assessors and the creation of a register of fire risk assessors. The working group recommend that the register should be compiled from the existing registers and should be easy to use, with open public access to records of individuals and organisations. It is right that industry leads this work and continues to develop the competence and capacity of these professions.

I wish to assure your Lordships’ House that the Government are committed to working with the fire risk assessor sector to develop a clear plan to increase its capacity and capability. However, it is necessary to establish this basic principle of competence before we consider how the sector can be further professionalised. Again, the responses to the fire safety consultation proposals will inform the approach on issues relating to competence.

The right approach is for the Government to first establish a basic principle of competence and consider the competency steering group’s and subgroup’s proposals in relation to a register of fire risk assessors. The Government’s position is that this work should continue to be led and progressed by industry. We will support industry in taking forward this vital work.

--- Later in debate ---
17:24

Division 2

Ayes: 284


Labour: 137
Liberal Democrat: 78
Crossbench: 48
Independent: 15
Green Party: 2
Bishops: 1
Plaid Cymru: 1

Noes: 267


Conservative: 224
Crossbench: 26
Independent: 8
Democratic Unionist Party: 5
Ulster Unionist Party: 2
Liberal Democrat: 1

--- Later in debate ---
The Government need to take firm action. I hope the Minister will set out for us now what action they will take to support leaseholders, who are in a terrible situation. If he does not do that, I and other noble Lords on these Benches will certainly be joining the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, in supporting this amendment.
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for their Amendment 13 on remediation costs. I often think that we need to apply a Daily Mail test to discover whether the opinion of the House will be tested. We have had an article in the Mirror from Pippa Crerar indicating one Division, and an article on this amendment from a different Mirror journalist—the online political editor. So I am not surprised that there will be a test of the opinion of the House.

I want to make clear the sincerity of our view that we need to understand the scale of the problem. Removing the cladding is like unpeeling an orange. You then find greater defects: the internal compartmentation issues, the missing firebreaks, and the issues around fire doors and wooden balconies. These historic structural defects will involve a colossal sum of money. We do not know how much; there are estimates and there are guesstimates, but we accept that there is a significant job of work to be done to deal with the historic defects that have accrued over many, many years.

As the Minister with responsibility for building—as well as fire—safety, I am regularly in contact with leaseholders hit with high bills for remediation to help make their homes safer. I fully understand the anxiety and distress that these people are going through. These are people who have done the right thing, investing their hard-earned savings into a home for themselves and their families, yet now many of them are facing unaffordable bills. I fully understand the intention behind this amendment, and I want to assure noble Lords that we are working very hard in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to improve the situation that people find themselves in.

Finally, we have already committed £1.6 billion to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings, and we have been putting pressure on building owners to step up to the plate, as well as using warranties and recovering costs from contractors for incorrect or poor work.

However, I can assure noble Lords that we want to go further to protect people from unaffordable costs. Noble Lords will be aware that we published the draft building safety Bill on 20 July 2020. This includes important public safety measures; the Government are committed to progressing the Bill as quickly as possible so that reforms can be implemented in a timely manner. The Bill will be introduced to Parliament once the Government have considered the scrutiny committee’s recommendations.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is committed to updating our position on remediation costs when the building safety Bill returns to Parliament. Michael Wade, senior adviser to MHCLG, is accelerating work with leaseholders and the financial sector to identify financing solutions that protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs while ensuring that the bill does not fall entirely on taxpayers. We have had regular meetings with leaseholder groups, on this and a range of other issues, since the draft Bill was published.

While I support the underlying intention to protect leaseholders and have gone on the record today saying so, this amendment falls down in three main areas, which might make the problem worse rather than better.

First, the safety of residents in their homes is of the highest priority. This is the intention behind today’s Bill and all the Government’s wider work on building safety. There is a range of options for meeting the costs of safety-critical remediation work, which will be appropriate in different circumstances. It would be irresponsible to close off one of the potential routes to funding these works. This amendment risks leaving a building with known fire risks in a position where the work is not taken forward.

Secondly, this new clause would stop all remediation costs from being passed on to leaseholders. For example, service and maintenance charges would at present meet the cost of safety work required as a result of routine wear and tear, such as worn fire door closers. These costs would now fall to building owners—who are, in many cases, also not responsible for original building defects, as they did not build the property—rather than being determined by the terms of the lease.

Thirdly, the fire safety order is not the appropriate legislative framework to resolve remediation costs. The primary focus of the fire safety order is to place duties on any person who has some level of control in a premises—the responsible person or the dutyholder—to ensure that they identify the fire safety risks for the buildings they are responsible for and, if necessary, put in place general fire precautions. As I have said, we are looking to the building safety Bill to address the issues raised in this amendment.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for his comment about orphan liability. He underlined the point that we need to keep the options open. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, for his comment about construction warranties. Typically, the market leader is the NHBC. I met the council very recently and, effectively, that is only a 10-year protection: two years for defects, with eight years insurance-based. While we are looking at ways of increasing the compliance period to align with the 10 years, it would be possible through other legislative means to extend the period, because I do not see why someone who has put their life savings into a home has such minimal protection when they purchase a property. I buy a pair of tweezers to take the hair out of my ears and they have a lifetime guarantee. When someone puts their entire savings into a home, they deserve protection over time. That is something we as a Government need to look to do, and will do in due course. This is not the moment to resolve this particular issue, but it is well noted.

I ask that your Lordships’ House recognises the complexity of this policy area, which cannot be solved through this amendment, and considers the assurances I have given today. For the reasons set out in my response, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. This is about saving thousands of householders from crippling debts when none of the fault for this awful situation is of their making: none of it. I accept what the Minister has said; this is a problem that is hugely costly and complex. However, Governments regularly—daily, probably—have to find solutions to complex and costly issues, and this is one. I trust that the Minister can find a fair and just solution to it.

I again thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, in particular for sharing his expertise in this matter. He has rightly pointed out that this is a difficult, complicated and knotty problem, but the principle must be right: somewhere in government legislation we need the principle to be accepted that these leaseholders and tenants have, in good faith, bought a flat, or are tenants or residents of a flat, and that these problems have arisen through no fault of their own. They should not, as my noble friend Lord Stunell said, be held to ransom for these problems when it is not their issue. They have every right to expect, as my noble friend said, to have bought a home that is safe, when they have all the guarantees and insurances in place.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who spoke about flats that are worthless and residents who are being penalised through no fault of their own. I thank the Minister for his reply, and I know that this is difficult. What I want him to do is to accept that the principle we are putting forward is the fair and just one. It is no good, to my mind, saying that nobody is going to expect house owners to have to pay anything more than is affordable, whatever that means. Worse still came from the lips of the Minister when he said that what is happening is that, when they take off the cladding, they are revealing and exposing further terrible defects. Frankly, that makes matters worse and the principle of what the amendment proposes more just.

I fully understand the Government’s intention to try and find a fair way to pay for this. My view, and the view of my colleagues, is that the costs should not fall on those who in good faith have bought their home and, through no fault of their own, are in this terrible and difficult situation. Good intentions are okay but the path to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. In this regard, good intentions are not sufficient. We need the principle to be accepted that none of the costs of the remediation of poor building works or poor standards and fire hazards should fall on leaseholders or tenants. Given that I have not had a sufficient reassurance from the Minister, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

--- Later in debate ---
18:10

Division 3

Ayes: 275


Labour: 133
Liberal Democrat: 80
Crossbench: 43
Independent: 13
Green Party: 2
Bishops: 1
Plaid Cymru: 1

Noes: 262


Conservative: 221
Crossbench: 25
Independent: 10
Democratic Unionist Party: 4
Ulster Unionist Party: 2

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
14: Clause 3, page 2, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) Section (Risk based guidance about the discharge of duties under the Fire Safety Order) comes into force at the same time as section 1 comes fully into force in relation to premises in England.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the proposed new Clause in the Minister’s name to be inserted after Clause 2 comes into force at the same time as Clause 1 in relation to premises in England.

Fire Safety Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 24th November 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 132-R-I Marshalled list for Report - (12 Nov 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in moving this Motion, I want to thank all those around the House who have taken part in the Bill’s passage so far. I am proud that this is the first Bill I have taken through your Lordships’ House solo.

The Bill represents a significant step towards delivering meaningful change so that a tragedy like that at Grenfell Tower can never happen again. The Government are, and always have been, committed to implementing the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase 1 recommendations. The Fire Safety Bill is the first legislative step in this process, and, as I have stated before, we are committed to delivering the Grenfell recommendations through regulations following the fire safety consultation.

The building safety Bill will also deliver significant change in both the regulatory framework and industry culture, creating a more accountable system. Taken together, the Fire Safety Bill, the building safety Bill and the fire safety consultation will create fundamental improvements to building and fire safety standards and ensure that residents are safe, and feel safe, in their homes.

Although this is a short, technical Bill, it is important to ensure we get the legislative sequencing right. I am therefore committed to delivering this Bill, which will pave the way for the Government to introduce regulations that will deliver on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase 1 recommendations. We received 200 responses to our consultation, and I thank everyone who responded. I beg to move.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for his engagement with myself and the House in general as we have considered the Fire Safety Bill. The noble Lord engaged with Members of all parties and none in his friendly, engaging style. I very much appreciate that; it is the only way to do business in this House. I think the noble Lord will have a long career on those Benches, and I wish him well there. The Bill goes back to the other place in a much better state than it arrived here in. Important amendments have been passed. I hope the Government will reflect carefully on those amendments and not just seek to overturn them in the other place.

