Baroness Brinton debates involving the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 4th Apr 2022
Tue 29th Mar 2022
Building Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1
Tue 29th Mar 2022
Building Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2
Mon 21st Feb 2022

Roma Community: Levelling Up

Baroness Brinton Excerpts
Monday 27th June 2022

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is contributing remotely.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, mission 7 of the Government’s White Paper on levelling up in the UK aims to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy by 2030. However, there is no mention in it at all of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Given that the life expectancy of GRT people is 10 to 25 years less than that of the general population, can the Minister say what the Government are doing to target this disparity?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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The levelling-up White Paper does not mention specific communities; it sets the overall ambition. However, it is fair to say that the Government, through the Health and Wellbeing Alliance, have commissioned health guidance for Roma communities. The guidance has been developed by the Roma Support Group, which is part of the Health and Wellbeing Alliance and NHS England, and this will be published as part of the migrant health guide.

High-rise Buildings: Evacuation of Disabled Residents

Baroness Brinton Excerpts
Wednesday 25th May 2022

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to provide for legally-binding evacuation plans for all disabled residents in high-rise buildings.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government have launched a new consultation on proposals to support the fire safety of residents unable to self-evacuate in an emergency. These include a person-centred fire risk assessment for these residents, simultaneous evacuation of buildings and the provision of information to fire and rescue services to feed into their emergency response. The Government’s response to the PEEPs consultation was published on 18 May. It sets out the difficulties in mandating PEEPs in high-rise residential settings.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Government’s consultation says that PEEPs would not be proportionate, practical or safe. Instead, it proposes that they stay put. But staying put is what killed 40% of disabled residents in Grenfell Tower. Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s inquiry recommended PEEPs and a premises information box. The fire chiefs’ guidance makes it clear that PEEPs and an information box would help them to evacuate disabled people. Inside Housing has reported that the Government rejected PEEPs after a single meeting with building owners. So how will disabled people be able to get out of a burning high-rise building if fire and safety officers cannot get to them?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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It is quite clear that, while we are not mandating PEEPs in high-rise residential buildings, we are consulting on these EEIS proposals. This does not remove the ability of responsible persons to implement PEEPs if they agree with residents that it is appropriate.

Levelling-up Report

Baroness Brinton Excerpts
Thursday 19th May 2022

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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We have a virtual contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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No, my Lords, not on this Question.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, will my noble friend tell me whether it is strictly necessary to dumb down the English language in order to level up?

Building Safety Bill

Baroness Brinton Excerpts
Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely. I invite the noble Baroness to speak.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Fire Safety and Rescue, as well as a user of personal emergency evacuation plans, or PEEPs, as I am a wheelchair user.

I am very grateful to the Minister and his officials for the two meetings and our email exchange since Report. I particularly thank him for what he has just said this afternoon. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and I have repeatedly debated the problem that residents in high-rise blocks face in the event of an emergency, because disabled people are not currently covered by the PEEP rules.

Disabled people were encouraged by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and the Judith Hackitt report, both of which highlighted the necessity of the golden thread of planning, notification and practical support needed for vulnerable residents, whether disabled or with a mobility impairment. Last week’s evidence from civil servants and Ministers at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry exposed a real concern that, in the past, there was no real heart to make PEEPs work, as they were deemed too expensive and complicated. The department’s announcement of a third consultation on how to get disabled residents out of a high-rise building in an emergency is welcome, but we need a final answer.

The Minister rightly focused on emergency evacuation information-sharing, because it sits within the scope of this Building Safety Bill. He has argued publicly and privately that PEEPs are for the Fire Safety Bill, but it is vital that they are developed, planned and reviewed together. Otherwise, there will be disabled residents who believe that they will be looked after and removed from their flat in the event of a fire or another emergency only to discover—as the Grenfell disabled residents did—that sitting tight and waiting can result in injury or death.

I am really grateful for what the Minister has said. We in the disabled community will watch with great interest and hope to see that golden thread come into practice in just over a month’s time.

Housebuilding: Target

Baroness Brinton Excerpts
Wednesday 30th March 2022

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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My Lords, we have a virtual contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, research by Habinteg has shown that the lifetime homes standard—that is, part M4 category 2—costs only £1,000 extra on new build, reducing the need for expensive adaptations later in life and keeping people independent. The LGA says that, at the current rate of housebuilding, it will take 2,000 years to achieve this standard. Worse, under 2% of new housing is required to be built to category 3, for wheelchair users, when a minimum of 10% is needed. How many units that meet category 2 and 3 have been built in the past five years?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I cannot give that particular statistic; what I can say is that we recognise the importance of getting these standards right. We have consulted very recently on options to raise the accessibility of new homes and we continue to focus on ensuring that we have homes that work for people of all ages and are suitable for older and disabled people.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely. I invite her to speak.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue and as a disabled person. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, is unable to be in her place this morning as she is attending the memorial service for the Duke of Edinburgh in her role as chair of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme.

