Clause 1: Premises to which the Fire Safety Order applies
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(1C) Where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises, the things to which this order applies include electrical appliances.(1D) The reference to electrical appliances means any appliances specified by regulations made by the relevant authority.(1E) Schedule (Electrical Appliances) to the Fire Safety Act 2020 applies to paragraphs (1C) and (1D).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would clarify that the Fire Safety Order applies to electrical appliances where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises.
My Lords, this amendment is also in the names of my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty. I am delighted that Peers of such distinguished service and experience are able to support these amendments and I look forward to their contributions. I thank the Minister for his engagement and commitment on this issue. I know that he has given a briefing on this; I have apologised to him that I was unable to attend that briefing as I was engaged in a debate in Grand Committee at the time.
I welcome the Bill, and these amendments are intended to be proactive and to help prevent fires caused by electrical ignition. Similar amendments were tabled in the Commons by my honourable friend Sir David Amess.
I thank Electrical Safety First, a charity that is dedicated to electrical safety and which has helped in the presentation of this case.
These amendments are intended to build upon the Government’s new regulation for the private rented sector, the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020, which as the date suggests are obviously of a very recent vintage and which provide for mandatory checks every five years. I commend those regulations and believe that this legislation presents an opportunity to build on them.
As I said, this is an attempt to be proactive and to prevent fires happening in the first place. I accept that the Government are giving some consideration to this issue and I am grateful for that. My amendments are designed to ensure that electrical appliances are registered with the responsible person for high-rise domestic dwellings and to introduce mandatory checks for all residents, whatever the tenure of their home.
One anomaly of the present position is that some flats—those that are privately let—will have mandatory five-year checks. Some currently will not: the social tenants and the owner-occupied. I do not believe that that difference can be easily justified. It could be that one flat is having checks while the one next door is not.
According to Electrical Safety First, electrical faults cause more than 14,000 fires a year—almost half of all accidental house fires. There are around 4,000 tower blocks in the country, containing over 480,000 individual flats. Unless every unit in a high-rise building is subject to the same safety regime, the whole building is at risk from a fire emanating from one single flat, as we have seen.
New analysis of government data by Electrical Safety First reveals that nearly a quarter of accidental electric fires that occurred in high-rise buildings over the last five years in England were the result of faulty appliances and leads, as well as faulty fuel supplies, which can include electrical wiring in a property. These amendments would see a responsible person record the presence of white goods to minimise the risk that faulty goods can pose in densely populated buildings. Keeping a record of the appliances in use would also mean that faulty recalled appliances could be removed or repaired. Mandatory five-yearly electrical safety checks in tower blocks, regardless of tenure, are included in the amendment.
As I said, current regulations that we passed recently mean that privately rented flats are required to have these electrical safety checks but other tenures are not, which has in effect created a tenure lottery in buildings, which often include owner-occupied, privately rented and social housing properties.
These provisions for checking electrical safety would be undertaken by competent registered electricians. I am aware of the concerns and interest of the Fire Brigades Union and I welcome its engagement. I assure the union that there is no intention through these amendments that fire officers would undertake this work. They have other, very important jobs to do, which they are doing very well.
More worrying analysis shows that over the past three years, accidental electrical fires in high-rise buildings have risen consistently year on year. High-profile tower block fires have been previously linked to electrical sources, including the Lakanal House fire, where an electrical fault with a television caused a fire that claimed the lives of six people, and Shepherd’s Court, where a faulty tumble dryer led to extensive damage to an 18-storey building. While other factors certainly accelerated the Grenfell Tower fire, it must be highlighted that its primary immediate cause was of course an electrical source of ignition, subsequently confirmed by the Grenfell inquiry phase 1 documentation.
It is important to note that some fires are caused not by appliances themselves but by misuse of them. That is why, despite these amendments, education is certainly important, and why the Home Office in conjunction with Electrical Safety First runs a week of educational awareness-raising with the public through the Fire Kills campaign on the proper use of electricity and electrical appliances. I certainly welcome that, and it is a necessary thing to do, but it is not in itself sufficient.
Recent tragic events have demonstrated the fatal risk that electrical accidents and incidents pose to people in their homes, particularly in high-density housing such as tower blocks. The work of Electrical Safety First and others has helped ensure that tenants living in the private rented sector are now protected by mandatory five-yearly electrical safety checks in their properties. That law was recently brought into effect. Such measures are crucial in bringing down the number of electrical accidents and incidents, and saving lives. We believe that the time is right to include individual dwellings in tower blocks in this regime, regardless of their tenure.
I appreciate that this is a short Bill to amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which focuses on non-domestic measures, to cover domestic homes. This means that homes within high-rise blocks are affected by the proposed legislation. This offers an excellent and straightforward opportunity to ensure that all who live in such buildings are brought under the same safety regime. Given this, the newly created role of a “responsible person” for any high-rise building should be given the task of compiling a register of every white good in the building. This ensures that when a recall occurs, anyone with an affected appliance can be quickly alerted and the safety risk resolved. Relying on consumers to register and respond to recalls in those buildings, when the potential risk is so high, must be considered wholly inadequate.
The Government can therefore improve the Bill through a number of measures that seek to improve electrical safety in homes. Amending the Bill provides an opportunity to make immediate differences to the safety of people who live in multi-occupied high-rise buildings. Electricity causes fires and the Government need to consider seriously the electrical sources of ignition. I am pleased that these amendments enjoy broad-based support. This is a time for all of us to come together to provide a safer environment for high-rise buildings by the introduction of mandatory safety checks. I hope that the Committee will support these amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak in favour of the amendment in the name of my noble friend, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, to which I have added my name, as have the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty. I should have also added my name to my noble friend’s Amendment 24, which I fully support.
