Fire Safety Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 View all Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 173-I Marshalled list for Consideration of Commons reasons - (15 Mar 2021)
Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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.

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Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
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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)
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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.

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Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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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.
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Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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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.
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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.