It was good that the noble Lord again confirmed that the Government are committed to implementing the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry report. I am delighted to hear that, and we have passed amendments to facilitate that. I will say to the noble Lord and the Government that it is ridiculous that the Government keep voting against the pledges they make at the Dispatch Box and had in their manifesto. I hope they will take that on board in the other place. Surely it is right that a public register of fire risk assessments is available and kept up to date.

Finally, we must end the leasehold and tenant cladding scandal. These are the innocent victims; they must not bear the costs. The costs must be borne by the people who built the building—the warranty provider, the guarantors and the people who signed the buildings off as being fit for purpose—not by the poor tenants and leaseholders. All the amendments agreed by the House have gone to the Commons. I hope they will do the right thing in the other place and not just oppose them and send them back. I thank everybody who engaged in this Bill.

Earl of Lytton Portrait The Earl of Lytton (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a great privilege to be invited to make some concluding remarks on the Bill on behalf of the Cross Benches, especially as I was not able to participate in the initial stages. We have covered a huge range of issues, such as those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, on electrical safety, and those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and others, focusing on safety assessments and the perils of the deregulatory approach under permitted development rights. We have ranged from fire doors to liability issues and, of course, as highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the effect on the innocent who are blighted by the costs of remediating cladding systems.

As a technician, first and foremost, I am particularly grateful for how some of my own points were received. With Dame Judith Hackitt’s report ringing in our ears, even as we debated the Bill the ongoing inquiry under Sir Martin Moore-Bick reminded us of the construction culture that we need to address, along with the reputational challenges that have been the hallmark of what has come out post Grenfell. We must never forget the effect on those who were directly affected by that terrible tragedy. I pay tribute to the Labour Front Bench for constantly reminding us of the need for the Bill. I thank the Bill team and the Minister for keeping us on the critical path—expediting things at this stage is clearly an expression of our common wish.

Of course, some matters will now need to be reconsidered by the Commons, so it may not be the last we hear of this: the Bill needed improvements and I hope that, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the Commons will take due regard of the careful and considered points that have been raised in this House. Given the legacy of issues that have got us here, it is a tough call, demanding courage and a firm steer from the Government, and I hope the Bill will underpin that process.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I genuinely thank all Members of this House for their positive engagement. The Cross Benches, the Liberal Democrats, the Opposition —at the end of the day everybody wants to see a better Bill, and I certainly understand that. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. I learned a lot from his contribution on behalf of the Cross Benches. It was incredibly thoughtful and practical, understanding that this requires a firm hand from the Government and that we need to have a coherent programme as we move forward.

I am well aware that the building safety Bill, which already has around 120 clauses, will be considerably longer, in its passage through Parliament, than this three-clause Bill. But I want to make the point that we have seen constructive and more opportunistic contributions, and I want to put them into three buckets. The very constructive contributions, as this returns to the other place, are around the competence and capacity of the professionals who will have to work with the system day to day. We not only want to have nice documents and a good fire risk assessment, we need to ensure that fire safety management works and that the people in the buildings know how to prevent these things from happening in the first place. The identification of a responsible person is also important. Accountability underpins all this, so that was very helpful, as was the discussion about the recording of fire risk assessments and their availability to occupants. Some of those points were incredibly constructive—there were more, but I put them in the “constructive and relevant” bucket.

Then we have the “constructive, but this is not the right legislative hook” bucket. Electrical safety is incredibly important, since its lack is the cause of many fires in dwellings. We recognise that we need to find the right vehicle, but this is not it and I think noble Lords accept that.

Then we had the more opportunistic comments. There is a real commitment to implement the phase 1 inquiry findings from this Government, from the Opposition Benches and from the Liberal Democrats, but we had to consult, and the fire safety consultation had more than 200 responses. We need to use that as the vehicle, through regulation, to ensure that the crisis that happened three and a half years ago never happens again. Although you can never say “never”, that is the purpose of these packages of reform and we stand by that commitment. We just want to find the most practical and proportionate ways of achieving that end point, by talking to the people who have to manage that system day to day.

Also more opportunistic were the comments around decades-long poor construction and poor quality. We are talking about decades of problems and, unfortunately, they are going to take a long time to resolve. The question of who pays for this remediation requires careful balance. We want building owners to be responsible for this. We want developers to build high-quality buildings, so that we do not have to remediate in the future to the extent that we do today, and that we face today with our future buildings. We want developers to pay, and they have paid. We have seen this with the ACM fund. However, the extent of how bad this is, beyond cladding, has not really been calculated. It has just been guesstimated, but it runs into many billions of pounds. Therefore, in wanting to have personal accountability but also appropriate action by the state, we have options.

Fire Safety Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Consideration of Lords amendments & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons
Wednesday 24th February 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Commons Consideration of Lords Amendments as at 24 February 2021 - (24 Feb 2021)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Kit Malthouse Portrait The Minister for Crime and Policing (Kit Malthouse)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Lords amendment 2, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 3, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 4, amendment (e) thereto, Government motion to disagree, and amendments (a) to (c) in lieu, amendments (f) and (g) in lieu, amendment (d) in lieu and amendment (i) in lieu.

Lords amendment 5, and Government motion to agree.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It seems a long time since I spoke on this Bill in Committee in June last year. I am playing a small part in the Bill’s passage through both Houses, and I stand in today for the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who led on the Bill at Second Reading and on Report last year. I am sure everyone in this House wishes him a full recovery.

Lords amendments 1 and 5 were moved by the Government on Report following advice that the Home Office received from fire safety operational experts on how to commence the Fire Safety Bill. In Committee, I announced that the Home Office had established an independent task and finish group whose role was to provide a recommendation on the optimal way to commence this Bill. The group was chaired jointly by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Fire Sector Federation, and it brought together experts from across the fire and housing sectors.

On 28 September, the task and finish group submitted its advice to the Home Office that the Bill should be commenced at once for all buildings in scope. The Government accepted this recommendation.

The group also recommended that responsible persons under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 should use a risk-based approach to carry out or review fire risk assessments, upon commencement, using a building prioritisation tool, and that the Government should issue statutory guidance to support this approach. The Government accepted this recommendation, which will support responsible persons. The Home Office, with support from the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Fire Sector Federation, will host the model once it has been finalised.

Lords amendment 1 will allow us to take forward the provision of statutory guidance to support that approach. The amendment ensures that the risk-based guidance, which will be issued by the Secretary of State to support commencement of the Bill for all relevant buildings, will have the appropriate status to incentivise compliance. It does this by stating explicitly that a court can consider whether a responsible person has complied with their duties under the fire safety order by complying with the risk-based guidance. Equally, if a responsible person fails to provide evidence that they have complied, it may be relied upon by a court as tending to support non-compliance with their duties under the order.

The amendment also creates a provision to allow the Secretary of State to withdraw the risk-based guidance, but this can be done only after consultation with relevant stakeholders. Our rationale for inserting this provision is that we believe a point will eventually be reached where, having followed a risk-based approach to prioritisation, responsible persons will have assessed all the fire safety risks for the external walls of their buildings. At that stage, there may no longer be a need for the guidance to remain in place.

I assure Members that the Government will commence the Bill at the same time as issuing the guidance, and Lords amendment 5 ensures that will happen. This amendment gained the support of the Opposition in the other place when put to a vote on Report. I also recall the comments of the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) in Committee, when she said this Bill should be commenced at once for all buildings in scope and that a risk-based approach, like the one modelled in her home town of Croydon, should be adopted.

One of the recurring themes during the passage of this Bill has been concern over the number of fire risk assessors with the skills to undertake work on external wall systems. The task and finish group considered this issue as it looked at how responsible persons will be able to update their fire risk assessments, given there is limited capacity in the fire risk assessment sector—primarily of fire engineers working on complex buildings.

The group’s recommendation for a risk-based approach to an all-at-once commencement, on which we are acting, is the most practical way to deal with what is a complex issue. Our approach sends a signal to the fire risk assessor sector—mainly fire engineers—that their expertise should be directed where it is needed most, to the highest-risk buildings.

I thank all members of the task and finish group for their work in developing advice to the Home Office. The group has provided an optimal solution for commencing the Fire Safety Bill, allowing the Government to introduce the provisions at the earliest opportunity. It is important that we continue the good work undertaken with those relevant stakeholders on the task and finish group to regularly monitor the effectiveness of the risk-based guidance and the building prioritisation tool. These provisions will allow us to take forward the recommendations from operational experts in the field of fire safety. I hope that hon. Members will support Lords amendments 1 and 5, as agreed in the other place.

Lords amendment 3 seeks to introduce a power that the Secretary of State must use to make regulations to establish and keep up to date a public register of fire risk assessments. As you have confirmed, Madam Deputy Speaker, this amendment engages financial privilege and will not be debated. The amendment invokes significant financial concerns. To provide a sense of the scale of costs, we can point to two things. First, based on the number of buildings requiring a fire risk assessment, our initial estimate is that the cost to the public purse of a public register of fire risk assessment is above £2 million per annum.