As I mentioned at Second Reading, the issue of electrical appliances and their safety, especially as a potential cause of household fires, should be a major concern. We should do whatever we can to try to reduce those fires caused by electrical faults. The two amendments, introduced so eloquently by my noble friend, would be a valuable tool in trying to achieve that.
Hand in hand with measures for mandatory checks, we should also do what we can to educate the public on electrical safety. My noble friend mentioned that. I pay tribute to a scheme that used to run—I am not sure that it still does—in the London Borough of Hillingdon when I was the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge. Primary school children went into a series of locations or rooms, perhaps a kitchen or bathroom, to identify potential hazards and dangers. I remember saying at the time that the scheme should be not just for primary school children but for adults, too. Sometimes people are not aware of the problems that can be caused by all sorts of household appliances. We should all be aware that the labour-saving devices that we take for granted can also be potentially dangerous. We should therefore do whatever we can to try to eliminate the possibility of electrical fires because we know the devastation that they can cause.
My Lords, I strongly support these amendments and the requirement for a regular mandatory check on electrical appliances, broadly for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, explained to the Committee. I pay tribute to the campaign group Electrical Safety First, which has given me some information on the issue. As the noble Lord has said, the fires at Lakanal House in Camberwell, Shepherd’s Court and Grenfell were all triggered by faulty electrical appliances. Whether it was dangerous cladding, compromised firewalling or poor evacuation procedures that led to multiple deaths, electrical appliances triggered the fires in the first place. Indeed, more than half of the fires in dwellings in this country are related to electrical appliances.
These amendments would require regular checking of the standards and appropriate use of white goods in all multi-occupied properties. There are already mandatory gas checks on most such buildings for gas supply and the correct use of gas appliances. That is largely because people and regulators have long recognised that gas is dangerous. Yet, these days, electricity is the greater hazard. In multi-occupied multi-storey buildings, if there is a problem in one flat or unit, that is a potentially lethal problem for everyone in that structure.
We should explain that the amendment to regulations would in no way reduce the central responsibility and liability of the manufacturers to ensure the safety of their products; nor should any responsibility be taken away from users to follow instructions and not use equipment irresponsibly or inappropriately. However, the continued use of recalled products, dangerous wiring arrangements, damaged circuits and inappropriate placement of white goods requires regular inspection. There is also a requirement on landlords, tenants and leaseholders to have knowledge of that inspection to help reduce hazards. Failure on their part to facilitate inspection or to take action in the light of that inspection will rest primarily with the owner and manager of the building. That is how it should be. I strongly support these amendments.
My Lords, first, I remind the Committee that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I support both amendments in this group. My noble friend Lord Tope, who is a signatory to Amendment 1, is unable to take part today but I know that he is looking forward to debating the issues raised in both amendments when we reach Report.
As we have heard, evidence from Electrical Safety First tells us that electrical faults cause more than 14,000 home fires a year. That is almost half of all accidental house fires. Logically, therefore, the more electrical appliances are checked, the lower the risk will be of a fire breaking out and then spreading to other people’s properties. This is not just a matter of building safety but about preventing fires breaking out in the first place.
I suggest that the general public have a right to expect that Governments of all persuasions should be willing to legislate to ensure high standards of regulation to improve public safety. Those who live in blocks of flats have a right to expect that they are living in a safe environment and that the owner of their block has undertaken the necessary safety checks within it, in this case to electrical appliances within that block.
The proposal in this group of amendments is for checks at least every five years. That is justified. If I drive a car that is over three years old, I have to prove every year that it is roadworthy by having an MOT check. This is to protect other road users, not just me and my vehicle. The same principle should apply in shared buildings where electrical appliances that are a fire risk could cause damage to other properties and to their occupants in that shared building.
I therefore conclude that the fire safety order should apply to electrical appliances where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises. That seems reasonable. For high-rise residential buildings, in particular, it is important that a responsible person should keep a register of white goods in the building for which they are responsible, that they ensure that white goods are registered with the manufacturer for recall, should that be necessary, and that safety checks are conducted at least every five years.
Any privately rented home in a block of flats of mixed tenure will now be subject to electrical safety checks. It seems odd that in a high-rise block of mixed tenure, only the privately rented properties will be subject to the 2020 regulations. I would be grateful for the Minister’s explanation as to why that is, and to know whether the Government will act now to address that anomaly.
My Lords, I, too, declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. We all share the object of improving the safety of residents and protecting them from the hazards of fire. The Bill is a most welcome contribution to this aim, and provides much-needed clarity about the responsibilities and duties of building owners.
My noble friend’s amendment has been tabled with the best of intentions. On Second Reading I mentioned my concern about the potential for fire hazards from white goods, as did others. I therefore looked with great interest at my noble friend’s amendment. Although I share the concern behind the two amendments regarding fire hazard posed by faulty electrical appliances, this amendment would transfer the responsibility for that issue away from the manufacturers and owners of such appliances, to the responsible person and the fire and rescue service.
The requirement for the responsible person to keep a register of electrical appliances and to check whether they are subject to a recall notice would be completely impractical, particularly in social housing, where the responsibility of the local authority or housing association has significant implications, especially in relation to keeping a register of all electrical appliances.
Surely the responsibility for the safety of electrical goods should sit with the manufacturers. Recent legislation created a national regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, to lead and co-ordinate the product safety system, and respond 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 enters the marketplace. An added concern was gaining the co-operation of occupiers and to private properties. There are potential problems of access rights, and ECHR issues.
Clause 86 of the draft building safety Bill imposes duties on residents regarding maintenance of electrical equipment, and I feel it would be better if the aims of the amendment were seen in relation to general electrical safety checks, and were part of that Bill’s safety case provision.
