All 7 Lord Greenhalgh 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
Tue 24th Nov 2020
Fire Safety Bill
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3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 17th Mar 2021
Fire Safety Bill
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Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments & Lords Hansard
Tue 27th Apr 2021
Fire Safety Bill
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Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Wed 28th Apr 2021
Fire Safety Bill
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Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments

Fire Safety Bill

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

(3 years, 6 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)
Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I am very pleased to bring this Bill before the House today for its Second Reading. While short, it introduces important measures designed to keep people safe from the risk of fire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill read a second time.

Fire Safety Bill

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

(3 years, 5 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)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of the Heart of Medway Housing Association and a non-executive director of mhs homes. Amendment 1, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, with cross-party support, and Amendment 24, also in the name of the noble Lord, seeks to put improvements and protections for people living in high-rise residential buildings in the Bill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“two or more sets of domestic premises”—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire Safety Bill

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

(3 years, 4 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)
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I refer to my relevant commercial and residential property interests as set out in the register. I thank my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth for his amendment, which shines a light on the important issue of electrical safety. Indeed, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for his clear focus and mission to prevent fires happening in the first place as a result of electrical faults as absolutely the key. I also thank my noble friend for the constructive meeting that we had on this issue last week, involving my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I recognise the covering fire received from the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty, for this amendment, and in particular, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, mentioned, the work of the Electrical Safety First organisation. I commend the latter for the work that it is doing to raise awareness of the risks of electrical fires. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Mann, for pointing out the issues around second-hand electrical goods; this is a particularly difficult area to regulate and something that we need to look into.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

for “remedial action.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con)
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My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Government need to take firm action. I hope the Minister will set out for us now what action they will take to support leaseholders, who are in a terrible situation. If he does not do that, I and other noble Lords on these Benches will certainly be joining the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, in supporting this amendment.
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for their Amendment 13 on remediation costs. I often think that we need to apply a Daily Mail test to discover whether the opinion of the House will be tested. We have had an article in the Mirror from Pippa Crerar indicating one Division, and an article on this amendment from a different Mirror journalist—the online political editor. So I am not surprised that there will be a test of the opinion of the House.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire Safety Bill

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 24th November 2020

(3 years, 4 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
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, in moving this Motion, I want to thank all those around the House who have taken part in the Bill’s passage so far. I am proud that this is the first Bill I have taken through your Lordships’ House solo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire Safety Bill

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

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 173-I Marshalled list for Consideration of Commons reasons - (15 Mar 2021)
Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 2, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 2A.

2A: Because the Government has announced that it intends to bring forward its own legislative proposals to address the issues mentioned in the amendment.
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak also to the House’s Amendments 3 and 4, with which the other place has disagreed for its Commons Reasons 3A and 4A. Before I address the amendments agreed at the Lords Report stage, I would like to make a few comments about the overall importance of this piece of legislation. The Bill was introduced in the other place nearly a year ago today and we are moving closer to getting it on to the statute book. As there are a couple of issues to resolve, it is vital that we should remind ourselves of the fundamental purpose of the Bill. It is an important step in delivering fire and building legislative reforms. It is purposely short because it has been designed to provide much-needed legal clarification that the fire safety order applies to structure, external walls and flat entrance doors. What this will mean on the ground is that these critical elements will be covered in updated fire risk assessments and ensure that enforcement authorities can take action where necessary. In short, the current legal uncertainty will end.

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

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

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

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

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Moved by
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Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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My Lords, is there anyone present in the Chamber, who has been here since the beginning of the debate, who wishes to contribute? No? In which case, I revert to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

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

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

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

3A: Because it would involve a charge on public funds and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
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Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 4, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 4A.