Secondly, these costs would likely be broadly commensurate with the expenditure of maintaining a database of energy performance certificates. That system was mentioned by Opposition colleagues in the other place, who stated that something similar should be introduced for fire risk assessments. The current database of energy performance certificates is housed centrally in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The current costs for this are around £2 million per year, but under private contractual arrangements used previously, they were approximately £4 million a year. Notwithstanding the issue of financial privilege, I sympathise with the intent behind the amendment, and we will not rule out doing this in the future. However, there is a need for detailed policy consideration prior to implementation of such a database, which makes this the wrong time to impose this measure in primary legislation.

I raise just a couple of points to underline our view that the amendment is not appropriate. The amendment would, in effect, create a legal duty on responsible persons to make publicly available the full fire risk assessment for all buildings falling within the scope of regulation owing to the fire safety order. In its current form, the amendment would potentially mean that anyone would be able to access the fire risk assessments for a wide range of premises, including schools, hospitals, care homes and Government buildings. We would have concerns over the risk that posed to security, particularly if the information was accessed by somebody with malicious intent.

Linked to the security issue is the level of information that could and should be made available if a system of recording fire risk assessments is created. For example, a fire risk assessment can often be technical and is very different from an energy performance certificate. It may, for example, prove more effective and transparent to publish a summary of a fire risk assessment, rather than the full document. However, the Government agree with the principle of residents being able to access vital fire safety information for the building in which they live, and we propose introducing legislative provision to allow them to do so in our fire safety consultation. It is important to take a proportionate and appropriate approach to sharing information with residents. However, I hope that hon. Members will understand my concerns and the reason why the Government will resist the amendment.

Lords amendment 2 would place in primary legislation several specific requirements on the owner or manager of a building that contained two or more domestic premises. I recognise that many in this House and the other place wish to see legislative change on this as soon as possible. The Government share that objective, which is why we committed to implementing and legislating for the Grenfell inquiry’s recommendations in our manifesto. The Fire Safety Bill is the first step towards this. It was always intended to be a short, technical piece of legislation designed to clarify that structure, external walls and flat entrance doors should be included within the fire safety order. We need to deliver on that as soon as possible, to ensure that fire risk assessments are updated to take account of the risks in those areas. We intend to implement the areas specified in Lords amendment 2 through regulations, and as such the amendment is unnecessary.

It is not helpful, I have to say, for the House to keep returning to this issue. It risks causing confusion, as we saw through misleading media coverage of Commons Report stage. It also raises doubts in relation to the Government’s commitment to implementation, when all along we have been crystal clear about our intentions. I reassure the Grenfell community, who I know were distressed by the publicity at Committee stage, and those in the House and the wider public that the Government remain absolutely steadfast in our commitment to implement the inquiry’s recommendations.

I am sure everyone across the House accepts the importance of consulting when proposing significant changes to legislation. The importance of that was underlined by the Grenfell inquiry chair, who said that it was important that his recommendations

“command the support of those who have experience of the matters to which they relate.”

Furthermore, the National Fire Chiefs Council’s published response to our fire safety consultation states:

“NFCC supports the Government’s approach to publicly consulting on how to implement the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations. This consultation provides an opportunity to gather wider views on how to practically deliver the recommendations in a way that brings the maximum benefits to public safety.”

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Gary Sambrook Portrait Gary Sambrook (Birmingham, Northfield) (Con)
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I am glad that the Minister has confirmed that extra £3.5 billion, bringing the total to £5 billion. Will he confirm that this will fully cost the removal of the cladding, and that those leaseholders who live in high-rise buildings will not have to foot the bill?

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is the case. I know that my MHCLG ministerial colleagues have been in this place and debated this extensively and, having made the case to the Treasury, it was gratifying to see this money come forward. It will assist those who are living in fear in high-rise buildings in particular, but also those in mid-rise buildings, who, as I am sure my hon. Friend knows, will benefit from a financing scheme.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Unfortunately, leaseholders in my constituency have been left in the dark after the announcement the other day because, despite the co-operation between the Welsh Government and the UK Government on the details of this Bill, they have been unable to get answers on the crucial issues of the building development levy and the new tax and on whether there will be any new money for Wales in the proposals laid out by the Secretary of State. Will the Minister urgently respond to the letter from the Welsh Housing Minister, Julie James, which asks reasonable questions and sets out constructive solutions, and will he and his MHCLG colleagues meet me to discuss these issues and find a solution for leaseholders across the United Kingdom?

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s impatience, and it is shared by us all across the House. The scheme is in development, as I understand from MHCLG, and I know that Ministers are working hard to get the basis, the foundations and the system in place so that the money can be distributed as quickly as possible. Happily, in terms of high-rise buildings, I think we are well over 90% that are either remediated or in the process of being remediated, but I completely agree with him that we need to work with all urgency to bring as much possible relief from the stress of living with this cladding in the future. I will certainly ask my colleagues at MHCLG to consider his offer of a useful meeting. I know they will be responding to correspondence from the Welsh Government as quickly as possible.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think we all recognise the frustration exhibited by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), which is shared across the House. Perhaps the Minister could explain what steps the Government are taking to make sure that the construction industry pays its fair share in the remediation and the future prevention of risk.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As Members who have perhaps been in the House a little longer than he has will know, I was Housing Minister for a brief period of 12 months about 18 months ago, and the work started then of sitting alongside the construction industry to get it to stand up and fulfil its obligations to the people who were living in defective high-rise buildings in particular. A number of firms did and, from working with them through the Treasury, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and MHCLG, I know that there is a new atmosphere abroad. That is certainly part of the challenge that we face: it is not just about the regulation we are putting in place today, but a cultural change in the industry towards building safety so that it is now a full partner in facing the challenge for the future.

Government funding does not absolve building owners of their responsibility to ensure their buildings are safe. We have been clear that building owners and the industry, as my hon. Friend has just said, should make buildings safe without passing on costs to leaseholders. They should consider all routes to meet costs including, for example, through warranties and recovering costs from contractors for incorrect or poor work.

We have always been clear that all residents deserve to be and feel safe in their homes. We are working at pace to ensure remediation of unsafe cladding is completed, and we have an ambitious timescale to do so. As I said earlier, about 95% of high-rise buildings with Grenfell-type ACM cladding identified at the start of 2020 have completed remediation or had works on site by the end of last year. However, I am afraid the Bill is not the correct place for remediation costs to be addressed. It is a short but critical Bill to clarify that the fire safety order applies to the external walls, including cladding, and flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings. That means the responsible person must include those parts of the building in their fire risk assessment. That does not include the remediation of historical defects. It does not have the necessary legislative detail that would be needed to underpin such amendments in regulations. The Building Safety Bill is the appropriate legislative mechanism for addressing these issues, and it will be introduced in the spring. It will contain the detailed and complex legislation that is needed to address remediation costs.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend believe that incorporating these amendments might delay the Bill and mean that we cannot execute these measures now?

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid that that is the fundamental risk we face at the moment. We want to get the Bill on the statute book as quickly as possible. It forms the starting block of a complex web of legislation and regulation that is required to bring about changes in building safety across the whole country. I hope that Members recognise that the potential delay that may be inserted by a back and forth between the Houses over this particular issue is not useful. As I say, this issue should be debated during consideration of the Building Safety Bill, which will be brought forward shortly, and I know that Members will embrace that particular piece of legislation.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will make a little progress, if I may, just to outline why that is. These amendments, I am afraid, are not sufficiently clear or detailed to deliver on what Members say they wish to achieve. They would require extensive drafting in primary legislation, thereby, as we have just discussed, delaying the implementation of the Fire Safety Bill and the crucial measures it puts forward to improve the fire safety regulatory system.

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Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all the work he did as Housing Minister to resolve this issue; we met on many occasions to discuss it. Does he agree that this amendment is self-defeating in that it puts the onus for any fire safety work back on the owner, who, given debts or the cost of that work, will simply walk away? These owners have probably paid a few thousand pounds per flat to collect, rightly, ground rent. If we put a debt on them for £40,000 per flat, they will simply walk away, and who will then carry the can for the work?

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend speaks with some expertise in this area and has been a constant presence in debates on this matter over the past few years. He is right. The amendment is self-defeating given the number of, for example, freeholds that are held in limited liability vehicles, which could, in the position he points out, simply put themselves into some kind of insolvency procedure. That is why any measure along these lines would need to be scrutinised carefully and thought about in a little more detail before we brought it in.

Alongside all that, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has committed to taking decisive action to end the cladding scandal once and for all through the Government’s five-point plan to provide reassurance to homeowners and build confidence in the housing market. Funding will be targeted at the highest-risk buildings, in line with long-standing independent expert advice and evidence. Lower-rise buildings with a lower risk to safety will gain new protection from the costs of cladding removal through a long-term, low-interest Government-backed financing scheme. The Government are also committed to making sure that no leaseholder in these buildings will pay more than £50 per month towards this remediation. Let me be clear: it is unacceptable for leaseholders to have to worry about the cost of fixing historical safety defects in their buildings.