Fire statistics show that 34% of accidental dwelling fires in 2019-20 were caused by misuse of equipment or appliances, with a further 15% due to faulty leads. However, faulty electrical goods, although unacceptable, are not the primary source of fire fatalities: 23% of fire fatalities are linked to smokers. However, even if it were possible to fulfil all the obligations created by my noble friend’s amendment, we would always need to recognise that fires often start in kitchens—and Amendments 1 and 24 will not negate fire danger in kitchens.
My Lords, this important Bill commands extensive cross-party support. The amendment, with leadership from the noble lord, Lord Bourne, also has backing from all parties, and I can now add support from the Cross Benches. I think we have all been helped by input from the Electrical Safety First charity, from whose excellent briefing I note that the failure of electrical appliances is the underlying cause of some 57% of the fires in homes, as with the Grenfell Tower tragedy, in which a fridge-freezer caused the fire.
Although electrical product companies endeavour to alert customers when they need to recall appliances—as with the more than 500,000 white goods subject to recalls from Hotpoint and Indesit alone—there are many reasons why the message does not get through: people move and take appliances with them; recall notices get lost; people buy second-hand goods, and so on. There are a lot of electrical products out there with the potential to start new fires at any time.
Amendment 1, in combination with the proposed new schedule, provides two levels of assurance, both of which seem eminently suitable and practical for high-rise buildings in particular. These involve, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, keeping a register of electrical appliances and having a five-yearly electrical safety inspection of all flats, not just those that are privately rented.
We need to consider possible criticisms, and I shall take up one or two of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton. Would these measures, however necessary, be expensive to administer? Would they be costly for residents? Would they be intrusive into people’s private space? Adding the task of maintaining a register of residents’ appliances would increase the workload of the responsible person with fire safety duties, but the increased workload should be modest, and a tiny supplement to service charges should cover this.
I stress that the amendment would not add to the duties or responsibilities of the fire and rescue service; rather, it would assist the service by reducing fires. Local authorities would have oversight of the requirement for inspections, but they already have enforcement duties in respect of privately rented flats. Moreover, the work involved should not be onerous, as the apartment block’s managers, and the responsible person, in particular, will want to retain oversight of the building’s electrical safety.
As for the quinquennial inspection, I gather from managing agents in the private rented sector, who are already dealing with electrical safety inspections, that costs can be much lower than the £200 we have heard about for a five-year certification. There will be economies of scale in covering flats in a tower block, compared with costs for a check-up and certificate for a one-off private property. The inspection requires a qualified electrician but not a fully fledged surveyor or electrical engineer. I think £50 per unit, equivalent to £10 per annum, could be achieved in due course. Such a payment may be more than helpful in alerting the occupier to any potential hazards and providing peace of mind derived from the knowledge that one’s neighbours are much less likely, unwittingly, to cause a disastrous fire.
Some have argued that applying this obligation to home owners is a step too far. There is little objection to social landlords being required to meet standards demanded of private landlords, and the Regulator of Social Housing will not only insist on comparable standards but will ensure they are enforced. But there are sensitivities about placing the same obligations on home owners—leaseholders and shared owners—in these apartment blocks. However, this represents a free checking service for the resident to ensure that they are not harbouring an unsafe appliance that was the subject of a recall. The key point is that the actions of each resident, whether a tenant or an owner, affect all the other occupiers in the same building. While I am a firm supporter of mixed tenure development, as I know the Minister also is—it seems essential that these safety measures cover all apartments in a mixed block, irrespective of the tenure of the residents therein.
In conclusion, I strongly support the amendment—and I am delighted that we have a Minister responsible for the Bill who has the knowledge and the skills to take this forward, noting its support from all parts of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I want to speak against this amendment. I remind the House of my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I know that everyone in this Chamber is concerned about fire safety and united in their desire to ensure that tenants are safe in their homes. As other noble Lords have said, the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower and other significant fires in multi-occupied blocks were caused by faults with electrical devices. Naturally, we all want to make sure that such disasters can never happen again.
As the ex-leader of Westminster City Council, I know at first hand that local authorities and the housing associations they work with are entirely at one with us on this goal. However, I also know at first hand what practical and financial challenges the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Bourne would have. I agree with the comments made by my noble friend Lady Eaton.
Westminster City Council is responsible for more than 22,000 properties on its estates and we are far from the largest local authority landowner. Under this amendment, local authorities and housing associations would regularly need to visit and certify multiple electrical devices in each dwelling they own, thus requiring tens of thousands of home visits in each local authority area annually. The financial burden of this is prohibitive and, given the measures that have already been introduced by government, will not improve the fire safety of domestic dwellings.
A further concern is that this amendment would have the effect of transferring responsibility for this issue from manufacturers to the responsible person, which includes local authorities and housing associations. Furthermore, local authorities and housing associations will need to keep a register of the hundreds of thousands of electrical appliances in the homes they let and check if they are subject to recall notices. This would be impractical and create a significant enforcement challenge. It is far better for manufacturers to take more responsibility for the products they sell.
Current legislation introduced in recent years already deals with the issues that this amendment seeks to solve. 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. The combination of these existing regulations ensures fire safety for tenants. The amendment proposed by my noble friend does not, in my view, add significantly to fire safety and just will not be practical to implement. I therefore will not be supporting it.
My Lords, I remind the House of my interests, as recorded in the register, as a councillor in Kirklees and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for tabling these amendments to include provision for improving the safety of electrical appliances in the Bill. I thank my noble friend Lord Tope, who has campaigned on this issue for many years and, unfortunately, is unable to speak in this debate. Electrical Safety First has provided an excellent briefing, with important evidence on the need to include this issue in the Bill.