In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and I both spoke of our experience of the use of personal emergency evacuation plans, or PEEPs—good practice, and less good practice. I will not repeat that today but one thing is clear: the responsibility for getting safely out of a building should not be on the shoulders of a disabled resident alone. That is why I have laid Amendments 13, 20 and 35, and I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Hayman of Ullock, for signing them. The amendments set out a clear link between the duties under the Equality Act 2010 for those providing services for disabled people—in this case, housing and safety in buildings.

Amendment 13 would put into law that a statement must have been laid by the regulator that they have engaged with their residents in relation to the accountable person’s duty to avoid disability discrimination. Amendment 20 would amend Section 31 of the Equality Act by adding a specific reference to a person exercising functions in relation to public housing. Amendment 35 would create a duty on the accountable person to include developing PEEPs for people with a disability in order to avoid disability discrimination.

I believe that the amendments are necessary because I want to see clarification that Part 3 of the Equality Act 2010 applies to social landlords and that, as a result of Part 3, there is an anticipatory duty on social landlords to prepare PEEPs for disabled residents. There is a limited time for the relevant government body to prepare statutory guidance and a code of practice in relation to this.

I thank the Minister for his amendments, starting with Amendment 3, which talks about the “assistance and encouragement” that must be provided. Unfortunately, that is a long way from the current requirement for the responsible people in offices and other public buildings, including hotels, to make formal arrangements that ensure that a disabled person can leave a building that is dangerous whether due to suspected fire, chemical escape—such as at the Olympic Park swimming pool last week—or anything else that puts people at risk. The other amendments tabled by the Minister, and indeed his letter to signatories of my amendments that arrived at 10 am this morning, for which I thank him, talk about the government consultation, but the Government have been consulting on this specific matter since the early days of the Grenfell inquiry.

Why do we believe that there needs to be stronger reference to the Equality Act and to PEEPs? Week 68 of the Grenfell Tower inquiry took substantial evidence from witnesses in relation to the provision of communication and engagement with disabled residents and how they were—or were not—able to leave Grenfell Tower safely. They were not. Over 40% of disabled residents died in the fire, a far higher percentage than any other category of resident. There were no PEEPs. Not only was there no guidance but, as I will refer to, any arrangements for disabled people were actively discouraged by the government adviser and government officials.

Inside Housing has reported on week 68 of the Grenfell Tower inquiry last week, saying:

“Government-endorsed guidance in use at the time said the provision of such plans was ‘usually unrealistic’, and staff at the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation … which managed the tower, previously cited this guidance in explaining why they did not provide any.”


As I said in Committee, Colin Todd of CS Todd & Associates, the consultants who wrote the guidance document for the Government, said:

“The consensus opinion of the project group was that it should be acknowledged in the guide that PEEPs were impracticable.”


However, the inquiry heard that Louise Upton, the former head of the fire safety policy team at DCLG, thought it was not a

“deliberate decision to exclude representatives”

of the disabled community.

The inquiry notes that the failure to provide escape plans resulted from that guidance being used by the KCTMO, but the Chief Fire Officers Association had raised concerns and warned that to

“ignore and eliminate advice on disabled access and evacuation is a fundamental error of the document”

and it

“is recommended that it must be included”.

Elspeth Grant, a fire safety consultant with TripleAconsult, wrote to Sir Merrick Cockell, then chair of the LGA and leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council, when the guidance was published to say that it was unlawful and discriminated against disabled people, calling for it to be withdrawn

“before this guidance leads to an unnecessary tragedy because plans were not in force”.

Just yesterday at the inquiry, Brian Martin, another official, said that the Government ignored the warnings about PEEPs for disabled people as they were “too expensive” to put into practice. The first phase of the inquiry recommended the provision of PEEPs for residents of high-rise blocks, but that is not what we are seeing now. Instead, the Government are still consulting.

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Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely, I invite her to speak.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 254, laid by my noble friend Lord Foster, but shall do so very briefly to say that there needs to be consistency in preventing the sale of faulty electrical goods online, or those that do not meet the appropriate safety standards and may therefore be defective. My noble friend’s amendment would by regulation ensure that operators of online marketplaces take the appropriate steps to remove items that do not comply with safety legislation.

I remember some years ago discussing with an independent retailer of baby goods, including electrical goods, how vigilant he had to be when goods arrived that they met the safety standards needed. He and his staff knew what to look for: sometimes a fake EU safety logo had printing faults, but there were other warning signs too. He felt he had a particular responsibility to ensure that his customers always bought safe and regulated items.

The difficulty is that online marketplace operators do not feel that responsibility to check that items meet safety regulations. Many of the fires in high-rise blocks that have been referred to during the passage of the Bill and other debates in Parliament over the years were started by faulty or defective electrical goods. There is a particular worry with an ever-increasing percentage of electrical goods now being bought online. My noble friend’s amendment attempts to level the playing field to make sure that customers and consumers can rely on the safety of their products when they buy them.