I ask hon. Members to recognise that while these amendments are based on good intentions, they are not the appropriate means to solve these complex problems. By providing unprecedented funding and a generous financing scheme, we are ensuring that money is available for remediation, accelerating the process, and making homes safer as quickly as possible. I give my assurance that the Government schemes to address these issues will be launched as a matter of priority and that we will provide an update on the underpinning details, as Members have urged us, as soon as we are in a position to do so. For the reasons set out, I hope that the House will see fit to support me in my aspirations with regard to these and other amendments.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to follow the Policing Minister. I, too, put on record my best wishes to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who cannot be here to lead for the Government today. We all wish him a speedy recovery

I thank our fire and rescue services, who are going above and beyond to keep us safe and have worked tirelessly to protect us throughout the covid pandemic. I am grateful to Ministers, to officials and to House staff who have worked with us on this Bill. I give particular thanks to Yohanna Sallberg and Kenneth Fox, who have supported me, in particular, throughout the Bill’s passage. I thank Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and all those Lords who have led this Bill through the House of Lords, and ensured that Labour’s key amendment on implementing the Grenfell phase 1 recommendations was accepted there.

Every time we debate and discuss the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, we hold the memory of those who died in our hands. We must be gentle and respectful, but we must also see the injustice, and honour those who died by taking action, and by not resting until justice has been done and everybody has a safe home that they can afford. I pay tribute to the campaigners—Grenfell United, the families, survivors, and the entire community—for their tireless fight for justice. I also pay tribute to those campaigners who are fighting every day for the hundreds of thousands of people who are trapped in unsafe buildings, and who face extortionate bills and are unable to move. The drumbeat of their lives is fear and anxiety. No Parliament can ignore that.

Thousands of people are working on this, but I particularly thank Ritu and Will from the UK Cladding Action Group, for their assiduous efforts. I thank the 200 people who joined our roundtable this morning, so that we could hear at first hand the horrors that this Government are wilfully enabling. As Ritu said, “we are fellow human beings in these buildings—your family, your friends, your colleagues.” To everyone who is affected, and who is living in fear and anxiety, I say sorry—we must do better.

As we have said throughout the passage of the Bill, we support it, but it is small and the only piece of concrete legislation we have had since Grenfell. That is not an adequate response to the biggest housing safety crisis in a generation. It does not even scratch the surface of the work that must be done to fix the wild west of building control and fire safety that we have seen played out with such horror over the past few weeks during phase 2 of the Grenfell inquiry. It has taken so long to get here, and at every stage we have had to drag the Government into action.

The Government promised to act swiftly after Grenfell, yet it took them almost three years to introduce this Bill. We waited 12 weeks just for them to bring the Bill back to consider Lords amendments. This is intended to be a foundational Bill. Its purpose is to provide clarity, and state what is covered by the fire safety order, which will inform other related and secondary legislation. In Committee the Minister said that the Government intend to legislate further, and he spoke many times of action still to come, as he did today. By this stage, however, we need more than vague commitments about secondary legislation. At the very least, we need a clear timetable from Government that sets out when further changes to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order will be delivered, when secondary legislation will be introduced, and when the Bill will be implemented.

In response to a deeply frustrated letter from Grenfell survivors in September, the Government said that the introduction of the Fire Safety Bill was a key priority, yet the Bill does not include provision for any of the measures called for by the first phase of the Grenfell inquiry. We would like many issues around improving fire safety to be included in the Bill, but many will now have to be introduced through the draft Building Safety Bill and by secondary legislation. We have no idea when any of those things will happen.

--- Later in debate ---
Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). Like many other Members, I extend my best wishes to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). We all hope to see him back in his place as soon as possible.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. This is the first opportunity I have had to speak on this extremely important Bill, and naturally my thoughts turn to the unimaginable tragedy of Grenfell Tower, which none of us will forget—it shocked and horrified us all throughout the country. I know that the Government are gripped by a determination to right the wrongs of the past and to bring about the biggest improvement to building safety in a generation, to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.

While I am speaking about Grenfell, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) and her speech earlier. She is right that we need to get on with it rather than muck about with parliamentary procedure. That brings me to the reason why I support the Government’s positions today. The Queen’s Speech committed the Government to introducing two Bills on fire and building safety. This Bill, the first, is straightforward but is nevertheless an important step. I very much await the second Bill, the Building Safety Bill. We have to get things right in the right order, and we have to proceed as quickly as possible.

On the substance of this Bill, I certainly welcome the policy intention. It is a profoundly important step towards remedying the flaws in the building safety regime that were identified in the Hackitt report. It is a narrowly drafted Bill, but it enables legal certainty. When the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee did pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, we heard a lot of evidence suggesting that it was a compelling vision for the future of the industry. The Fire Action Safety Group called it “a positive first step”—I recognise that the group said “first step”—and the London Fire Brigade said it went

“a long way towards meeting the policy objective of a robust regime.”

On that, I think we can all agree.

There are, though, other issues in respect of the remediation of safety problems. I am sure I am not alone in having received emails from a number of leaseholders worried about the unaffordable costs of remediation. They are uncertain and worried, and some face negative equity. I agree with those who have said today that nobody should be in such a position. I can only imagine how I would have felt in my 20s or 30s if I had received a letter suggesting that I had a liability of tens of thousands of pounds. I do not minimise those concerns. However, I do take the Government at face value when they say that the Bill, as drafted, does not have the necessary legislative detail to underpin the amendments in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith)—a problem my hon. Friend the Minister referred to in his opening speech. Accepting these amendments would require extensive drafting of primary legislation to make them legally workable. That would significantly delay the implementation of the Bill, and I am concerned about the consequences of that.

It is clear that high-rise buildings in this country should never have been fitted with this dangerous, unsafe cladding. It is vital that we take the steps to make this right once and for all—making those buildings safer and protecting residents from crippling costs—and at a pace that the severity of the situation demands. We must ensure that Grenfell can never, ever happen again.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the many Members who contributed to this at times impassioned debate about a matter that is of interest to all of us. I know that my fellow Ministers at the Home Office and, indeed, at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will take on board the many points raised. Given the time available to me, I apologise that I am not able to address all the questions put forward. However, I will turn to some of the main themes that have dominated the debate, not least the remediation issue, about which there has been such natural and understandable focus.

It might be worth restating at the beginning the broad task that lies ahead of us as a House and, indeed, as a Government. It falls in three areas. First, we have to deal with remediation as quickly as possible. We talked a lot about that today, and about how we can perhaps increase the pace. Obviously there have been significant steps recently, not least the money that has been put forward. Secondly, we have to restore a proper appreciation of risk and value to affected properties, so that the finance industry and insurance industry can do their work in enabling the transfer of those properties and their protection correctly, rather than the current “computer says no” system.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister mentions the time that this will take. Whatever money is put forward, it will take five or 10 years to remediate many buildings. Insurance costs have quadrupled for many residents. There is a solution on the table, provided by the Association of Residential Managing Agents, in which the Government take a top-sliced risk, which would put those premiums back down. Will he look at that proposal and see whether that could be put in place to ease the burden on many leaseholders?

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Secretary of State—sorry; Mr Deputy Speaker. You never know. My hon. Friend raises, as usual, a constructive point. I know that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and, indeed, the Chancellor are meeting with banks and the insurance industry to see what solutions may come forward. The third strand of work is obviously to build a system of building safety and regulation for the future, so that the terrible tragedy of Grenfell can never happen again.

I turn to some of the questions asked. First, I was asked, not least by the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), why we cannot give a firm timetable for the building safety legislation programme. I recognise that there is an intent and a desire for certainty, and we want to legislate at the earliest possible opportunity. However, Members should also be aware that making these fundamental reforms to building safety is incredibly complex, so it is important that we get this right, as a number of Members raised, by ensuring that our measures are properly scrutinised by experts and Parliament before we legislate.

The Building Safety Bill has more than 140 clauses, and I cannot prejudge the time that Parliament will need to properly scrutinise this important piece of legislation before it is put on the statute book. It is for that reason that I cannot provide specific dates for when legislation will come into force, but I emphasise again that the Government are as committed as ever to delivering the inquiry’s recommendations. We will bring the Fire Safety Bill into force as early as possible after Royal Assent. The regulations will follow as early as practicable, and we expect the Building Safety Bill to be introduced after the Government have considered the recommendations from the HCLG Committee, and when parliamentary time allows. We are therefore resisting the Labour amendment, for the extensive reasons that I mentioned in my opening speech. We think it is unnecessary and inflexible. I restated various points as to why we think that is the case earlier.

I turn to remediation, and particularly the amendments laid by my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and my good and hon. friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith). We recognise that they care deeply about this issue, as do many Members from across the House, and they have obviously worked hard to represent their constituencies with dedication and passion. Having sat with leaseholders, in my role as Housing Minister, and with the bereaved and survivors of the Grenfell community, I am aware, as of course we all are, of the terrible anguish and worry that this has caused to many. We agree with the intent to give leaseholders the peace of mind and financial certainty they crave.