To those of us who are not familiar with all the facts, it came as something of a surprise that over half of all accidental fires are caused by faulty electrical appliances. As we now know, the tragic fire at Grenfell was caused by a faulty appliance. Of course, there are stringent requirements for manufacturers to build in safety features and for landlords in the private rented sector to do safety checks. However, many people are obliged to buy second-hand refurbished appliances, which may be safe at the time of purchase but have a greater probability of failing within the five years specified for checks.
My noble friend Lord Shipley, speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lord Tope, explained that checks on appliances will, logically, reduce the number of fires caused in this way. He used a good analogy: cars need MoTs to ensure the safety of their owners and other road users, and therefore so should white goods. The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, made a strong argument for putting the onus for the safety of electrical appliances on manufacturers, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, further pointed out the risks in manufacturers’ recall of faulty appliances. All this shows that this is a complicated matter, but complexity should not be used to prevent the problem being addressed. The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, would extend and clarify the existing safety check requirements. I urge the Government to consider accepting them.
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.
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.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the discussion of these two amendments in the first group. I think that there is a genuine desire across the Committee, even in those who have raised difficulties in doing something. Unless I am wrong, there is a recognition that we should be doing something to reduce fire deaths and to provide for safety with regard to electrical goods.
Some very clear facts have come across. High-rise blocks of flats are increasing, notwithstanding the presence of the person overseeing the safety of goods. Legislation has been introduced to help to protect private tenants—it does not extend to social tenants—and owner-occupiers. I do not believe that we should be in a position where we are protecting private tenants and owner-occupiers but not social tenants. I note the points made by my noble friend about social tenants, but if there is a genuine desire to do something, this legislation will provide that opportunity.
Let us take a look at the legitimate concerns that have been brought forward, which I recognise, and see how we can overcome them. That, to me, is the right way of moving. I do not think that there is a real threat of intrusion because this is about providing safety for everyone in our country, which is very desirable. I welcome my noble friend’s acceptance of the suggestion of a meeting and I would be pleased to take part in it. We can look at doing something genuinely to ensure that we do not face the horrific fire incidents that we have seen in the past. We can find a way of providing some safety and security.
I listened particularly to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who certainly knows what he is talking about; as is commonly known throughout the House, he really does understand this area. At this stage, I will withdraw the amendment, but I will certainly come back to it on Report to look for some movement on how we can provide genuine security from electrical fires for all those living in high-rise blocks.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
Clause 2: Power to change premises to which the Fire Safety Order applies
2: Clause 2, page 2, line 7, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations under subsection (1) may not amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to apply the Order to domestic premises in buildings under five storeys in height.”Member’s explanatory statement
This is a probing amendment to enable the House to discuss fire safety measures that apply to low-rise domestic buildings, which have a lesser fire risk, and how the powers under Clause 2 may be used to implement Grenfell inquiry recommendations.
My Lords, I am sorry that I was not able to speak at Second Reading. However, I am glad to rise to move Amendment 2, which is probing in nature but very serious. It reflects one of the problems that has arisen from actions taken following the Grenfell tragedy. One consequence of Grenfell is that cladding on many dwellings, especially high-rise flats, will have to be treated and/or removed if their safety is to be assured. Initially, statements by government Ministers implied that cladding on buildings of over 18 metres was in question, but subsequent remarks have implied that buildings of lower height could also be affected. The proposed order, of course, goes beyond cladding. It covers balconies and windows and the entrance doors to individual flats. These are often made of wood, as they have been since virtually the dawn of time, and the advice from consultants and so on is that they need to be replaced or fireproofed under the new regime.
All of this will be a very expensive process. Rough estimates reveal that the cost per dwelling can easily reach tens of thousands of pounds. In many cases, it is not clear from where the money for the changes needed will come. Freeholders, leaseholders and government look on in horror at the implications. As a consequence, a substantial part of the housing market is effectively frozen. Buyers will not purchase unless they can be assured that they will not be caught by these extra costs, or at least until any costs can be reliably quantified. Many people simply cannot move because their dwellings cannot be sold until the impasse is resolved.
The problem is aggravated by the use of the now-infamous external fire wall review form developed by the RICS, no doubt in an effort to be helpful. The perverse effect of this was debated in the other place. There is a shortage of people qualified to undertake such surveys and the delay leads to the collapse of house sales. So the young who want to move somewhere bigger, for example when they have a baby, the old who want to trade down and release capital, and the unemployed who want to move to get work elsewhere, are all frozen. Mortgage providers are unwilling to lend on what are now seen as distressed assets.
This is a nightmare. We, the Conservatives, are the party that believes in home ownership and has made promises on housing, which I stand behind 100%. I do not like to attack the Government, but this problem does not have negotiating ramifications. It is straightforward and domestic. The Government have a clear duty to minimise the problem and map a way forward out of the morass. Indeed, though they were made for the best of reasons, their statements created the problem in the first place.
My Amendment 2 deals with only a small part of the problem but Rome was not built in a day. Reducing the scope of a problem is worth while; we could do that in this Bill with my noble friend the Minister’s agreement. My thought is that the risk posed by cladding and balconies in low-rise buildings is much less than in high-rise ones. To be blunt, it is easier and quicker to get out if there is a fire, and it seems disproportionate to apply such onerous requirements to low-rise buildings. If we can make clear that buildings below a certain height—with fewer than five storeys, say—will not be covered by future requirements for removal or changes to cladding, that part of the market will be unfrozen, which would be a major step forward. I am open as to how this can be achieved, though limiting the height of buildings to which the new rules will apply is one obvious possibility.
I will also speak to Amendments 20 and 21 on an impact assessment. The Home Office produced an impact assessment as part of the consultation on the proposed new fire safety order, but regrettably not for the Bill itself. It does not touch on the troublesome dynamics that I have raised. It covers familiarisation costs for responsible persons, businesses and the public sector, ongoing assessments and audits by competent individuals and some remedial costs, although my impression is that these are underestimated. The impact assessment quotes a total of more than £2 billion, partly because of the huge number of premises involved, but it is striking that, of the 1.7 million premises on the central estimate, 1.596 million are below 11 metres and 87,000 are below 18 metres—hence my proposal.
