All 3 Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth contributions to the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21

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Thu 1st Oct 2020
Fire Safety Bill
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2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Thu 29th Oct 2020
Fire Safety Bill
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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
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Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords

Fire Safety Bill

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 1st October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 7 September 2020 - (7 Sep 2020)
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con) [V]
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My Lords, we have been treated to a maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Herbert of South Downs of great weight and great good humour. It had valuable insights on many issues—for example, on the countryside, on new technology and, indeed, on my noble friend Lord Mancroft.

My noble friend comes to us with a distinguished and formidable record in the other place, particularly on rural issues, on policing and on criminal justice. Indeed, he was a Minister for policing and for criminal justice in the other place. I am sure that we all look forward to him participating fully in the activities of the House. I know that he will take a particular interest in issues involving the countryside, equality, the operation of democracy and combating tuberculosis. We all wish him well in his future here. I am sure that it will be a long and distinguished one. On a personal note, I also wish him well with my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke of Nottingham when he catches up with the debate.

Turning to the Fire Safety Bill, first, I thank the Minister for his introduction. I know that he takes matters concerning Grenfell and fire safety more widely very seriously. I also know that he was the leader of an adjoining council, so he knows the local situation very well.

We all recall the early morning of 14 June 2017 very well. It is seared on our memories. It represented, in human terms, the greatest loss of life in a residential fire since World War Two, with the loss of 72 lives— 72 lives that should not have been lost. Our thoughts are always with the families and survivors, and with the people who, since the fire, have consistently offered, in human terms, their all. I refer to the public services, particularly the fire service, people in the local community and in faith communities, and officials from government, particularly from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. I was a Minister in the department at the time, so I have awful, but very clear, recollections of that night, as, I know, do many noble Lords who are participating in this debate.

It is right that we say that there will be a memorial on the site of the Grenfell Tower in due course and that the local community—Grenfell United and others—will be leading on that. It is also right that the greatest memorial that we can offer the people of Grenfell and those who have fought since the fire to right that wrong is a legacy that ensures that this can never happen again. The Government have, quite rightly, moved in many ways—with the independent inquiry under judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick and with the regulations review of building safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt. We still await news on criminal prosecutions. Although I recognise that this is, in a sense, quite separate from government, we have given—and I was able to give—information and publish how many people had been interviewed under caution in relation to this matter. The Minister might not have details of that to hand. If he does not, I would appreciate it if he were able to write to me saying something on this matter, with a copy being sent to other participants in this debate and placed in the Library. Understandably, responsibility for what happened that night remains a very real concern.

The Government have also moved to put in place fire protection measures, and the use of combustible ACM has, quite rightly, been banned. The remediation of unsafe buildings is happening, but herein lies the rub. I suspect that we all agree on what needs to happen —I cannot imagine that there is any great difference on that—but the issue is the speed with which it is happening and needs to happen.

Understandably, there was a time when interim safety measures needed to be put in place—but that surely was only for the interim. The very use of the word “interim”, which we continue to use as a Government and as a country, indicates that we are not there yet, so I shall press the Minister on this. The key issue here is speed in remedying what needs to be remedied. I think that he mentioned that 74% of building remediation had been started or completed in relation to the removal of ACM. Is he able to give the percentage for the amount that has been completed, rather than started or completed? That would be a very useful statistic for us look at.

The Queen’s speech quite rightly committed the Government to two Bills. We have heard quite a lot from the Minister about the draft building safety Bill, and we have also heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, about remediation measures in Wales put in place by Senedd Cymru. I again emphasise to the Minister that it is useful to work alongside the devolved Administrations, particularly in this instance with Wales. I am sure that is happening, but it would be useful to know what lessons and partnership work are going on with Wales, so that we can tackle these scourges together—because I am sure that the aim is one of unity in terms of what we need to do.