--- Later in debate ---
17:36

Division 233

Ayes: 345


Conservative: 344

Noes: 226


Labour: 198
Liberal Democrat: 11
Democratic Unionist Party: 8
Independent: 4
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Lords amendment 2 disagreed to.
--- Later in debate ---
17:47

Division 234

Ayes: 340


Conservative: 340

Noes: 225


Labour: 197
Liberal Democrat: 11
Democratic Unionist Party: 8
Independent: 4
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Lords amendment 4 disagreed to.

Fire Safety Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Consideration of Commons amendments & Lords Hansard
Wednesday 17th March 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 173-I Marshalled list for Consideration of Commons reasons - (15 Mar 2021)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 2, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 2A.

2A: Because the Government has announced that it intends to bring forward its own legislative proposals to address the issues mentioned in the amendment.
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will speak also to the House’s Amendments 3 and 4, with which the other place has disagreed for its Commons Reasons 3A and 4A. Before I address the amendments agreed at the Lords Report stage, I would like to make a few comments about the overall importance of this piece of legislation. The Bill was introduced in the other place nearly a year ago today and we are moving closer to getting it on to the statute book. As there are a couple of issues to resolve, it is vital that we should remind ourselves of the fundamental purpose of the Bill. It is an important step in delivering fire and building legislative reforms. It is purposely short because it has been designed to provide much-needed legal clarification that the fire safety order applies to structure, external walls and flat entrance doors. What this will mean on the ground is that these critical elements will be covered in updated fire risk assessments and ensure that enforcement authorities can take action where necessary. In short, the current legal uncertainty will end.

I turn to Amendment 2 and Amendment 2B proposed in lieu by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. The Government remain steadfast in their commitment to delivering the Grenfell Tower inquiry recommendations, including those on the duties of an owner or manager. As such, the amendments are unnecessary. However, I thank him for his constructive engagement with me prior to this debate. I will be able to provide further reassurances to the House in respect of timing that he is seeking and look forward to outlining them in response to the debate.

I turn now to Amendment 3. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for the constructive conversations that we have had regarding a public register of fire risk assessments, and I am grateful to her for not pressing her amendment again today.

I move on to Amendment 4, Amendments 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E proposed in lieu by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, and Amendment 4F proposed in lieu by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. I recognise the concerns of your Lordships to ensure that swift action is taken to protect leaseholders from the significant remediation costs related to unsafe cladding and other historic building safety defects. We are all acutely aware of the full toll that this has taken on leaseholders and the pain and anguish that it has caused. I expect that we will hear a number of views during the debate on the important issue of remediation. However, this is a highly complex matter without a simple solution, and it cannot be resolved in this short Bill.

I make it clear now that we have a number of concerns about the alternative amendments, and I will set out my specific views on them at the end of the debate. I beg to move.

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Moved by
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Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, is there anyone present in the Chamber, who has been here since the beginning of the debate, who wishes to contribute? No? In which case, I revert to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have listened carefully to the debate and will take this opportunity to address noble Lords’ comments and concerns in more detail. I start by addressing Amendment 2B. I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for his constructive engagement with me on this. I reiterate again that the Government remain steadfast in their commitment to deliver the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report’s recommendations in full. It is understandable that the House wants to see visible progress on this and to have a better understanding of the timing of next steps and of the proposals that we will bring forward.

Today, the Government published their response to the fire safety consultation. This is an important and clear demonstration of our progression towards implementing the inquiry’s recommendations. I am clear that, subject to the Fire Safety Bill gaining Royal Assent, the Government intend to lay regulations before the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report that will deliver on the inquiry’s recommendations. These will include measures around checking fire doors and lifts.

I am also committed to seeking further views, as soon as practicable, through a further public consultation on the complex issue of personal emergency evacuation plans. We already know that some of our proposals from the consultation will require primary legislation. They include strengthening the guidance relating to the discharge of duties under the fire safety order and the requirement for responsible persons in all regulated premises to record who they are and provide a UK-based address. We intend to include these measures, and possibly others that come out of the consultation, to strengthen fire safety in the building safety Bill, which will be introduced after the Government have considered the recommendations made by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, and when parliamentary time allows.

I thank the noble Lord for, I hope, not pressing this matter to a vote. He is right in his role to hold the Government to account for delivering on the Grenfell recommendations, and I am pleased to have provided the reassurance that he sought.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for not pressing her amendment. I understand her interest in this area. More generally, we are looking at specific information-sharing provisions in the regulations and later in the building safety Bill, which we see as a first step to meeting the Grenfell recommendations on this issue.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, the other reason for resisting the public register amendment is that anyone from the general public would be able to access fire safety information about a building, which poses a security risk in the event that the information were accessed by someone with malicious or criminal intent. But the Government do agree with the principle that residents should be able to access critical fire safety information for the building that they live in, and we include proposals for this in the fire safety consultation.

I will now address Amendments 4B to 4F. First, I reiterate the intention conveyed in the other place that we share the concerns around the costs of remediation and the need to give leaseholders peace of mind and financial certainty. I have always been clear that all residents deserve to be and to feel safe in their homes. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has committed to taking decisive action to deal with the cladding crisis, and, through the Government’s five-point plan, to provide reassurance to home owners and build confidence in the housing market.

First, as has been commented on, the Government will provide an additional £3.5 billion to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on residential buildings. This will be targeted at the highest-risk buildings—those over six storeys or above 18 metres—that have unsafe cladding. This is in line with long-standing expert advice on which buildings are at the highest risk. This brings the Government’s investment in building safety to an unprecedented £5 billion or more.

Secondly, we have been clear that leaseholders in lower-rise buildings, with a lower risk to safety, will gain new protection from the costs of cladding removal through a long-term, low-interest, government-backed financing scheme. Leaseholders in a residential building that is 11 to 18 metres in height with unsafe cladding will never pay more than £50 per month towards this remediation.

It is important that this government funding does not excuse building owners of their responsibility to ensure that buildings are safe. We have been clear that building owners and industry should make buildings safe without passing on costs to leaseholders. They should consider all routes to meet cost—for example, through warranties and recovering costs from contractors for incorrect or poor work.

As the Minister for Building Safety and Fire Safety, I will ensure that we drive forward to ensure that remediation of unsafe cladding is completed. I am clear that we have an ambitious timescale to do so. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, progress has not been as fast as we would have liked, but we are making great progress, particularly given the constraints of the pandemic this year. Around 95% of high-rise buildings with Grenfell-type ACM cladding identified at the start of 2020 have completed remediation or have works on site to do so by the end of the year.

I want to be clear that, while this issue is vital, it would be impractical and confusing to include remediation measures in the Bill. This is because the fire safety orders are a regulatory framework that sets out the duties of a responsible person in relation to fire risk assessments. It does not cover the relationship, including potential financial obligations or prohibitions, between freeholder and leaseholder. The Bill is so important because it allows for effective enforcement where responsible persons are not abiding by their responsibilities. It addresses the situation where responsible persons refuse to remediate, which is an issue that I am sure the whole House wants resolved as soon as possible.

In contrast, the draft building safety Bill is the appropriate legislative mechanism for addressing the issue of who pays for mediation. Through the building safety Bill, the Government will strengthen the whole regulatory system for building safety, and ensure that there is greater accountability and responsibility for fire and structural safety issues throughout the life cycle of buildings within the scope of a more stringent regime. That Bill’s provisions will put the management of risk front and centre. It is important that remediation is addressed using its proactive mechanisms for managing fire and structural safety issues, such as the safety case. Remediation and costs to leaseholders should be dealt in the context of the Fire Safety Bill to ensure that legislation is coherent with the aims and scope of the new regime.

In response to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, I point specifically to Clauses 88 and 89 in the building safety Bill, which relate to charges. These clauses facilitate regulations that would amend the building safety Act and the Landlord and Tenant Act. We will add to what is already in the draft Bill, including additional duties on the accountable person to seek alternative funding before they pass costs on to leaseholders.

While I appreciate the desire that many noble Lords have for a quick legislative solution to the “who pays” issue, we also have a duty as parliamentarians to implement a clear framework and transparent legislation to support fire and building safety reforms. Even more than this, it is important to ensure that the practical implications of any legislation are properly worked through, rather than being rushed on to the statute book in this Bill. In this vein, I am clear that these alternative amendments do not work.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister did not comment on the figures given by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, which struck the House as of great concern. He said that average remediation costs could be in the order of £50,000 to £60,000 per leaseholder. Can the Minister comment on those figures?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have seen figures in the order of £50,000, but that is an aggregate figure that covers cladding costs and more historic building safety defects. Clearly, as we bring forward the legislation to deal with these issues, which will be in the building safety Bill, we must conduct a further impact assessment, but I am aware of the figures that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans presented.

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 3, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 3A.

3A: Because it would involve a charge on public funds and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 4, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 4A.

4A: Because the issue of remediation costs is too complex to be dealt with in the manner proposed.
--- Later in debate ---
15:00

Division 1

Ayes: 326


Labour: 144
Liberal Democrat: 80
Crossbench: 61
Independent: 17
Bishops: 14
Conservative: 3
Green Party: 2
Democratic Unionist Party: 1
Plaid Cymru: 1

Noes: 248


Conservative: 219
Crossbench: 18
Independent: 6
Democratic Unionist Party: 4
Ulster Unionist Party: 1

Motion C2 not moved.