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

Fire Safety Bill

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments
Tuesday 27th April 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 196-I Marshalled list for Consideration of Commons reason - (27 Apr 2021)
Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - -

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

4K: Because the issue of remediation costs is too complex to be dealt with in the manner proposed.
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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 should like to start this debate by paying tribute to the fire and rescue services across our country. In recent days, we have seen large fires in Greater Manchester and Shropshire, which have been dealt with by those services with exemplary bravery and professionalism. That is a reminder of why we want to get this Bill through: to help fire and rescue services do their job, and to ensure that buildings are properly and thoroughly assessed and that the risk of fire is minimised as much as possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Moved by
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Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire Safety Bill

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments
Wednesday 28th April 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 198-I Marshalled list for Consideration of Commons reason - (28 Apr 2021)
Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - -

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

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

My Lords, I express my thanks once again to everyone for their contributions to this important debate. The other place has now consistently voted against four different amendments on the issue of remediation. It is a vital issue but it is not for this Bill. This House has a choice about whether to prioritise finalising this important Bill or to delay it to the point where it falls.

The Government’s position on the Fire Safety Bill has not changed. I will repeat our key points. We are all in agreement about the importance of getting the Fire Safety Bill on the statute book. Residents have a right to be safe and feel safe in their homes. As I have said repeatedly, without this Bill the legal ambiguity around the fire safety order will continue.

Let me be clear about what is at stake if we do not resolve this: responsible persons for multi-occupied residential buildings will be able to continue to argue that it is lawful to ignore the fire safety risk of the structure, external walls and flat entrance doors; and fire and rescue services will lack the legal certainty to support enforcement decisions taken to keep people safe.

Failure to get this Bill to the statute book will lead to a delay in delivering the Grenfell recommendations. This is not a political point. This Bill must come first as it provides the legal certainty that I have just referred to. That certainty will enable the Secretary of State to make regulations with reduced risk of challenge to place duties on responsible persons in relation to the external wall structure and flat entrance doors, as the inquiry recommended.

It might help the House if I provided an example. The inquiry recommended a frequency of checks on fire safety doors, including flat entrance doors and communal fire doors. That cannot be done easily and in a way that is relatively free from legal risk if we have not identified that flat entrance doors are within the scope of the fire safety order. Equally, enforcing authorities would not be able to take appropriate action in this regard.

I thank your Lordships for recognising the substantial government support—to the tune of £5.1 billion—for leaseholders for remediation of unsafe cladding. Our five-point plan to bring an end to this cladding crisis helps provide certainty to the housing market. Noble Lords yesterday raised some points about uncertainty in the housing market and about the concerns of lenders and insurers. Our five-point plan addresses these.

More needs to be done to ensure that those responsible for fire safety defects should contribute to paying the costs of remediation. Industry must play its part and pay its way, and through our high-rise levy and developer tax we will make sure that developers with the broadest shoulders pay their contribution.

I agree that leaseholders need stronger avenues for redress and I made that clear yesterday. The building safety Bill will bring forward measures to do this, including making directors as well as companies liable for prosecution. We are bringing about the biggest changes in a generation to the system through the building safety Bill.

Finally, I reiterate the comments I made yesterday about forfeiture. It is a draconian measure that should be used only as a last resort. This measure should be considered as part of our wider programme on leasehold reform. I beg to move.

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Moved by

Leave out from “House” to end and insert “do insist on its Amendment 4L”

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Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in Alice in Wonderland, Humpty Dumpty says:

“ ‘When I use a word, … it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’ ”


That is exactly the position we find ourselves in today. It is an argument about the meaning of words, which the noble Lord, Lord Newby, in an excellent speech, has just pointed up. If one took the Government’s statements and sought to give the usual meaning to the words, then there would not be a problem here this evening.

I noted down what the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, said in his opening remarks: these are just some of the statements he made. My writing is not fast enough to recite his whole speech, but if one took his whole speech, one would think there was no disagreement between us at all. “More needs to be done”, he said. “Industry must play its part and pay its way,” he said. “I agree that leaseholders need more protection,” he said. “Forfeiture,” he said—the fact we are talking about forfeiture is a sign of quite how serious a crisis we are facing—“is a draconian measure”; my writing was not fast enough here, but I think he said, “which is to be discouraged.” He also said, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, just said, that these measures will be further addressed in the building safety Bill.