Unsurprisingly, I am a strong supporter of the Bill. I am pleased that we are dealing with the ambiguity of what is covered by the term “building” and that it will cover external walls, and therefore cladding, flat entrance doors, balconies and so on. It is obviously right that we have that clarity. I also very much support there being a responsible person for each building to take forward responsibility for this and to make sure that we act in the right way. These are aims that I am sure we can all support. But I come back to the issue of speed. We keep saying “at pace”, but it needs now to be not a moderate pace but a fast pace. I am sure that we all have that haunting thought that we do not want to see anything like Grenfell ever again. The way that we can prevent that is by moving at a fast pace in terms of removal of cladding, and in the admirable array of things that the Government are doing. The only thing they need do now is accelerate that.

One issue that has not been touched on yet was discussed in the other place when my honourable friend Sir David Amess moved an amendment on electrical safety. I thank Electrical Safety First, which has provided me with a valuable briefing on this. It is important to note on this issue that, although our focus is quite rightly on ACM cladding, which certainly led to the spread of the fire—there is no doubt about that—nevertheless the trigger for the fire, as it has been in many other fires, was an electrical fault, as it was at Lakanal House and Shepherd’s Court, where there was another serious fire, although thankfully not one that led to fatalities. Over 14,000 fires a year are caused by electrical faults, so I will be pressing the Minister on what we are doing with regard to checking the safety of flats in tower blocks, of which there are hundreds of thousands, to ensure that electrical appliances are periodically checked for safety. That will minimise the risk of electrical fires, and it is something we could usefully do. I look forward to looking at this in more detail perhaps in Committee. In the meantime, I would be interested in what the Minister has to say.

In short, I strongly support the Bill, as I am sure I will the building safety Bill. My one real concern is pace. It needs to be fast, and we need to accelerate now. As the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said, it is now some 34 months since the fire, and we must move quickly. Otherwise, I will be pressing the issue of electrical safety. But I know that the Minister is totally committed to this, as is my right honourable friend in the other place James Brokenshire. I look forward to working with them and others to make sure that we have a piece of legislation of which we can all be proud and which I am sure we will improve in your Lordships’ House.

Fire Safety Bill

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

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 132-I Marshalled list for Committee - (26 Oct 2020)
Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(1C) Where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises, the things to which this order applies include electrical appliances.(1D) The reference to electrical appliances means any appliances specified by regulations made by the relevant authority.(1E) Schedule (Electrical Appliances) to the Fire Safety Act 2020 applies to paragraphs (1C) and (1D).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would clarify that the Fire Safety Order applies to electrical appliances where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises.
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Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con) [V]
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My Lords, this amendment is also in the names of my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty. I am delighted that Peers of such distinguished service and experience are able to support these amendments and I look forward to their contributions. I thank the Minister for his engagement and commitment on this issue. I know that he has given a briefing on this; I have apologised to him that I was unable to attend that briefing as I was engaged in a debate in Grand Committee at the time.

I welcome the Bill, and these amendments are intended to be proactive and to help prevent fires caused by electrical ignition. Similar amendments were tabled in the Commons by my honourable friend Sir David Amess.

I thank Electrical Safety First, a charity that is dedicated to electrical safety and which has helped in the presentation of this case.

These amendments are intended to build upon the Government’s new regulation for the private rented sector, the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020, which as the date suggests are obviously of a very recent vintage and which provide for mandatory checks every five years. I commend those regulations and believe that this legislation presents an opportunity to build on them.

As I said, this is an attempt to be proactive and to prevent fires happening in the first place. I accept that the Government are giving some consideration to this issue and I am grateful for that. My amendments are designed to ensure that electrical appliances are registered with the responsible person for high-rise domestic dwellings and to introduce mandatory checks for all residents, whatever the tenure of their home.

One anomaly of the present position is that some flats—those that are privately let—will have mandatory five-year checks. Some currently will not: the social tenants and the owner-occupied. I do not believe that that difference can be easily justified. It could be that one flat is having checks while the one next door is not.