When I headed up the deregulation unit—which we named the better regulation unit under its Labour chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Haskins—we were always worried about getting the detail wrong and imposing huge and needless burdens in response to disasters. This, I fear, is a living example; with the distractions of Covid, this could be a prime example of this deplorable tendency.
Further, we all care about fire safety; that is what this Bill is about. My late father-in-law was a fire officer, including during the Blitz. I am a well- known supporter on these Benches of health and safety; I have campaigned on the problem of faulty Whirlpool tumble dryers and worked with the then BEIS Minister responsible to tackle it. Now we must find an urgent way of coping with the terrible problem of the freezing of part of the housing market because of the Government’s statements. This might even be done through an amendment to this popular Bill.
We must find a way through. In pursuit of that, I have three detailed questions for my noble friend the Minister, broadly suggested to me by the National Residential Landlords Association. First, how do the Government propose that risk assessments for buildings of five storeys or fewer be undertaken? Secondly, do the Government agree that for properties with a lower risk, for example smaller properties in multiple occupation, there is scope for the responsible person to be defined as competent to undertake a fire risk assessment? Thirdly, there have been issues regarding the availability of qualified and appropriately insured fire engineers who are able to undertake safety reviews. What assessment has been made about the need to ensure that there are sufficient trained assessors and that professionals have access to insurance so that they can undertake the necessary assessment without concerns for their personal liability?
I very much look forward to the Minister’s comments and the debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful for these probing amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. I understand her point: they are clearly important and they help our further consideration of the Bill. In particular, her identification of the need for trained assessors seems extremely important; I think that we will deal with that a little later this afternoon.
Amendment 2 relates to low-rise domestic buildings—that is, those of four storeys or fewer. I am not clear why, because they are lower than a high-risk block, they should be deemed a lower risk. Surely we are trying to stop fires breaking out; that is not related directly to the height of a building. Added to that is the fact that, sometimes, building height is quoted at different levels for different purposes. Sometimes it is done on the basis of height; sometimes it is done on the basis of the number of floors. I would appreciate some greater standardisation so that we do not face discussions on 18 metres or 11 metres, the number of floors and so on.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, said—this is important—that the Government must map a way forward. I hope that the Minister will bring some clarity on this in his response. As the noble Baroness said, it is terribly important not to get the detail wrong. In our consideration of this amendment—as we know, it is a probing amendment—it would be helpful to consider it as part and parcel of our intention to get the detail much better than it has been in the past.
My Lords, I apologise for not being in the Chamber when my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe opened her remarks. I rise to speak in support of Amendment 2 but I will focus my remarks on Amendments 20 and 21 in particular, which deal with the need for impact assessments.
I thank my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for setting out so clearly the rationale behind her amendments. I begin by explaining why this issue is so important to me personally—in short, there but for the grace of God go I. Contrary to the damaging impression given by the Lords Commission’s inept decision to cut the attendance allowance and reduce significantly the eligibility to claim it—just at the time when the Chancellor introduced the furlough scheme to reduce stress—many noble Lords are not millionaires and have given up well-paid jobs to serve their country in your Lordships’ House. I have never earned a huge amount of money, so as a former leaseholder in the shared ownership part of a new-build development, I do not know how I could possibly have coped with the uncertainty, stress and immense costs currently faced by leaseholders.
Amendments 20 and 21 call for impact assessments. Perhaps it might help your Lordships’ House if I shared the findings of an impact assessment that has already been carried out by the residents association of a new-build block—incorporating both low-level blocks of below 18 metres and taller buildings—in Colindale in north London. The findings relate to the mental health impact of the current situation on leaseholders: they are stark and shocking. Nine out of 10 residents reported that their mental health had deteriorated because of the current situation regarding the fire regulations; 100% of residents stated that their biggest concern was about Notting Hill Genesis—their housing association—passing on remediation costs to leaseholders. Fourteen per cent of residents have experienced thoughts of self-harm and 10% have experienced suicidal thoughts.
Why are the residents so concerned? Might it have anything to do with the £411,000 bill—£5,708 per flat—for the waking watch? Unbelievably, the housing association, Notting Hill Genesis, implemented a five-person waking watch, who are on site 24 hours a day, with associated costs, without consultation. Perhaps it has something to do with the £84,000—£1,166 per flat —for an upgraded fire alarm system in line with the change from “stay put” to “get out”, which requires a new L5 wireless fire alarm in every flat. Or maybe it is because a leaseholder cannot get their flat insured or sell their home, and therefore cannot move, for example if they need to because of coronavirus-related unemployment, or indeed the need to move for a new job.
Perhaps the most salient finding of this assessment, which was unspoken, was that the impact is now. This is not in the future tense. This is in the present tense. So the need for an urgent solution to protect residents is also now. On 14 October in the other place, the Prime Minister assured Matthew Offord, the MP for Hendon, that he would look into how to respond to the concerns that he had raised consistently on behalf of constituents. I am not asking the Minister necessarily to answer all the questions and concerns that I have raised in his response to these amendments today, but, before completion of the Bill, perhaps he could come to the House with a solution that answers the concerns of residents. Otherwise, I fear, our precious mantle as the party of home ownership—hard fought for and won over many years—is very much at risk.
My Lords, I am keen to ensure, as many noble Lords will be, that the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry can be implemented speedily. A key element of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, seeks to clarify whether the powers in Clause 2 can be used to introduce regulations via the affirmative procedure. This seems an eminently sensible proposal for a route to be used to act on some of the many recommendations from the Grenfell inquiry when it is published. I hope the Minister will be able to agree that this amendment as a way forward for the Grenfell inquiry is one that the Government are willing to use.