All those statements that the noble Lord made go to the heart of the protection we have been seeking to provide for all of those categories of people affected, not just those who live in buildings of more than 18 metres and not just those with costs directly attributable to cladding if they fall in the category of remediation costs which are essentially post Grenfell. This is the key point, because assessments that have been made about fire risks which are not just restricted to cladding are in the wider areas, some of which are in the expanded fire safety order which the Minister referred to.

The issue then is whether the scheme that the Government have said they will introduce to implement the principles that the Minister himself has set out to the House this evening is adequate to the task. We take the Minister at his word that it will be adequate to the task. There is some disagreement about how far it needs to be legislative and how far not legislative, though the fact that he constantly refers to the building safety Bill leads us to think that it will be substantially legislative. In so far as it is not legislative, these measures could be put in a legislative form, or he could make a categoric statement about when the Government will come forward with a comprehensive scheme.

So far, so good. What happens is that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and his understudy who is here this evening, if I may so describe him—anyway, he seems to be maintaining the line of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans—and other noble Lords then consistently, on now about 10 occasions during the passage of the Bill, have come forward with proposals to put into legislative form what the Government themselves have told us they want to do. What happens, because we are now back in Alice in Wonderland, is that we pass amendments saying that remediation costs should not be passed on to leaseholders which are attributable to the additional costs which have come post Grenfell, and then the Government come along and say, “Ah, but this does not take account of the following five concerns.”

These are the concerns that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, just mentioned about small costs, concerns about defining costs, concerns about costs which might be attributable to leases which applied and which tenants willingly engaged in before there were any additional costs put forward—we had a whole list of issues that were raised. What then happens is that the ever-receptive Bishop of St Albans, and other noble Lords change the amendments to take account of the Government’s concerns. Indeed, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, this evening meets most of the concerns that have been raised by Christopher Pincher in the House of Commons and by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, here.

It is worth dwelling on this, because these are hugely important issues potentially affecting millions of people, so we ought to be clear about it. Under the noble Baroness’s amendment, proposed new subsection (1) states:

“The owner of a building may not pass the costs of any remedial work attributable to the provisions of this Act”—


so defining clearly what should and should not apply. Proposed new subsection (2) states that the prohibition on remediation costs being passed on to tenants will have effect

“only until a statutory scheme is in operation which ensures that leaseholders and tenants of dwellings are not required to pay more than £50 per month during the course of the lease”,

but it does not apply to a cost that

“is permitted under a lease or tenancy agreement that was made before this Act is passed, and … does not exceed £500, whether as a one-off cost, or in total across a 12-month period.”

This meets the concerns that the Minister has raised, unless he does not propose to bring forward a scheme that meets his commitments in due course, which is the reason why we go round in circles again.

We then come out of Alice in Wonderland and into the real world. In the real world, we all know what is happening. It is not a secret to those of us who are politicians what arguments have now been happening for two months. Two things are happening. First, a battle royal is going on between the Minister’s department and the Treasury about what costs the Treasury will meet and how narrowly defined they need to be. The Treasury is already concerned about the size of the fire safety fund, the £5.1 billion fund which the Minister referred to, and whether the costs even under that scheme will end up being significantly higher. It certainly does not want more costs to be recognised. The second thing going on of which we are all well aware is that, although the Government say—because huge numbers of people are affected by this, many of them first-time buyers, many of them who have, under Conservative schemes, bought council properties and are leaseholders —that they want to see them fully protected, they do not at the moment either have a plan to fully protect them nor, to be blunt, do they want to protect them any more than they think is politically necessary to get this and subsequent legislation passed, presumably in the run-up to the next election, in a judgment they make on the salience of the issue.

We then come to the role of this House, which is unusual in this case. We had a lecture from the Chief Whip earlier about the supremacy of the House of Commons, which we all recognise, but the supremacy of the House of Commons is in this instance qualified in two respects. The Salisbury convention is clear that the supremacy of the House of Commons applies to all matters which the Government have placed in their manifesto. This House does not seek to cut across clear manifesto commitments which the Government have made when they want to realise them. The Government’s commitment at the election was to sort out this issue; it was not not to sort out this issue. If we take that reading of the role of this House, we will actually be implementing the Salisbury convention this evening if we pass the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. We are seeking to hold the Government to their manifesto commitments to the people, not going against them.