According to Electrical Safety First, electrical faults cause more than 14,000 fires a year—almost half of all accidental house fires. There are around 4,000 tower blocks in the country, containing over 480,000 individual flats. Unless every unit in a high-rise building is subject to the same safety regime, the whole building is at risk from a fire emanating from one single flat, as we have seen.

New analysis of government data by Electrical Safety First reveals that nearly a quarter of accidental electric fires that occurred in high-rise buildings over the last five years in England were the result of faulty appliances and leads, as well as faulty fuel supplies, which can include electrical wiring in a property. These amendments would see a responsible person record the presence of white goods to minimise the risk that faulty goods can pose in densely populated buildings. Keeping a record of the appliances in use would also mean that faulty recalled appliances could be removed or repaired. Mandatory five-yearly electrical safety checks in tower blocks, regardless of tenure, are included in the amendment.

As I said, current regulations that we passed recently mean that privately rented flats are required to have these electrical safety checks but other tenures are not, which has in effect created a tenure lottery in buildings, which often include owner-occupied, privately rented and social housing properties.

These provisions for checking electrical safety would be undertaken by competent registered electricians. I am aware of the concerns and interest of the Fire Brigades Union and I welcome its engagement. I assure the union that there is no intention through these amendments that fire officers would undertake this work. They have other, very important jobs to do, which they are doing very well.

More worrying analysis shows that over the past three years, accidental electrical fires in high-rise buildings have risen consistently year on year. High-profile tower block fires have been previously linked to electrical sources, including the Lakanal House fire, where an electrical fault with a television caused a fire that claimed the lives of six people, and Shepherd’s Court, where a faulty tumble dryer led to extensive damage to an 18-storey building. While other factors certainly accelerated the Grenfell Tower fire, it must be highlighted that its primary immediate cause was of course an electrical source of ignition, subsequently confirmed by the Grenfell inquiry phase 1 documentation.

It is important to note that some fires are caused not by appliances themselves but by misuse of them. That is why, despite these amendments, education is certainly important, and why the Home Office in conjunction with Electrical Safety First runs a week of educational awareness-raising with the public through the Fire Kills campaign on the proper use of electricity and electrical appliances. I certainly welcome that, and it is a necessary thing to do, but it is not in itself sufficient.

Recent tragic events have demonstrated the fatal risk that electrical accidents and incidents pose to people in their homes, particularly in high-density housing such as tower blocks. The work of Electrical Safety First and others has helped ensure that tenants living in the private rented sector are now protected by mandatory five-yearly electrical safety checks in their properties. That law was recently brought into effect. Such measures are crucial in bringing down the number of electrical accidents and incidents, and saving lives. We believe that the time is right to include individual dwellings in tower blocks in this regime, regardless of their tenure.

I appreciate that this is a short Bill to amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which focuses on non-domestic measures, to cover domestic homes. This means that homes within high-rise blocks are affected by the proposed legislation. This offers an excellent and straightforward opportunity to ensure that all who live in such buildings are brought under the same safety regime. Given this, the newly created role of a “responsible person” for any high-rise building should be given the task of compiling a register of every white good in the building. This ensures that when a recall occurs, anyone with an affected appliance can be quickly alerted and the safety risk resolved. Relying on consumers to register and respond to recalls in those buildings, when the potential risk is so high, must be considered wholly inadequate.

The Government can therefore improve the Bill through a number of measures that seek to improve electrical safety in homes. Amending the Bill provides an opportunity to make immediate differences to the safety of people who live in multi-occupied high-rise buildings. Electricity causes fires and the Government need to consider seriously the electrical sources of ignition. I am pleased that these amendments enjoy broad-based support. This is a time for all of us to come together to provide a safer environment for high-rise buildings by the introduction of mandatory safety checks. I hope that the Committee will support these amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak in favour of the amendment in the name of my noble friend, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, to which I have added my name, as have the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty. I should have also added my name to my noble friend’s Amendment 24, which I fully support.