Although the Government have responded to some of the consequences of the Grenfell tragedy, there is much more to be done. Three years is a long time to wait for those directly affected and for those trying to live with the considerable financial and emotional consequences: for instance, those living in modern high-rise blocks in my part of the country in Leeds, who are paying considerable sums each month for a waking watch. I agree with my noble friend Lord Shipley that building height and number of storeys do not, on the face of it, affect fire risk. I hope the Minister will be able to clarify the difference in height or number of storeys when he responds to these questions.
Other amendments later today explore several of the issues in the noble Baroness’s amendments, which demonstrates to me that many of us consider that fire safety risks for existing buildings need to be fully debated. The Government need to come forward with a proposal. I look forward, with hope, to the government response to this interesting amendment.
My Lords, Amendments 2, 20 and 21, all in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, have enabled us to debate the issues that pertain to low-rise domestic premises under five storeys, and how people are kept safe. Although these buildings are not high-rise, they can still present significant challenges for the residents. We need to make sure that they are safe.
It is a fact that fires often occur on the lower levels of premises. That is obviously quite logical. In most cases, the kitchen and living room, where you have the electrical equipment, are on the ground floor. You usually go upstairs to the bedrooms, where there is less equipment. If fires occur in these smaller blocks of flats—modern blocks, for example, or conversions of large houses—the risk and the issues are still relevant. I remember on a visit to the London Fire Brigade headquarters a couple of years ago, we were given a briefing on the problems of four or five-storey modern blocks, where there had been serious fires, huge damage to property, risk to life and limb and risk of serious injury.
In her amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, raised the problem of people trapped in properties covered in cladding and other materials about which serious concerns have been raised. They cannot sell their properties and they cannot get a mortgage if they want to buy them. These are very serious problems for those people, and we need a solution. The solution, for me, is that we have to get the material off. One of the problems we have, certainly in more modern properties, is that when properties are built, the builders give guarantees, and insurance policies are taken out based on the quality of construction. We now have the problem—this has been discussed many times before—that guarantees are not being honoured and insurance policies are being disputed and not paid out. That creates a huge problem for people who have bought a property or built a property as an organisation. We must deal with that issue. If you have given out a guarantee or issued insurance, it is unacceptable that you can walk away and say, “Sorry, we’re not paying this out, we’re not going to deal with this”.
I hope the Minister can tell the House what discussions he and his department are going to have with the insurance industry and the people who give construction guarantees. That is what we have to get right. If you guarantee that these properties have been built properly, I would assume that proper due diligence has been done and you have ensured that they have indeed been built properly, and if there are problems, you should pay out. We need to get these things sorted.
Amendments 20 and 21 would require that proper consultation take place, and ask the Secretary of State and the relevant Welsh Minister to report back to Parliament and the Senedd Cymru respectively. That is very sensible. A theme running through today’s debates is that consultation is really important to get these things right.
I thank the noble Baroness for tabling these amendments. She has raised an important issue and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, will respond to the questions asked.
I thank my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for raising these important issues and facilitating this useful debate. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in it.
On Amendment 2, regarding the exclusion of low-rise buildings from the fire safety order, the order places duties on the responsible person to protect those lawfully on the premises from the risk of fire. These duties include carrying out and maintaining an up-to-date fire risk assessment that is specific to their premises, and ensuring that they have taken suitable and sufficient measures to mitigate the potential risk of fire. That is a continuous process whereby emerging fire risks need to be kept under review as part of the fire risk assessment process. These duties apply to buildings within scope of the order. That includes all premises apart from those that are expressly excluded; domestic premises are one such category. The Bill clarifies that the fire safety order applies to the structure, external walls and flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings.
While I understand the intention behind my noble friend’s amendment, I am afraid I do not think it has quite the effect she intends. Domestic premises are already excluded from the scope of the order, so an amendment ensuring that they be excluded is not necessary. The buildings within which such premises sit are not excluded, in order to ensure that people living in such buildings have the protection they need to keep them safe. To exclude a category of buildings such as those less than five storeys high would remove that necessary protection.
Furthermore, it would be wrong to assume that the height of a building is the key determinant in its risk of fire, as has been noted. Certainly, it is a factor, but the potential risk is determined by many other factors that are nuanced and unique to each building. In that respect, I would like to refer to some of the fires we have witnessed since the tragic events at Grenfell Tower. In July 2018 a fire started on an external balcony on the third floor of the Orwell Building in West Hampstead, a six-storey block of flats. In September last year a fire destroyed a four-storey timber-framed block of flats in Worcester Park. Just a few months later, a fire spread via the high-pressure laminate coating on The Cube, a student accommodation block in Bolton. Mercifully, none of these fires resulted in casualties or fatalities, but clearly, they present lessons that need to be learned.
I am happy to put on record that the Government have no intention of excluding multi-occupied residential buildings of any height, including those that are low-rise, from the scope of the fire safety order. We will deliver on our commitment to strengthen the order as a proportionate legislative response to the risks of fire in high-rise residential buildings. However, we must also ensure that we do not discount the potential risk of fires in low-rise buildings. We must ensure that the responsible person continues to take a thorough approach when conducting their fire risk assessment.
Our fire safety consultation included proposals for implementing the legislative recommendations made by the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s phase one report. Most of these recommendations concerned creating prescriptive new duties for those responsible for high-rise residential buildings, and in some instances, we have actually gone further than the inquiry’s recommendations. For example, we proposed in our consultation that responsible persons should provide information to their local fire and rescue services on the level of risk in the design and materials of the external wall structure and mitigating steps they have taken, which goes further than the inquiry recommended.