Fire Safety Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Consideration of Lords amendments
Monday 22nd March 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Commons Consideration of Lords Messages as at 22 March 2021 - (22 Mar 2021)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Christopher Pincher Portrait The Minister for Housing (Christopher Pincher)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in their amendments 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for engaging in this very important debate, both now and throughout the passage of the Bill. I particularly thank my hon. Friends the Members for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), for Ipswich (Tom Hunt), for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst) and for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), and Members across the House, for the keen interest they have shown in this matter. I will keep my opening remarks short, as I know that many Members are keen to contribute, and I shall wind up later on.

The Government remain steadfast in their commitment to delivering the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report’s recommendations. This Bill is an important first step in delivering those recommendations. The Government have always been clear that all residents should be safe and feel safe in their homes. That is why we will be providing an additional £3.5 billion to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on residential buildings.

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman later on; let me conclude my initial remarks.

This will be targeted on the highest-risk buildings—that is, those buildings over 18 metres tall that have unsafe cladding. The scale of this investment should not be underestimated, with over £5 billion of taxpayers’ money, and more when the developer levy and the developer tax are taken into account. We have an ambitious timescale to ensure that remediation of unsafe cladding is completed at pace. We are also now seeing tangible progress from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors revising its guidance on EWS1 forms, lenders committing to adhering to RICS guidance, and more developers now allocating significant funds for remediation.

As parliamentarians, we have a duty to implement a clear framework and transparent legislation to support fire and building safety reform. I am afraid to say that, despite the best intentions of these Lords amendments—I absolutely accept the sincerity with which they have been posited—they are unworkable and impractical. They would make the legislation less clear, and they do not reflect the complexity involved in apportioning liability for remedial defects. I have had extensive conversations about the effects that the amendments might have with my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood, who has pressed me hard on this, as have others. These amendments would also require extensive redrafting of primary legislation, resulting in delays to the commencement of the Fire Safety Bill and to our overall programme. They could also have unintended and possibly perverse consequences for those that the amendments are intended to support, and we would still be no further forward in resolving these issues.

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) when I return to speak later, but let me say in concluding my opening remarks that we cannot accept these Lords amendments and we encourage the House to vote against them and for the Government amendments.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased that so many Members have put in to speak today. I will keep my remarks fairly brief, but I want to make three points. First, thank goodness I am not standing at this Dispatch Box again and pleading with the Government to agree at the very least a timetable to implement the vital fire safety measures from the first phase of the Grenfell inquiry. I am pleased that the Government have agreed in the other place to Labour’s suggestion of a timetable. Before the second anniversary of the Grenfell phase one recommendations, the Government have committed to regulations to implement them, and that will be by October this year. They said that this would delay the Bill, that it would be too complicated and that it would be too hard to do, but they have now agreed to a version of it. It is not quite what we wanted, but it is something close.

I have lost count of the number of times we have voted on the Grenfell recommendations and the number of times we have been pushed back, and it is quite extraordinary that the Government have taken so long to get us here. Labour’s previous amendment, which the Government have now agreed on a timetable to deliver, would do four things: the owners of buildings that contain two or more sets of domestic premises would share information with their local fire and rescue service about the design and make-up of the external walls; they would complete regular inspections of fire entrance doors; they would complete regular inspections of lifts; and they would share evacuation and fire safety instructions with residents and the fire service. These measures are straightforward and are supported by key stakeholders.

In the Minister’s letter that sets out details of the Government’s concession, he wrote that the Government would lay regulations to make responsible persons produce and regularly review evacuation plans for their building. The Grenfell recommendation, and our amendment, said more than that. They said that that information should also be shared with local fire and rescue services and residents. I would like the Minister to clarify in his closing remarks who these evacuation plans will be shared with and how this will be enforced, but I am grateful to him for seeing sense and heeding our calls to do the right thing, because it has been ages.

I come to the second point that I want to make. It has been nearly four years since 72 people so tragically lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire. In those four years, Grenfell United, the families, the survivors and the entire community have fought tirelessly for change. It is thanks to their hard work and dedication that the Government have finally agreed to implement the recommendations by October 2021. I pay tribute to them and their ongoing fight for justice. I pay tribute to our firefighters who keep us safe every day. We know that cuts to their service have hit hard—response times are inevitably affected, and morale is affected—and now they have a pay freeze, which is no way to thank them for going above and beyond during the covid pandemic.

I come to my third and final point. Leaseholders should not have to fund the cost of fire safety remediation works when they are not to blame and they are the least able to pay.

--- Later in debate ---
Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have great respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and his expertise in this policy area. I accept that the amendment is not at all perfect, but it is the only thing that is currently available to keep the issue in play, which is why, unfortunately, I cannot support the Government tonight. I had hoped we would have a solution by now.

The simple point is that whoever is at fault—there may be a number of them as this has happened over a period of time—the people who are not at fault are the leaseholders who bought in good faith. They relied on surveys and regulations that appeared to suggest that their properties were in order and had no reason to think otherwise. It therefore cannot be right that they are out of pocket, regardless of the height of the building. I quite understand that there may be perfectly good reasons for using 18 metres as a threshold of risk for prioritising work, but it has no relevance to responsibility, moral or otherwise, so it is an arbitrary cut-off point.

I had hoped that Ministers would have taken the opportunity between the previous debate and this one to come up with a further scheme. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister, who I know is trying to do the right thing and has put a great deal of money into the matter, to continue to think again and work urgently on this matter because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said, time is pressing. The only people who do not have the cash flow are the leaseholders. By all means go after those at fault, be they builders, developers or contractors, but in the meantime we cannot leave leaseholders, who have done nothing wrong, facing bankruptcy because they are effectively in negative equity and are having to fork out for a significant amount of costs, as are my constituents at Northpoint in Bromley.

This is destroying people’s lives. None of us wants to do that and I know that the Government do not want to do that. To find a solution, we have to cover the costs for those people who are not in a position to fund these costs over the length of time between this Bill imposing a liability on them and the Building Safety Bill coming along perhaps 18 months—12 months at best—down the track. It is covering that gap that needs to be done. That gap has to be covered in a way that treats and protects all leaseholders equitably regardless of the height of the building. I hope that the Government will use the opportunity of this going back to the other House to think again and urgently to crystallise a solution that we can all join around. The intentions are the same across the House, but we must have something that does not leave leaseholders—those who are not at fault—exposed. It is not a question of caveat emptor. They relied on professional advice and assurances. They are not the ones at fault. Be it loan or grant, either way they should not be picking up the tab for something that was not, ultimately, their responsibility.

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to this debate. Members have spoken passionately and sincerely on behalf of their constituents. I think that everybody, from all parts of the House, wants to see the cladding scandal ended once and for all, and ended quickly, which is what the Government are about.

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I did not give way to the hon. Gentleman earlier, I suppose that it is only right for me to give way to him now.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is being very generous. He kindly agreed the other day to speak to his ministerial colleagues about getting a sit-down meeting with Julie James, the Welsh Minister for Housing and Local Government, to resolve some of these unanswered issues. She did write on 10 February to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. She has yet to receive a reply. Can we please get that meeting arranged and please get some answers to her very reasonable questions on behalf of leaseholders in Wales?

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Not only did the hon. Gentleman speak to me in the Chamber, but, even more importantly, he spoke to me in the Tea Room. I shall certainly ensure that he gets a response as swiftly as possible.

In the time that I have, let me speak to the effectiveness of this amendment. As parliamentarians, no matter what the issue is before us, we have a duty, as I said earlier, to implement a clear framework and transparent legislation to support fire and building safety reform. Despite the best intentions of those who have tabled this amendment, I have to say that it is unworkable and impractical. There are three specific points that I should raise. First, the amendment does not take into account remedial works that arise outside of the fire risk assessment process—for example, costs identified as a result of a safety incident or building works taking place. In such cases, this will not prevent costs being passed on, so it does not deliver what Members want it to do. Furthermore, if these amendments were to be added to the Bill and become law without the necessary redrafting of the legislation, the Government, and thereby the taxpayer, would in all likelihood fall liable to protracted action by building owners in the courts. Building owners could use litigation to claim for costs that they feel are entitled to be pursued from leaseholders. While that litigation is ongoing, there could be further delays to construction work carried out on urgent remediation. It could be a waste of time and a waste of taxpayers’ money. Redrafting the Bill is not something that can be done at the stroke of a pen. It requires parliamentary counsel and parliamentary draftsmen to work at it to ensure that any changes are sound and that any secondary legislation is also prepared, so that the Government, and thereby the taxpayer, can avoid legal challenge. We would not be able to get it done in this Session.

Furthermore, the amendments do not reflect the complexity involved in apportioning liability for remedial defects. The Government have announced how they will distribute costs, including from developers and industry, through our upcoming levy and tax. A decision through this amendment to pass all these costs to the building owner would be overly simplistic and it could be counter-productive. It would be self-defeating if landlords, faced with remediation costs, simply walked away. Many could do that. They could activate an insolvency procedure and just walk away. That is not about protecting freeholders, but about protecting leaseholders. It is about their position, because if leaseholders are left behind as the owners walk away, they would be in the same position as they are now, with no certainty on how works would be paid for or when they will be done. There is a real risk that this amendment could make the problem worse for leaseholders. We would be left in a situation where there would be delays to the commencement of the Fire Safety Bill, delays to our wider building safety programme, greater uncertainty for leaseholders and, quite possibly, unintended and deleterious consequences for them. We would not be any further forward in resolving the issue.