As I mentioned at Second Reading, the issue of electrical appliances and their safety, especially as a potential cause of household fires, should be a major concern. We should do whatever we can to try to reduce those fires caused by electrical faults. The two amendments, introduced so eloquently by my noble friend, would be a valuable tool in trying to achieve that.

Hand in hand with measures for mandatory checks, we should also do what we can to educate the public on electrical safety. My noble friend mentioned that. I pay tribute to a scheme that used to run—I am not sure that it still does—in the London Borough of Hillingdon when I was the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge. Primary school children went into a series of locations or rooms, perhaps a kitchen or bathroom, to identify potential hazards and dangers. I remember saying at the time that the scheme should be not just for primary school children but for adults, too. Sometimes people are not aware of the problems that can be caused by all sorts of household appliances. We should all be aware that the labour-saving devices that we take for granted can also be potentially dangerous. We should therefore do whatever we can to try to eliminate the possibility of electrical fires because we know the devastation that they can cause.

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Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the discussion of these two amendments in the first group. I think that there is a genuine desire across the Committee, even in those who have raised difficulties in doing something. Unless I am wrong, there is a recognition that we should be doing something to reduce fire deaths and to provide for safety with regard to electrical goods.

Some very clear facts have come across. High-rise blocks of flats are increasing, notwithstanding the presence of the person overseeing the safety of goods. Legislation has been introduced to help to protect private tenants—it does not extend to social tenants—and owner-occupiers. I do not believe that we should be in a position where we are protecting private tenants and owner-occupiers but not social tenants. I note the points made by my noble friend about social tenants, but if there is a genuine desire to do something, this legislation will provide that opportunity.

Let us take a look at the legitimate concerns that have been brought forward, which I recognise, and see how we can overcome them. That, to me, is the right way of moving. I do not think that there is a real threat of intrusion because this is about providing safety for everyone in our country, which is very desirable. I welcome my noble friend’s acceptance of the suggestion of a meeting and I would be pleased to take part in it. We can look at doing something genuinely to ensure that we do not face the horrific fire incidents that we have seen in the past. We can find a way of providing some safety and security.

I listened particularly to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who certainly knows what he is talking about; as is commonly known throughout the House, he really does understand this area. At this stage, I will withdraw the amendment, but I will certainly come back to it on Report to look for some movement on how we can provide genuine security from electrical fires for all those living in high-rise blocks.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Fire Safety Bill

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Excerpts
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 132-R-I Marshalled list for Report - (12 Nov 2020)
Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, after “paragraph (1A)” insert “or paragraph (1C)”
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the Fire Safety Bill is important legislation that I strongly support, as I do the building safety Bill, which is in draft form and which I believe your Lordships’ House will receive early in the new year. The motivation behind the amendments I am proposing is that there should be a safer home environment—a motivation shared, I believe, by the whole House. Specifically, the amendments refer to high-rise blocks; that is the spur.

I thank my noble friend Lord Randall and the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty, who are also signatories to the amendment and have given strong support. I also thank many others for their strong support and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Best, who, unfortunately, is unable to speak today. I thank the Minister for making time to discuss these issues; I know he is sincere in his desire to do something constructive to move matters forward on checks in tower blocks. I also thank Electrical Safety First, an excellent charity dedicated to reducing deaths from fires caused by electrical accidents. It has been magnificent, and I would like to thank Rob Jervis-Gibbons in particular but also Lesley Rudd, Ron Bailey and Martyn Allen for their help.

We need to translate the good intentions of the whole House into action, and there are some important facts to bear in mind. Approximately 7,000 domestic fires per annum are caused by faulty electrical goods; that is 53% of domestic fires. Many of these are in high-rise blocks and, in those circumstances, they are particularly treacherous. We can all recall Lakanal House in 2009, Shepherds Court in 2016 and, of course, tragically, Grenfell Tower in 2017—all confirmed to be caused by electrical ignition.