Tabled by
35: After Clause 88, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to avoid disability discrimination
(1) The steps taken by the accountable person pursuant to section 88 must include specific steps to ensure that no prohibited conduct relating to the protected characteristic of disability occurs that is unlawful contrary to Part 3 of the Equality Act 2010.(2) Those steps must include the development of personal emergency evacuation plans for persons with disabilities.(3) The Secretary of State must publish guidance in relation to the content of a personal emergency evacuation plan within 6 months of the commencement of this section.(4) In any proceedings concerning the steps taken by the accountable person pursuant to this Part of this Act, or Part 3 of the Equality Act 2010, this guidance is admissible as evidence and must be taken into account.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause puts a duty on the accountable person to avoid disability discrimination, which includes the development of personal emergency evacuation plans for persons with disabilities.
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, this amendment was debated earlier. I just want to repeat the point I made then that I thank the Minister for the offer of the meeting tomorrow. If we have not made some progress on the issue of PEEPs and safety for disabled people, I will bring back an amendment at Third Reading but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 35 withdrawn.

Building Safety Bill

Baroness Brinton Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd March 2022

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely. I invite the noble Baroness to speak.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I support all three amendments in this group. Amendment 111, which was laid by my noble friend Lord Foster and to which I have added my name, aims to protect consumers from items purchased online that are non-compliant with rules for purchasing the same products in shops. I thank him for his clear and detailed explanation of why it is needed.

The excellent analysis by Electrical Safety First of the Office for Product Safety and Standards demonstrates that there is a real safety issue. Nearly two-thirds of electrical products bought in an online marketplace are non-compliant and a shocking quarter is actively unsafe. Electrical Contracting News said that in 2020 faulty appliances caused 43 fires per week in England. Everyday household appliances caused 15,000 accidental fires in homes. We know that some serious and fatal fires in high-rise and medium-rise buildings were caused by faulty appliances. Some fires were due to household items being placed too close to the source of heat or to misuse of appliances, but a number were due to appliances that were found to be faulty.

If two-thirds of electrical products bought in online marketplaces are non-compliant and, worse, a quarter is unsafe, that is a recipe for danger. Perhaps it is not surprising that legislation is taking time to catch up with new ways of purchasing goods, yet the focus of this Bill is to ensure that buildings are safe, especially high-rise buildings. This amendment proposes a solution to the problem and I support it.

Briefly, I want also to add my support to Amendment 112 laid by my noble friend Lady Pinnock and Amendment 117 laid by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. The amendment of my noble friend Lady Pinnock also responds to evidence given at both the Grenfell inquiry and Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of the appalling habits of too many construction product companies of managing to soften or even blatantly breach the safety regulations. It is evident that the regulations are out of date and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond favourably to this, too.

Finally, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, highlights the importance of the provision of CO detectors and alarms and seeks for the responsible person to ensure that they are provided. Too many times, people end up with unsafe equipment, whether an old gas fire or, worse, a new exterior gas fire being used inside through ignorance, which has resulted in the deaths of far too many people. We are used to having smoke alarms in buildings, especially high-rise ones. We should also have CO detectors and monitors as a matter of absolute routine for safety. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, I would like to speak to my Amendment 117 in this group— I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings heath, for supporting this amendment with me. I should declare my interest, as I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group and I chair the CO Research Trust.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, faulty appliances are often a source of carbon monoxide, but so are wood-burning stoves and oil central heating. Anything that burns a carbon-based fuel can produce carbon monoxide, which is colourless, tasteless and odourless and results from incomplete combustion of the fuel. The problem is that high levels kill you rapidly, within a few minutes, but the symptoms are that you just feel warm and sleepy. You think that you are comfortable and sleepy; the next thing you are dead. However, low levels also produce long-term damage and are thought to damage the developing foetus in pregnant women.

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Baroness Harris of Richmond Portrait Baroness Harris of Richmond (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 120 in the name of my noble friend Lady Jolly and other noble Lords and would just like to make a few comments.

At Second Reading, we heard how important it was to ensure that BS 5395-1 was accepted. I am disappointed that the Government have not yet made a concession on this. In fact, there is no mention at all of stair safety in the Bill. In the 2010 legislation, the standard was put in place only as a recommendation, as we have heard. It is now time to put it in this Bill as a requirement and ensure that all new buildings comply from 2024, as my noble friend Lady Jolly has indicated. We know that hundreds of lives may be saved every year—estimated at about 700 in England alone. If this standard were adopted for all buildings, we could prevent the hospitalisation of around 43,000 more people. Think what amount of money that would save in costs just to the NHS, never mind the trauma suffered by the families of those injured.

I ought to declare a small interest here, as I have increasing difficulty using the stairs in my own home, as they are both steep and deep. In fact, I am having to have another handrail put in so that I can use them safely.