--- Later in debate ---
21:02

Division 245

Ayes: 322


Conservative: 320

Noes: 253


Labour: 197
Conservative: 33
Liberal Democrat: 11
Democratic Unionist Party: 7
Independent: 4
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.

Fire Safety Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Consideration of Commons amendments
Tuesday 27th April 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 196-I Marshalled list for Consideration of Commons reason - (27 Apr 2021)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 4J, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 4K.

4K: Because the issue of remediation costs is too complex to be dealt with in the manner proposed.
--- Later in debate ---
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I should like to start this debate by paying tribute to the fire and rescue services across our country. In recent days, we have seen large fires in Greater Manchester and Shropshire, which have been dealt with by those services with exemplary bravery and professionalism. That is a reminder of why we want to get this Bill through: to help fire and rescue services do their job, and to ensure that buildings are properly and thoroughly assessed and that the risk of fire is minimised as much as possible.

I am fully aware of the pain and anguish that the cost of remediation is causing leaseholders, but all of us in this House agree that residents deserve to be and feel safe in their homes. I do not want to repeat all the Government’s reasons for resisting these amendments, but I do want to reiterate that this is a hugely complex area. There is no simple solution and I am afraid that it cannot be resolved through amendments to this short, technical Bill.

The other place has now voted against these different remediation amendments put forward by your Lordships’ House, the last one of which was rejected by 64 votes earlier today. That confirms that the other place has supported the Government’s view that the Bill is not the right legislation in which to deal with remediation costs. There is consensus in both Houses that the fire safety order needs to be clarified. That is because we want to avoid a scenario in which defects with external walls or flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings are not identified, resulting in a potential increase in fire safety risks for everyone living in such places.

Given this consensus, coupled with the fact that the other place considers that the Fire Safety Bill is not the right place to deal with remediation costs, I again ask your Lordships to agree that this Bill should go on to the statute book. If noble Lords insist on a legal resolution to the issue of remediation costs through this Fire Safety Bill, then I am afraid that this important Bill will fall on the grounds that this could mean that responsible persons for multioccupied residential buildings can argue that it is lawful to deliberately ignore the fire safety risks of the external walls and flat entrance doors.

As noble Lords have heard in previous debates, the Government’s ability to lay regulations to deliver on the entirety of the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s recommendation is subject to this Bill gaining Royal Assent. If this Bill were to fall there will be a delay delivering the inquiry’s recommendation in respect of external wall structure and flat entrance doors.

I place on record again that the Government are committed to protecting leaseholders and tenants from the cost of remediation. Under the plans announced by the Housing Secretary in February this year, hundreds of thousands of leaseholders will be protected from the cost of replacing unsafe cladding on their homes. The £5.1 billion in grant funding made available to leaseholders is unprecedented, but I agree that leaseholders need stronger avenues for redress. The building safety Bill will bring forward measures to do this, including making directors as well as companies liable for prosecution. I agree that the industry must play its part, and the Government agree with the broader polluter pays principle. Through our high-rise levy and developer tax, industry will pay.

I repeat my message from the last time I stood here at the Dispatch Box:

“We recognise that the … Fire Safety Bill will lead to more remediation issues being identified, but there will be occasions when other measures to mitigate the risk are required, rather than extensive remedial works.”


However, the solution and the costs involved will vary depending on the corrective measures required. Not all buildings will need extensive remedial works. For example,

“the vast majority of lower-rise buildings will not require the type of remedial work discussed in the House today.”—[Official Report, 20/4/21; col. 1377-78]

To suggest that this Bill will unleash hundreds of thousands of costs, all of which will be major and substantive, is simply not the case. It is also incorrect to suggest that the Bill will create further liability for leaseholders. The Bill does not create liability; it is a simple Bill to clarify the fire safety order and let our fire and rescue services do the job they do best, which is keeping us safe.

I ask noble Lords to reconsider their position of insisting on the remediation costs amendments days before the end of this Session, which risks the Government’s ability to implement an important legal clarification that will improve fire safety and help protect lives. I beg to move.

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Moved by
--- Later in debate ---
Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the cladding scandal is turning into the next Hillsborough scandal, in terms of not only the terrible and avoidable loss of life but the failure of the public authorities to react in a timely, just and effective manner afterwards. As event after event unfolds and failure succeeds failure in terms of government inaction, I am afraid the scandal grows. Those of us who have seen these events over many years know that there will come a point where the Government will have to concede on these issues.

Anyone who watched the debate in the House of Commons this afternoon and saw impassioned speeches from a string of Conservative MPs—many of whom had encouraged first-time buyers to buy their properties in their political lives, including many of them to buy council properties as leaseholders that are now unsaleable and submerged in negative equity without even a proper schedule of works that can be agreed—will know that this position is becoming unsustainable politically. Not only that, it is becoming a moral quagmire on the part of the public authorities at large: local authorities, regulatory authorities and the Government themselves.

The Minister is in an unenviable position, and we all know why he is in that position. It is because giving the kind of commitment that has been talked about would mean that the £5 billion scheme the Government have announced so far, could, on the basis of estimates I have seen and were being quoted in the House of Commons, be £10 billion or £15 billion. But in this situation we have to work to the just solution, and the just solution is clearly that innocent leaseholders should not be held accountable for costs which had nothing to do with them, were beyond their control and purely in the authority of shoddy developers or inadequate public authorities.

Those developers should be held accountable in due course and the role of the Government is to see that, in the interim—and that interim could be many years; it could be decades before these issues are resolved—innocent leaseholders are not held to ransom. I mean that genuinely; they are held to ransom because they cannot sell their flats and properties until the cladding is sorted out, and in many cases they will be completely unable to meet the costs.

The most powerful speeches in the House of Commons this afternoon were made by Iain Duncan Smith and Liam Fox. The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, thinks that she and I are not always on the same wavelength, but I can assure the House that Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox and I hardly ever find ourselves in the same company. But everything that they said today was utterly compelling.

They read from accounts given to them by their constituents of estimates for works of £30,000, £40,000 and £50,000, negative equity, inadequate access to the fire safety fund, insurance increases of 1,000%, large charges faced by leaseholders for interim measures and charges not covered by the scheme. The Government said a forced loan scheme would be announced in the Budget, but one MP—I think it was the Conservative MP for Southampton—said “Which Budget is the Chancellor talking about because it hasn’t come in this Budget? Is it going to be the one next year or the one in 2030?”

These are the elected representatives of the people seeking to hold the Government to account. Our role as a revising Chamber in a matter of such huge importance as this is to see that their voices can be properly expressed and heard. The Minister said that there was a decisive majority in the House of Commons, but between today’s vote in the Commons and the previous vote, the Government’s majority fell by half—I repeat, by half—as a result of one further debate where these issues were properly aired. We have a duty to send this issue back and I am absolutely sure that if the Government succeed in railroading this through—they probably have the votes to do so—it is right that we see whether, with a further opportunity for discussion, more progress can be made.

It is only a matter of time before the Government will have to make significant further concessions. I say to the Minister with all due respect that they will drag the reputation of the Government and the state to a much lower level by not conceding in a timely fashion—as they should have done at some point over the last four years, but certainly must in this endgame where the issues have been raised as matters of acute concern.

With respect to the arguments, the Minister says that it is not correct or appropriate to use the Bill to legislate on this issue. My noble friend Lord Kennedy’s Motion does not use the Bill to legislate for a solution; it requires the Government to come forward in due course with their own legislation. All it does in its various provisions is to set down timescales by which the Government must do this. The Government may say that they are not prepared to come forward with legislation but the arguments keep moving. Last time, the Minister said that legislation might not be required, as he might be able to take all these actions to protect leaseholders without it. If he is not prepared to accept my noble friend’s amendment because of the legislative components, it is incumbent on him to give a commitment and say when the Government will come forward with a scheme.

Christopher Pincher, the Minister in the House of Commons, made a lot of spurious suggestions in his reply there just a few hours ago. He said that the proposal by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans was ineffective because it would prevent “very minor” costs, such as replacing smoke alarms, being passed on. That is a ludicrous suggestion; the Government could come forward immediately with a scheme to deal with minor costs if they were so minded, and I see that the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, specifically exempts minor costs. He also said that it would absolve leaseholders from responsibility for works that might be their responsibility. There will be cases where leaseholders have responsibilities, and they should be held accountable for them, but the much bigger issue here, which we as a Parliament have a responsibility to deal with, is where the state has failed in its responsibilities, as well as developers failing in theirs.

We are absolutely right to send this matter back to the House of Commons if there is a majority to do so. Irrespective of whether the Government resolve this matter over the next few days before the end of the Session, they will be forced by public opinion and the weight of natural justice—as with the Hillsborough disaster and the Horizon disaster—to move on this issue. It is simply deplorable that this will happen at the very end of a long period of pressure, which will bring the reputation of the state for fair play to a very low ebb indeed.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we all feel the plight of leaseholders. I spend most of my time as Building Safety Minister and Fire Minister in meetings at the building level, trying to accelerate the pace of remediation. Despite the fact that we have had a global pandemic over the last year, we have also had over 150 starts on site and 95% of buildings have now either had cladding of the very same type that was on Grenfell Tower removed or fully remediated, or have workers on site who are within months are making the buildings safe.