My amendments essentially focus on two proposals, as they did in Committee. First, mandatory five-year electrical system checks in high-rise blocks—just high-rise blocks. The model for this is what is being done currently in the private rented sector, just introduced by the Government this year: I endorse that move. It applies, of course, to all the private rented sector, essentially, not just high-rise blocks. My amendments would apply just to high-rise buildings—those over 11 metres high—but would apply to social tenants and owner-occupiers as well as private tenants. I ask myself why social tenants should be excluded: I am a strong believer in the levelling-up agenda, which the Government also are strongly behind. It should apply to owner-occupiers too, of course.

Social tenants are a large part of the residents of high-rise blocks. In Grenfell, they constituted the vast majority of residents, for example. I should say, and I congratulate the Government, that I am pleased to see, in the social housing White Paper issued today, moves not just in relation to smoke and carbon monoxide alarms—I see that consultation is opening on extending that into social housing, quite rightly—but also consulting separately on ways to ensure that social housing tenants are protected from harm caused by poor electrical safety. That is certainly welcome. The wording confirms the direction of travel. What is at issue, of course, is the pace, the speed: that is what we need to pick up. This is something that should be done expeditiously. The most sensible course of action in high-rise blocks would surely be to mirror the checks in the private rented sector for all residents of tower blocks, to provide for the safety of everybody in those tower blocks.

I should say in passing that I certainly endorse other actions that have been taken to help protect and guard against fire. The Home Office “Fire Kills” campaign is very welcome and is supported by the charitable sector. The building safety Bill that is coming down the tracks provides, in Clause 86 currently, that responsibility should be placed on residents for electrical goods and their safety. I welcome that but, of course, it is not sufficient in itself and will not protect, in the way that this would protect, against the fires that we are all too familiar with.

The second of the two main proposals in my amendment would require that a person responsible for fire safety, who is of course being designated in this legislation, should be responsible for a register of electrical goods. The majority of fires are caused by faulty electrical goods, and many of these are goods that have been subject to recall by the manufacturer. The fire at Shepherds Court, for example, was caused by a faulty tumble dryer that was subject to a recall. The purpose of the register would therefore be to identify these goods and ensure that they were recalled and either refitted or replaced. The person responsible for fire safety would be able to distribute information to residents, and there is a precedent for such a register in student accommodation throughout England.

I know that we all recall graphically the Grenfell Tower tragedy: it is forged on our individual memories, just as it is seared on the nation’s conscience. I look to my noble friend the Minister, who I know is sympathetic, to provide some clear way forward, indicating the seriousness of the Government’s intentions and the intention to move decisively on this agenda in the building safety Bill, possibly with a working party to move the agenda forward quickly. I beg to move.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am pleased to support my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and I was delighted to put my name to his amendments, together with the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty. My noble friend has expressed very clearly and eloquently what his amendments are about. I also welcome the very constructive discussions we had with the Minister. As my noble friend Lord Bourne said, I believe that he understands fully what we are trying to achieve.

It seems strange to me and, I am sure, to many others, that the rules for private tenants are stronger than they are for social tenants. This inequality of responsibility should be addressed. That applies also to owner-occupiers, of course. As my noble friend said, in high-rise buildings the majority of tenants are, indeed, social tenants, and I think they need as much help as they can get in ensuring the safety of their premises and, of course, the safety of their neighbours.

On the issue of a register, again, I think this is extremely important. We have heard that this is already in place for student accommodation. I feel that there is a real problem: perhaps we should consider, with both of these proposals, that there is a huge number of, presumably, second-hand electrical appliances in existence. People will be buying them not necessarily from retail outlets; they may be buying them on eBay or elsewhere, and they will not necessarily be having them tested appropriately. This is something that I think we have to look at. Having somebody responsible for maintaining that these items are safe is, I think, of paramount importance.

I welcome the social housing White Paper that was published today, particularly the provisions around these matters. Even if we cannot get exactly what we want today—and I understand that the Bill may not be the ideal vehicle for these amendments—I look forward, when the building safety Bill comes before your Lordships, to being in a position to implement these excellent ideas and proposals from my noble friend.

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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.

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.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.