It is vitally important that stairs in high-rise buildings, indeed any communal building, are of sufficient depth and width to allow numbers of people to use them simultaneously in an emergency. We know that the horrors of the Grenfell Tower disaster were exacerbated by totally impractical stairs in the building. I cannot believe that any building company or architect designing a new high-rise building would rely on just one staircase for multiple flats. That would be a complete dereliction of duty, in my opinion. In the event of an outbreak of fire in a high-rise building, there will inevitably be a rush to get out down the stairs, as lifts will be out of use. It is therefore inevitable that people will fall. BS 5395-1 should be put into law during the passage of this Bill and I urge the Minister to accept this immediately.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I have signed Amendments 122, 123 and 124 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and will come to them in a minute, but I wanted to start by supporting Amendment 120, laid by my noble friend Lady Jolly.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has said, BS 5395-1 ensures that staircases in new-build homes have the best possible ratios between treads and risers. This is especially important as many new-build homes are built to fewer square metres than recommended, resulting in staircases being squeezed into narrower spaces. There is only one consequence of that: stairs become steeper, and too often even fail to have a handrail all the way up because of the narrowness of the stairs. That is a recipe for falls, whether for children, the elderly, or the disabled.

Let me tell noble Lords, it is extremely scary to have to come slowly and painfully down steep emergency exit stairs, holding a handrail, with a stick in your other hand, while others race past you. On one occasion, someone tripped on my stick as they tried to race past me, resulting in both of us falling—luckily, only a couple of steps. Had it been at the top of a run of 10 steps, not only would we both have hurt ourselves badly but others following would probably have fallen over us too. Building standards are there for a reason and should be a minimum for new builds. Building in safety is part of Hackitt’s golden thread.

Elderly and disabled people using a stick, or sticks, on a narrow and steep staircase, possibly with no handrail, will be at serious risk of falls. Special fracture clinics report that falls in the vulnerable often lead to life-changing injuries, serious muscle loss while they are in hospital, loss of confidence and, sadly, earlier deaths. So it does not just cost lives; it costs quality of life, and it also costs the NHS and social care millions every year in extra treatment and care support.

I now turn to the other three amendments in this group in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, to which I have added my name. One of the worrying aspects of fires in high and medium-rise residential blocks is the number caused by faulty or defective installation. Home Office data shows that this number is growing, whether from the cables themselves or from the shoddy work on party walls that breaches compartmentation, both of which are completely unacceptable. These amendments address that.

Amendment 122 requires leaseholders to ensure the safety of electrical installations in high-rise buildings. Amendment 123 specifies that leaseholders in mixed tenure high rises have to ensure the safety of their electrical installations. Amendment 124 places a specific responsibility on social landlords to do the same. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, spoke eloquently in the first group this afternoon about the problems of breached compartmentation and quoted from Dame Judith Hackitt’s report. The same applies here, but currently the same responsibility does not apply to different types of landlords and leaseholders, and this is an unacceptable loophole. The amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Foster, remedy that.

The requirements in these amendments make it clear that leaseholders and landlords have a duty to ensure that installation works must be safe. Surely, that is not too much to ask. Surely, all these various types of flat should have a current electrical installation condition report, which not only demonstrates that they, the landlords and leaseholders, have taken care to ensure the safety of residents and the buildings they live in but gives them the same protection as those of flats with private tenants. Dame Judith Hackitt’s golden thread does not just apply to the construction industry; it also applies to those with responsibilities for the buildings once they are lived in. Most tenants are not aware of the distinction between different types of landlord and leaseholder in building safety law. Surely, our law should be consistent.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, I was delighted to see this amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. As she pointed out, more than 700 people die each year from falls on the stairs. But in addition to this, 43,000 people are admitted to hospital. Falls are tragic and common, but they do not often make the news. Someone is estimated to fall on stairs every 90 seconds, and falls on stairs account for a quarter of all falls in the home. Obviously, when stairs have an inadequate guardrail, the trauma sustained is even worse, as it is when they are a long flight of stairs.

The most common injury is a fractured hip, but the most costly to the country is a spinal cord injury, which is absolutely devastating. The lifetime average cost of a spinal cord injury is £1.12 million, which works out at a total of £1.43 billion for all the accumulated spinal cord injuries. These are staggering figures, yet the British Standard, which has been referred to, is associated with a 60% reduction in falls. It has existed since 2010 and has been thoroughly tested, evidenced and assessed by industry and government. If we are to have homes that are built as homes for life, we need stairs in them that are safe. If workplaces are to be safe, they must have safe evacuation stairs as well.

As they grow older, many people need to install a stairlift in their home to enable them to go up and down stairs safely, particularly when they have items to carry. Many homes are still being built with stairs too narrow to safely install a stairlift on. In the long term, the British Standard is a very good investment for the nation.

I know that the Minister is aware of all of this and has been working with RoSPA to come to a solution. I look forward to hearing an update from him on this matter, because RoSPA and those of us who signed this amendment honestly believe that this one action could save more lives than anything else in the Bill.