These are hard yards. I have worked with colleagues at all levels of government, with the GLA and the deputy mayor, with the appropriate lead in London Councils and with Mayor Burnham in Greater Manchester. There is a huge effort. Very often it involves difficult, brutal conversations, telling building owners and developers to get a move on. In over half the cases of buildings that had aluminium composite material, we saw the building owners step up and either fund the remediation or carry the works ahead, covering this with warranty schemes without passing the costs on to leaseholders.

These are very difficult times for leaseholders, but that is why, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, the Housing Secretary announced a very comprehensive five-point plan in February. Essentially, we have increased the building safety fund by some £3.5 billion to £5.1 billion. Details of how the revised fund will be spent will be announced very shortly. In addition, we have announced a high-rise levy, which will form part of the building safety Bill, and a tax on developers, because it is important that the polluter pays. There needs to be a financing scheme for medium-rise buildings of between four and six storeys. That is the plan that we have put on the table.

I also point out in answer to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that the Bill does not create liability. This is a simple Bill clarifying the fire safety order to let our fire and rescue services do the job they do in keeping us safe. The Bill clarifies an existing regime. I want to be absolutely clear that it does not create a new liability.

I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that we need to strengthen redress to stop this all falling on the taxpayer. I have been very clear that we will bring forward measures that will do that as part of the building safety Bill. They will make directors as well as companies liable for prosecution in some instances. The reality is that it is absolutely ludicrous that the statute of limitations under the Defective Premises Act is only six years. That is the statutory period of redress. We will bring forward measures to deal with that point. When I buy a pair of tweezers I get a lifetime guarantee, but when a poor leaseholder invests their life savings and makes the most significant payment in their lives to own their own home the period for statutory redress is simply not acceptable.

I come back to Amendments 4L and 4M. I am afraid that they are unworkable, impractical and do not deliver the solutions for leaseholders. As noble Lords have heard before, it is impractical and confusing to amend the fire safety order to try to resolve the issue of who pays. These amendments seek to cover the very complicated relationship under landlord and tenant law, including financial obligations and liabilities between freeholders and leaseholders. Frankly, these matters do not sit naturally with the fire safety order.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans spoke very eloquently to his amendment and to the two amendments that have been proposed. None of these amendments works because, once again, they orphan the liability of works until such time that a statutory scheme is in place that pays for the work directly attributable to the Act. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, both his amendments reference the provisions of the Act in so doing. I have talked about the difficulties of defining which works might be directly attributable to the Fire Safety Bill’s provisions. I have gone over that ground several times. Orphaning liability simply delays essential fire safety works.

In addition, the proposed scope of the works remains too broad, even with the £500 threshold proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. It simply does not resolve the issue. Some of the works that may be required will be very low cost and anyone would reasonably expect the leaseholders to pay. That, frankly, could be more than £500 a year. As no taxpayer scheme for such minor works will be forthcoming, we then reach deadlock.

There is an additional issue which has not been raised by noble Lords: subsidy control. It is a small but important point. Depending on the specific details, it is possible that such a statutory scheme would not be permissible under subsidy control rules. Some leaseholders have undertakings—for instance in buy to let—and subsidy control rules limit how much benefit can be conferred on undertakings. In effect, it may not be possible to relieve leaseholders and tenants from all costs of remedial works attributable to the Bill without breaching subsidy control. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, knows, further detailed consideration is needed.

--- Later in debate ---
20:20

Division 1

Ayes: 329


Labour: 142
Liberal Democrat: 77
Crossbench: 73
Independent: 19
Bishops: 9
Democratic Unionist Party: 5
Green Party: 2
Conservative: 1
Plaid Cymru: 1

Noes: 247


Conservative: 228
Crossbench: 12
Independent: 6
Ulster Unionist Party: 1

Fire Safety Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Consideration of Lords message
Tuesday 27th April 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Amendment Paper: HL Bill 196-I Marshalled list for Consideration of Commons reason - (27 Apr 2021)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Christopher Pincher Portrait The Minister for Housing (Christopher Pincher)
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I beg to move,

That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 4J.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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With this it will be convenient to consider amendments (g) to (l) in lieu of Lords amendment 4J.

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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I want first of all to thank all hon. Members for joining in this crucial debate, because all of us in this House agree that residents deserve to be safe, and to feel safe, in their homes. I want to reiterate in the strongest terms the importance of the Bill as a step along the way to delivering that objective, and the risk that we would create if we were to continue to allow these remediation amendments, however well-intentioned, to delay legislation.

The Bill was introduced over a year ago. We are almost at the point of getting it on the statute book, and it is vital that we remind ourselves of the fundamental purpose of what we are seeking to achieve—to provide much-needed legal clarification of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and direct the update of the fire risk assessments to ensure that they apply to structure, external walls and flat entrance doors. I will give way briefly to the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), but I want as many hon. Members to speak as possible.

Stephen Timms Portrait Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Ministers have repeatedly said that leaseholders should not bear the costs of the fire cladding scandal. Why is he insisting today that they should?

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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The right hon. Gentleman knows of the very significant amount of public money that we have set aside to remediate those buildings that are the most at risk of fire, where serious injury might take place, and the financial provisions that we have set aside also to help other leaseholders. If we do not resolve the Bill this week, fire assessments will not cover those critical elements of which I spoke, and they may continue to be ignored by less responsible building owners. Moreover, the fire and rescue services will be without the legal certainty that they need to take enforcement action. Ultimately, that will compromise the safety of many people living in multi-occupied residential buildings. Without the clarification provided by the Bill, it will mean delaying implementation, possibly by a year, of a number of measures that will deliver the Grenfell inquiry recommendations.

As I said, I want as many Members as possible to have the opportunity to speak, so I will say no more for the moment until I wind up the debate, save for reiterating two points. First, these remaining amendments, although laudable in their intentions, would be unworkable and an inappropriate means to resolve a problem as highly complex as this. Secondly, the Government share the concerns of leaseholders on remediation costs, and have responded, as the House knows, with unprecedented levels of financial support to the tune of over £5 billion, with further funds from the developer tax, which the Treasury will begin to consult upon imminently, as well as the tall buildings levy. Developers themselves have begun to announce more significant remediation funds.

It is in everyone’s interests to ensure that we do not put at risk the progress that has been made by failing to get the Bill on the statute book by the end of this Session.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Before I call the shadow Minister, may I reiterate that this is a very short debate with a long list of speakers, which is why I have put a three-minute limit on Back Benchers? Obviously, if colleagues can be shorter than that, we might actually get everybody in.

--- Later in debate ---
Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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My hon. Friend has raised that point many times, and he is standing up for his constituents in a way that I am afraid that this Government will not.

What do the Government care about? We are left with one possible answer. Do the Government care only about the donors who keep their Prime Minister in fancy furniture, so that he can spend £60,000 on curtains in No. 10, while nurses and key workers out there face £60,000 bills for cladding with no wealthy Tory donors to bail them out? Do the Government really care only about big property developers, such as European Land and Property, which developed a block of flats in Paddington that used the same aluminium composite material cladding as was on the Grenfell Tower, and which has donated £2.5 million to the Conservative party since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017? Do the Government really care only about Britain’s biggest builders, who have built up vast profits during the pandemic, such as Persimmon—

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
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Peter Mandelson. Tony Blair.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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The Minister is shouting names at me from a sedentary position, but he is not answering the question. I do not want to be right. I do not want that to be what the Government care about. I honestly always believe the best in people and applaud my colleagues from across the House who have stood up for their constituents time and again on this, but even they are asking why else the Chancellor and the Prime Minister are ignoring a financial and human crisis on such a growing and worrying scale.

Let us vote today to start putting this right and prove me wrong. It is not just Opposition Members who support amendments to protect leaseholders. A recent poll from YouGov commissioned by the National Housing Federation found that three quarters of MPs, including two thirds of Conservative MPs, say that the Government should pay the costs of all building safety work up front and then claim it back later from those who are responsible. I have not heard a single argument that bears any scrutiny as to why it is okay to let leaseholders foot a bill for tens of thousands of pounds, or to sit by as homeowners face bankruptcy or decades of lingering debt.

We welcome the latest amendment from the Bishop of St Albans, which would put into law a guarantee that building owners cannot pass on the costs of any remedial work to leaseholders in the time before the Government introduce their promised legislation. I am also very interested in the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), which propose that the Government should follow the polluter pays principle.

Yet again, the Government have decided to lay a motion to disagree with the Lords amendment. This is a betrayal of the promise that Ministers have made over 17 times that leaseholders will not be left to foot the bill. The Minister’s argument that it would delay further works does not work. If the Government have not managed to work out how to pursue the money from those responsible, why do they not do what is right and stop leaseholders footing the bill?

The Bishop of St Albans’s amendment would buy the Government some time. It would protect leaseholders while the Government come up with a longer-term plan. We ask the Minister again, if he does not think that the proposed amendments are right as they are, why not amend them? Why, when it is directly in their gift,