The other reason why we are back in Alice in Wonderland in respect of the role of this House is that, when the Minister and the Chief Whip said this evening that the Bill will fail, it will fail only if, in response to the amendment being carried, the Government choose to let it fail rather than accept an amendment that puts into law the very commitments that they have said that they propose to meet.

We are in a conundrum as to what to do. If we vote for the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, we be voting for something that will indeed send the measure back to the House of Commons and could, if the Government refused to give way, lead to the fall of the Bill. That is entirely in the hands of the Government. However, it is manifestly not the case that we are breaking the Salisbury convention, it is manifestly not the case that we are going against the commitments that the Government themselves have given, and it is manifestly not the case that we would be the cause of the Bill falling. The Government would be the cause of the Bill falling, because they were not prepared to accept the amendment.

We all have judgments to take as to how to vote, and I respect people who take different views on this issue, but it is very clear to me that this is not about the supremacy of the House of Commons. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, in what I have to say is the most impassioned speech I have heard him deliver to the House, this is a matter of the good faith of the Government and whether, when they say something, they mean it. If this House has any role to play, it is to see that high standards of conduct in public life are maintained, that Governments are held to commitments that they give and that the ordinary meaning of words should be taken to apply when they are uttered by Ministers.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I will not trade Alice in Wonderland anecdotes with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, but I take issue with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that this Government and Prime Minister have done nothing or sat on their hands.

The reality is that I was appointed a Minister, a little over a year ago, into this role. The previous Government had first committed £400 million and then, very reluctantly, an additional £200 million towards the costs of remediating the same cladding that was on Grenfell Tower—aluminium composite material. In the month I was made a Minister, the Chancellor committed a further £1 billion. Now this Chancellor and Prime Minister have committed a further £3.5 billion, taking the total funding to an unprecedented £5.1 billion. It is simply not correct to say that we are doing nothing; that is a considerable sum of money and a massive commitment to recognising that we need to dampen the impact of the costs of remediating the unsafe cladding—the major fire accelerant on these buildings—so that a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire never happens again.

I also take issue with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, whose contributions I really enjoy; he is a property professional who speaks with great passion. The reality is that I spent the last year at the coalface, dealing with the tail of building owners who do not want to get on with the remediation—even when the funding is in place. There are two enforcement routes to get them to move even when they do not want to: one is the Housing Act 2004 and the other is the current fire safety order of 2005. It is recognised as an enforcement route, even for external cladding systems; it is just that some fire and rescue authorities feel that it is too ambiguous. That ambiguity, lack of clarification and operational disagreement between different fire and rescue services—I say this as Fire Minister—is a significant problem. However, one reason that remediation is happening today is that enforcement options are in place and this modest three-clause Bill is a very sensible clarification of the fire safety order of 2005.

We are at an impasse. I hope that we may get this vital Bill through, because it is important to get that legal clarity I have referred to. The safety of leaseholders and residents is paramount, and it will be compromised if we do not ensure that this Bill is placed on the statute book by the end of this Session. Tonight is the moment to decide that very fact. The Bill falling will not help leaseholders or make homes safer.

I turn to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. It lacks clarity in prohibiting all kinds of remediation costs being passed on to leaseholders. It means that, where costs are minor, as a result of wear and tear, or even where leaseholders are responsible for damage, they would still not be expected to pay, which is not a proportionate response. I think all Members would agree that the taxpayer should not pay for all and every cost associated with remediation. The scope is far too broad to be a sensible solution.

In several ways, this amendment has the potential to make things worse for leaseholders; for example, it is unclear who should take responsibility for remediation works until a statutory funding scheme is in place to pay for the costs. This would result in all types of remediation being delayed, which is an unsatisfactory outcome for leaseholders. Practically speaking, on the amendment’s requirement to deliver particular requirements to Parliament within 90 and 120 days, we must be mindful that drafting legislation is a complex matter, which cannot be dealt with in the timeframe proposed. I note that the noble Lord is unlikely to press for a Division this evening, so I will not go any further, but to impose an arbitrary deadline, as stated, is neither helpful nor practical.