Building Safety Bill

Baroness Brinton Excerpts
Thursday 24th February 2022

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely, so I invite her to speak now.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests as a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I support all the amendments in this group in the names of my noble friends Lady Pinnock and Lord Stunell.

In his response to the previous group and to some groups on the first day of Committee, the Minister rightly said how shocking some of the revelations have been to him, to us and to many others as more systemic failures have been uncovered, and how far too many people were able to refuse to take responsibility for their role in the problems.

Along with other parliamentarians, I heard Dame Judith Hackitt speaking on a number of occasions during and after her review, and I have also read her Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety—both the interim and the final reports. Her foreword to the final report published in 2018, which she describes as a personal view, is extremely powerful as a summary to the cultural and regulatory structures in the built environment sector and explains exactly why the amendments in this group are so necessary.

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Baroness Henig Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Henig) (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely, and I invite her to speak.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I wish to speak briefly to the amendments in this group, particularly in relation to the issue of perpetrator pays for fire hazard remediation—work that must be carried out speedily to ensure the safety of the inhabitants of the building. Amendment 24 and others, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, sets out the removal or alteration of offending work that contravenes fire safety regulations. It is interesting to note that he joins a group of former Ministers who are now trying to remedy the problems that were around during their time as Ministers. I think we should thank them not just for their humility but for their acknowledgment, through their amendments, that change is needed even more urgently than ever.

The noble Lord is right that his and other non-government amendments in this group are critical to delivering what the Government want to achieve, despite their own proposals being inadequate. I echo his point that if the Government think that things can be done more effectively to achieve the objectives that he outlined, I suspect that the Grand Committee would want to hear them.

The Minister spoke earlier of his surprise about the mechanisms of current building work guarantees and the role of insurers and warranties. Insurers have, rightly, made it clear that they are not responsible for this crisis. Insurance is not eligible in the event of defective work, and insurers never sign off work; they rely on the assurances of the companies they are insuring that the work is safe. The practical problem is that too many companies have relied entirely on their insurers. In my former professional life as a Cambridge college senior bursar, I have been that client who has sat in the middle and watched arguments about who should pay for defective work on blocks of flats, including works on a fire hazard in a medium-rise building.

The problems we faced as a college, even though they were with student accommodation, were absolutely nothing compared to the problems that leaseholders and renters in blocks of flats face. Talk to any of the current leaseholders living in blocks known to be unsafe: even with waking watches overnight, families are constantly on edge, and too many face the threat of worthless homes that are unsaleable until the perpetrator pays principle is fully brought into effect. I think “perpetrator pays principle” will be one of the next speech therapist phrases that people have to articulate; it is quite difficult to get your mouth around. The current government proposals do not take into account too many leaseholders who, like those in high-rise cladding buildings, are also not responsible for the defective work done by others.

Amendment 118 makes it clear that those who should pay, in the event of a block of flats having fire hazards, are those who did the work itself. The Government’s current proposals do not go far enough and still leave too many loopholes for those living in unsafe flats. This is the moment that legislation can and should make it absolutely clear that the perpetrator is responsible and must effect the remediation work and pay for it. In the event of a gap between that work being necessary to be carried out and it being agreed that the perpetrator should pay, the Government should indeed step in to help out.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, before I get my bearings, it is always good to have a few Latin phrases. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”—well, I am just going to say, “Res ipsa loquitur”.

This is the “PP” group of amendments: “polluter pays” if you are my noble friend Lord Young, or “perpetrator pays” if you are the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. Although I will respond formally at the end— I am now speaking to the government amendments—I honestly agree with the sentiment of working with noble Lords and that a pick-and-mix approach is the right way forward. I am very keen to do that between now and Report. That is not in my speaking notes. The important thing is that we need a practical approach. We need one that works in law and in practice, and of course we want the polluter to pay.

I have taken noble Lords’ amendments and sought external counsel opinion, off my own bat, from a leading QC who deals with these issues in the courts to get their opinion. While I know my noble friend has tremendous ministerial experience, he perhaps has not always been in the courts when these things go into dispute. I know the noble Earl has considerable professional experience, but, again, this has to work in law as well as in practice. As the Committee will all appreciate, any scheme that requires government funding is not just a matter for this department; it is a matter for the Government and, in particular, needs Treasury approval.

I have always accepted that, in order for the polluter to pay, we have to have something that establishes liability at the building level. It is not an either/or. That is not to say that the Government’s approach is wrong; I think the Government’s approach is right. We have to have a waterfall effect that goes down the list of the polluters but recognises that not all freeholders are equal—some are “more equal than others”, to quote George Orwell—and that perhaps assignment of liability can be varied in regulation to reflect that. But all that detail is something that happens at later stages of the Bill, as my noble friend will know. Perhaps we will tease out some of those points in due course.