Noble Lords will be aware that the Government published the draft building safety Bill on 20 July. The proposed scope of the new regime in that Bill will apply to higher-risk buildings. On day one of that new regime, it will cover all multi-occupied residential buildings of 18 metres or more in height, or more than six storeys, whichever is reached first. The building safety Bill will allow a flexible legislative response to building safety risks as it will provide for the Secretary of State’s modifying the scope of the legislation and even changing the height threshold for multi-occupied residential buildings in order to bring them into the scope of the new regime as higher-risk buildings. For residential buildings outside the scope of the building safety Bill, the Housing Act 2004 will remain the primary means by which standards are enforced.
I should also draw attention to the Building Safety Fund, through which the Government have made £1 billion available to fund the removal of unsafe non-aluminium composite material cladding. That is in addition to the £600 million we have already made available to ensure the remediation of unsafe ACM cladding. In developing the fund, the Government considered the view of experts, including Dame Judith Hackitt, who support its focus on buildings of 18 metres and above. Those experts recommended that we focus further public funding on remediating unsafe non-ACM cladding from high-rise residential buildings. Higher-rise buildings are the least likely to be evacuated safely in the event of a fire spreading via external cladding. There will be a small degree of flexibility in the fund to allow it to cover buildings that have been built just under the 18-metre threshold and which have similar fire safety strategies to those taller than 18 metres.
However, we do not expect that government funding to be the only means of remediating high-rise residential buildings with unsafe cladding systems. We expect a significant proportion of the remediation of unsafe non-ACM cladding on these buildings to be funded by those responsible for the original work, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, alluded to, through warranties or by building owners who are able to pay for remediation without passing on costs to leaseholders.
My noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lord Shinkwin raised powerful concerns about the impact that EWS1 forms are having on people selling their homes and those looking to buy homes. The Government share their concerns and are working with the industry to address this matter. The EWS1 form is not a governmental or regulatory requirement, nor is it a building safety certificate. It was developed as the industry’s preferred solution to support the valuation process for high-rise buildings above 18 metres, and that is all it was ever intended for. Not all lenders require an EWS1 form but the Government are aware that other lenders are requesting such forms for lower-rise properties too. We do not support that blanket approach and are working with lenders to encourage a more proportionate approach and to reduce demands for them.
We are also working with professional bodies to see how we can increase capacity to carry out assessments where they are genuinely needed. In future, the building assurance certificate—provided for in the building safety Bill, not this Bill—and/or an up-to-date fire risk assessment following the clarification in this Bill should provide the reassurance that lenders are looking for in the EWS1 form.
I turn to my noble friend’s Amendments 20 and 21, concerning an impact assessment. The Government have published an impact assessment for this Bill; it can be found on the pages of the parliamentary website relating to the Bill, but if my noble friend would find it useful, I would be happy to share that directly with her. We worked closely with the National Fire Chiefs Council, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and other interested parties in preparing that assessment. We have also published an impact assessment for the fire safety order consultation and will conduct a final impact assessment before laying secondary legislation to bring about any changes to the order.
Government analysts used the most accurate data and assumptions available to them at the time to assess the potential impacts of the Fire Safety Bill. While I understand my noble friend’s desire to undertake further assessment, government analysts are already committed to a final impact assessment for the regulations before laying them before your Lordships’ House and the other place. Each of these assessments is informed by further engagement with those directly affected, and improved data and assumptions.
I turn to the aspect of the amendment which seeks for the Government to produce an impact assessment if changes are made to the fire safety order with regard to the premises to which it applies in future. The Bill already creates a duty on the Government to consult relevant parties should changes need to be made to the fire safety order relating to the premises to which it applies—that is in Clause 2(5). As part of this consultation —indeed, as part of the policy-making process—there is an expectation on the Government to carry out an impact assessment. Therefore, we do not think that it would be practical or necessary for that to be enshrined in law.
Finally, I turn to the aspect of the amendment that would require Welsh Ministers to produce an impact assessment under these circumstances. Although the Welsh Government and the Senedd fully support the Bill—indeed, they approved it unanimously—fire safety is, as noble Lords know, a devolved matter. It is possible for Parliament to legislate for Wales on a devolved matter only if the Senedd Cymru consents. It would also be inappropriate for your Lordships’ House to seek to instruct Welsh Ministers on how to exercise their functions. That is properly a matter for the Senedd.
My noble friend asked me three questions. I have alluded to some already and we will touch on others in later amendments. However, on the three points that she raised, all buildings should be assessed when this Bill becomes, as we hope, an Act of Parliament. We are proposing the use of a risk operating model developed by the sector to target the buildings that should be prioritised. Height is not the only factor in that model; it looks at a range of risks.
On her second question, the task and finish group recommended a risk-based prioritisation of buildings, which generally means that high-rise buildings will be the first up, but low rise is not always low risk, as the recent fires to which I have alluded prove. The responsible person can undertake the risk assessment if they have the skills and competence, but for complex buildings they should seek professional advice.
On my noble friend’s third question, one reason for the risk-based prioritisation is that we are mindful that, as she notes, there are not enough fire engineers, and we want them to focus on higher-risk buildings. The Government are working with the industry in a number of ways and have a number of workstreams in train that are actively seeking to address these issues. For instance, we have been working with the fire risk assessment sector to develop a clear plan to increase its capacity and capability. In addition, we are funding the British Standards Institution to develop technical guidance to support professionals to make an assessment of the fire risk posed by external wall systems. This guidance will support the industry to increase the skills of more professionals to take on this work and improve the quality and consistency of the assessments.
I hope I have reassured my noble friend that the Government will ensure that suitable and appropriate fire safety measures are in place for low-rise buildings. I also hope that I have reassured her of our position regarding impact assessments and why we consider these amendments unnecessary. If I have, I hope that she will see fit to withdraw her amendment.