Clearly, if you are a developer like Ballymore that retains its freeholds, it is very easy. But if you are a developer like Berkeley, which often sells off its freeholds to a freehold investor, it becomes slightly more complex. But the intention of the Government is certainly not to let the Berkeley Group off the hook because it took another £20 million or £30 million by selling its freeholds off to another group to manage. It is still in the frame for the buildings that it built. I mention those developers just as examples, because we are obviously talking about a crisis that affects all the major housebuilders, as they freely acknowledge—not just the large ones but the medium and small ones, which have all contributed to a crisis that has brewed up over decades.

Let us move to the government amendments. Following my 11 January repeat of a Statement to this House, we have been clear on our expectations that developers should commit to self-remediate all unsafe high and medium-rise buildings for which they are responsible. They should agree contributions to fund the remediation of all cladding on buildings of 11 to 18 metres. The department has been in discussions with industry leaders on this matter and is making good progress towards a solution. I have had discussions with the medium-rise developers and have been alongside the Secretary of State in all those substantive discussions. However, should we need to take action against those unwilling to make these commitments, amendments tabled in my name will make it possible to impose a solution in law and make sure that developers and manufacturers take responsibility for rectifying building safety defects. I will now outline these important government amendments.

The first measure we are proposing as part of our package to ensure that the burden of paying for fixing historical building safety defects does not fall on leaseholders or taxpayers is a group of amendments to the building safety levy. They are an important part of the solution as they allow the building safety levy to be imposed in relation to building work going through the building control process on all residential buildings, not just buildings over 18 metres or seven storeys. This will enable the Government to raise funds to remediate cladding should the industry fail to step up and pay for the problems it has caused. It is our intention to set out in secondary legislation the levy rates and the details of who the levy applies to. By then negotiations with industry should have been concluded.

I now turn back to the package of government amendments and outline the further amendments that we are proposing to ensure that developers and manufacturers take responsibility for rectifying building safety defects. This package of amendments addresses many of the concerns highlighted today. They introduce measures to allow us to distinguish between companies that commit to shouldering their share of the blame and those companies that do not. The measures will incentivise industry actors to take responsibility in resolving issues with unsafe buildings, through firms committing to remediate buildings with which they are associated, and to contribute towards the funding of remediation of other unsafe buildings.

The first two amendments in this package would give the Secretary of State a power to establish a scheme or schemes for the building industry. This would act as a means of identifying which industry actors, including developers, and cladding and insulation manufacturers, have done the right thing and committed to act responsibly. Regulations will set out which persons in the building industry may be members of the scheme. In the first instance, the Government are minded to focus this measure on major developers of residential buildings and manufacturers of cladding and insulation. We are keeping this under review as talks with industry continue. Industry actors will be considered “responsible” if they meet published membership criteria for a scheme for which they are eligible. The membership criteria for a scheme will be set out and will include a commitment to rectifying building safety defects. The distinction between responsible actors and actors who have failed to do the right thing will be taken into account by the Government and regulators in their interactions with firms that are eligible for inclusion in a scheme.

The third amendment would give the Secretary of State a power to block developers that have failed to act responsibly from carrying out development for which planning permission has been granted, and to make sure that any breach of this block would be subject to enforcement action. The amendment would also allow the Secretary of State through regulations to require a developer to serve a notification of proposed development commencement and to prevent the grant of certification of lawful development for affected developers, should they seek it.

The fourth amendment would give the Secretary of State the power to prevent developers that have not committed to act responsibly, as set out in regulations, obtaining building control sign-off on their developments. This will make selling developments difficult for these developers, as building control approval is in most cases a prerequisite to occupancy and sale. The building control prohibitions will be imposed by regulations that will also set out details such as prescribed documents.

These new measures will help to make sure that while responsible industry actors can go about their business freely and with confidence, others will face significant legal, commercial and reputational consequences. They align with two of the principles set out by the Secretary of State: that the industry must pay for remediation and that the burden should not fall on leaseholders or the taxpayers. These measures will ensure that the burden is shared among the relevant industry actors while protecting leaseholders and the taxpayer. We cannot continue to allow those who are unwilling to commit to resolve the building safety crisis to have a role in building homes of the future. These amendments are being tabled to ensure that we have the legislative provision to help us to do this. I beg to move.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely. I invite her to speak.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I shall speak to a number of amendments in this group, broadly divided into two areas. The first follows on from my noble friend Lord Foster’s introduction to the protection of property and the powers of the regulator. The second relates specifically to the safety of buildings and disabled people.

On the first issue, much of the focus among the public and in the debate in the run-up to the Bill coming to your Lordships’ House has been on cladding and the height of buildings. As was discussed specifically at Second Reading, a far wider range of safety, construction and adaptation issues have emerged as secondary issues, generally meaning that too many buildings are not complying with even the old building safety regulations. Life safety is not the only issue: far too many new buildings these days are being constructed in an unsafe way. The level of complaints against builders is the highest it has ever been, and my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath outlined that very clearly.

Secondly, I want to focus on the issues that disabled people face when they are asked to get out of a building, in the event of either a fire or a fire alarm. I am really looking forward to hearing the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, after her excellent speech at Second Reading.

I have not always used a wheelchair, but I still use a stick on various occasions, and I have to say that there is nothing more frightening than trying to leave even a low-level building coming downstairs with a stick with people racing past you. It was probably the second time I had to come out of a building for a fire alarm when I realised that I was as much a danger to the people trying to race past me as I was to myself, because of the risk of falling. Over the years, I have twice been in hotels where the fire alarm has gone off in the middle of the night—once, when I was trying to use my stick. The second time, because I was in my wheelchair, I had been told to report to the safety zone, which I did, and was told that someone from reception or the fire officers would come up, transfer me to the evac chair and take me downstairs. Twenty minutes later, I was still sitting there.

I have to say to noble Lords that this also happened to me in Portcullis House about five or six years ago. As a result—all credit to the House authorities—that was remedied and there is now a new arrangement. But when you are sitting there and you do not know whether it is a fire or a fire practice, and you cannot get out of your own accord, it is extremely alarming.

The use of PEEPs—personal evacuation emergency plans—is excellent, provided that they work. I have used them in workplaces, homes, hotels and guest houses. I was in charge of building some new disabled accommodation at Selwyn College when I was bursar there more than 20 years ago, and although they were not called PEEPs in those days, creating a confident document so that students, their friends around them and the college staff understood the needs of that particular disabled person was vital to them having confidence about being able to evacuate the building in the event of an emergency. The difficulty that we face today, highlighted especially by Grenfell, is that these documents are not in place.

Many disabled people are very concerned that the Home Office has appointed safety consultants CS Todd & Associates, who have been given a new contract worth over £200,000. This organisation was responsible for drafting and editing a fire safety guide for the LGA that said it was “usually unrealistic” to expect landlords to put arrangements in place for disabled people to evacuate blocks of flats in the event of an emergency. That is an interesting turn of phrase, because, as we know, there were a lot of disabled people in Grenfell and flats are increasingly being built, so evacuation for disabled people is vital.

I especially thank disabled campaigning group Claddag, a leaseholder action group led by disabled people who have decided that they will take the Home Secretary to court on this contract. They and the Disabled News Service are really highlighting this issue. It is important to note that, six years on from Todd’s advice, two-fifths of the disabled residents in Grenfell Tower lost their lives because there were no special arrangements in place to get them out safely. The fire service has recognised that the “stay put” advice for residents in high rise blocks must be changed, but there is no evidence from either the Government or from CS Todd & Associates that things have changed. In fact, a further set of advice has been published by Colin Todd on behalf of BSI that repeated this same arrangement.

That is why we need the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. There is an adage in the disabled world that says, “no decision about us without us”. This is fundamental to human safety and human life. It is vital that the specific needs of disabled people are taken into account in the Bill.

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Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, wishes to take part remotely. I now invite the noble Baroness to speak.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I support both amendments in this group so helpfully introduced by my noble friend Lord Stunell. We heard in our debate on the previous group of amendments about the wide range of safety concerns, from fire and flood to methods of construction and fitting out, which mean that some buildings are at risk. I should declare my interest as the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group, and I thank the many Fire Ministers who have appeared before it, including the current Minister and indeed a previous Minister, who spoke just now.

I support the ideas about the golden thread as outlined by my noble friend Lord Stunell. Amendment 3 does that. Frankly, I thank him for owning up to the fact that he did not do this when he was a Minister. The all-party group has, over the years, argued for this policy to be part of the fire safety protocol.

The amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and supported by my noble friend Lady Pinnock, have a key safety issue: the power to prevent a developer’s ability to pick their own regulator. It is right that it is the public building regulator, the Local Authority Building Control, that is the sole regulator.

The bonfire of regulations just over a decade ago has meant that this field has become murky and filled with a lot of organisations that may indeed have close relationships. There was one day when the all-party group heard from a whistleblower who told us that, in the past, there has been unacceptable practice when the developer or owner of a building has had the ability to pick and choose the inspector, in this case, but it could have been a regulator. Fire safety inspectors were booked to come and check the fire safety doors—the front doors of flats and those on the stairwells—and that they were still the right ones that would manage the 40-minute fire safety tests. The managing agents for the building asked for a delay of a week, which was granted. The whistleblower said that it had been noticed by a number of residents that a series of doors were removed and replaced with other doors during that week—which of course passed all the tests—and, the week after the inspection, all the old doors were put back.

There has to be a mechanism for a regulator to start picking up on, and being concerned, when organisations are not playing by the rules. Those alarm bells can best be raised by the independent Local Authority Building Control.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 135 in my name, which was referred to a moment ago by my noble friend Lord Stunell, and which I intend as a probing amendment. I should say that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I raised this issue at Second Reading, as the Minister will recall, and the question of whether permitted development rights would continue as now when this Bill is enacted, in respect of the conversion of office blocks to residential accommodation of any height. Amendment 135 seeks to clarify the matter. It says that

“Nothing in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 … permits development which would convert offices to residential accommodation if such development is contrary to the provisions of this Act.”


I am grateful to the Public Bill Office for the help in drafting those words.

I simply say to the Minister that I hope he will clarify that this is government policy. If it is, that fact should be in the Bill to avoid any doubt. I look forward to the Minister’s assurance, because it would be inappropriate—as my noble friend Lord Stunell said—if a different set of rules were to apply to a conversion from office to residential than would apply to a residential block always designated as that. This amendment aims to clarify that the permitted development route cannot be used where it would be contrary to the provisions of this Act. I hope the Minister will agree that this is a very important issue.

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Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Kinnoull) (CB)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will be participating remotely, and I invite her to speak now.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, just before I speak to the two amendments in this group, I ask the Minister whether I might be copied into the answer about permitted development rights on the previous group. We had an interesting case in Watford three years ago, where a small industrial unit was converted under permitted development rights into 15 tiny flats, and not one of the upstairs flats had windows. At the time, the planning inspector, who overruled the borough council, commented that it was within the rules and that planning permission was not required. Even the size of the flats was outside of the scope: normally, the minimum should have been 39 square metres; the largest flat was 22 square metres and the smallest was 16 square metres. I would be grateful if I could see the Minister’s written response.

I support both Amendments 5 and 10 laid by my noble friend Lord Stunell and signed by my noble friend Lady Pinnock. Dame Judith Hackitt talked about the importance of absolute clarity on who is responsible for which element of safety and control. The mistake in recent years has been to allow a multitude of different arrangements that have enabled a culture where matters of safety are somebody else’s problem; hence Dame Judith Hackitt’s focus in her report on the golden thread.

My noble friend Lord Stunell has talked eloquently about the issues thrown up by self-certification. I will not repeat his points, other than to say that destroying compartmentation by remediation works much reduces all other safety features, if not makes them redundant. I echo his concerns about that, and I would welcome the Minister’s response in order to see whether that is covered by the new arrangements. If it is not, these amendments should be given serious consideration.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, I will just say how important these amendments are. Although they are brief and innocuous on the surface, they are fundamental to building safety. In the Grenfell Tower inquiry, it became clear that the window replacement was not as satisfactory as one would hope and that the gaps between the window frames and structure of the building were filled with a flammable material. That is why the second amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Stunell is so important.

That is just one example. Electrical safety is also critical. Self-certification is all very well, but having oversight, as the Hackitt report points to, helps to create clarity and accountability and to ensure that there is proper documentation. I hope that the Minister will be able to put our minds at rest but, if not, it is certainly one of the areas that we will want to pursue at the next stage of this debate.

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Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Kinnoull) (CB)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is participating remotely, and I invite her to speak now.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak specifically to Amendment 6 but I endorse the others, for reasons that will become apparent. One thing we have all become aware of, post Grenfell and the Hackitt review, is concerns about repeat problems emerging, whether they are systemic ones to do with the way a building has been built or newly emerging issues. They happen time and again, and yet the industry, councils and Parliament do not seem to learn from them. I shall give one brief illustration to explain.

In my role as health spokesperson for my group in the Lords, I know that we are increasingly concerned about some of the mould and damp issues increasingly found in more recent 1960s buildings, to which landlords have been very slow to respond. There is clearly a public health issue where especially children and the clinically vulnerable remain at risk and become ill, and yet there does not seem to be a mechanism to provide a review to make sure that there is learning from this, especially since it is happening across the country.

The other amendments in this group set out a swathe of mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability for the BS regulator, the Secretary of State and Parliament. Returning to Dame Hackitt’s review, these amendments would be a strategic element to push the culture change that she sought, to make sure that those who have some responsibility have to look at a higher level to make sure that buildings are safe and are dealt with, and that the costs, both in building and in human experience, are monitored.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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Briefly, I support the idea of review clauses and of learning from mistakes. Obviously, I have not been a Minister in this area, but I was a Minister in other areas and I did agree, occasionally, to review clauses where people had concerns. I found that the reports that came along two years later—if one survived that long—were actually extremely useful, and ensured that the Civil Service system was behind the objectives of the Bill. Exactly what one would put in a review clause is another question. I would certainly want added some of the points I made earlier—which the Minister helpfully said were contained in a code of practice for regulators—bringing up the agenda the sort of good practice we have seen at some of our better regulators, such as the HSE. I hope the Minister will think about whether there is scope for a review clause to help on some of these issues.

We talked about sprinklers. As people know, I have run supermarkets, so I have had practical experience of all these different fire safety methods. Certainly, when sprinklers were put in, it took away a lot of headaches, provided you could secure the water supply. That sort of innovation—whatever the new ones are; AI or whatever—can form part of a review process two, four or six years later.