I have received a request from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, to speak after the Minister.
My Lords, warranties, guarantees and insurance should, in many cases, be the way forward in resolving these problems, but, sadly, some construction companies, warranty providers and insurance companies are seeking to get out of their obligation to provide what people have paid for. That is not acceptable, and I hope that the noble Lord can tell the Committee what he is going to do about it. At a minimum, he should say that he will get the Association of British Insurers and warranty providers in and make it clear to them that, if they are providing insurance and guarantees for buildings that have been constructed, the Government expect them to face up to their obligations in providing the things that people have paid for, and that walking away is unacceptable.
My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, and I am especially grateful to my noble friend Lord Shinkwin for his very moving example. I also express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for their support.
The Minister has confirmed that discussions are ongoing on insurance, warranties and other issues, which are important, but I point out that those relate largely to the future rather than the past. We have a past problem in this area—I describe it as “frozen”—which is obviously the reason for my probing amendment.
This afternoon, there has been a recognition that there is a problem here. Perhaps I could go backwards, thanking the Minister for his answers. I particularly thank him for his answers on the impact assessment, which were very satisfactory. On the website, you come up first with the impact assessment for the fire safety order, but that is the main impact assessment anyway. I was quoting extensively from it and I think that he will find it very useful, but it shows the volume of premises that we are talking about—those under 18 metres or 11 metres—so we have a problem.
The Government are rightly focusing a lot of attention on high-rise flats. The money that has been made available —I think that well over £1 billion was mentioned—is obviously welcome, and that has been focused on trying to get the cladding sorted as far as possible, because it is a great area of tragedy. However, the point about Committee is that you need to look at the detail of the regulations and make sure that you do not cause problems in other areas. Obviously, fires tend to start at the bottom of buildings—I very much understand that—but I think that you need to look at the risk, and my questions were specifically linked to that. It is a case of trying to make the system as sensible as possible so that, for example, responsible officers can, in appropriate circumstances, carry out risk assessments. At the moment, that does not seem to be happening. It seems that they are not doing it because they are worried and are trying to get in a consultant, and that leads to the “frozen” problem that I described.
I would be very happy to talk further about some of those points and the workstreams that the Government are looking at. I felt that the Minister was saying, “We are going to be very fierce on fire safety and I care about fire safety”, but if a lot of people suffer perverse effects as a result, you have to think about how you are going to help them too, and how you are going to deal with that.
That is why I was slightly disappointed in the response to the amendment. It is only a probing amendment, so the fact that it does not quite work is not surprising. I am not an expert in this area. However, I am an expert in trying to balance consumer and business interests to get sensible regulation through this Chamber by looking at the detail. I would be very happy to help in any way I can to try to make sure that we solve some of these difficulties, either through later amendments or by coming up with something particular here. I emphasise that this issue is urgent; it is not something that can be left for another year.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 3. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anybody wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
3: Clause 2, page 2, line 10, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
“(5) Before making regulations under subsection (1) the relevant authority must—(a) consult anyone that appears to the relevant authority to be appropriate;(b) carry out an assessment of the impact of the amendment on the required number of fire safety assessors and whether that requirement is met;(c) carry out an assessment of the cost implications of the amendment, and who will be responsible for those costs; and(d) lay before Parliament a report outlining how the requirements in paragraphs (a) to (c) have been met.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to monitor capacity for effective implementation of the Bill, and places additional requirements on the appropriate authority such as an assessment of associated costs and required personnel, before regulations under subsection (1) can be made.
My Lords, Amendment 3 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Pinnock. The Bill was of course discussed at Second Reading and is a long-overdue framework Bill, with a potential reach far wider than the high-rise residential blocks at the centre of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. I thank the Minister for the very open-handed way in which he has talked to Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House about the Bill and its intention.
We know that every multi-occupied home is in scope, from terrace houses to high-rise executive duplexes. It will impose significant duties on a scarce group of professionals—fire safety engineers. It will also impose significant duties on building owners of many different levels of professional competence and probity, and potentially it would impose significant costs on the occupiers of homes—renters, leaseholders and owner-occupiers—as commented on in the previous discussion by the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.
In other discussions today, we shall be looking at the functions and duties in more detail, but the intention behind Amendment 3 is to probe whether the Government have understood nearly clearly enough how much work they have to do before the Bill can become operational.
The current evidence is that there is nothing like enough capacity to deliver a regime that covers all the accommodation in scope. There are not enough professional fire engineers to make assessments, and there are not enough fire safety officers in the fire and rescue services to check and inspect all the premises. Indeed, according to Home Office figures, the numbers of these have actually fallen over the last 10 years; and we will probably need to double the number of fire officers with those competences in the fire and rescue services. I detect a little bit of teeming and lading with the numbers of those two vital groups. The Government seem to see more assessors being recruited from the fire and rescue services, and, at the same time, more fire safety officers being recruited from the fire engineering profession to boost the fire and rescue services. Where will the new people who are going to be needed come from, and how soon can their training and professional experience be brought up to a suitable level?
The making of fire assessments, the checking of those assessments and their monitoring will be a very big task, and it will be front-loaded: the biggest surge in these assessments is going to be when the regulations come into force, when hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of assessments become mandated for the first time. There are not enough “responsible persons” either, with the requisite skills and information to do a decent job of overseeing and maintaining a good level of safety in each set of premises. That in itself is a massive challenge for landlords and managing agents and the staff they employ.
Further down the track, there will be a surge of remedial work to carry out the necessary alterations. One estimate supplied to me and probably other noble Lords by the British Woodworking Federation—I thank Mr Murray Stuart of the BWF for these figures—is based on the fire door inspection published in June. It said that only 24% out of a sample of 100,000 currently installed fire doors proved to have third-party certification and were installed and maintained correctly. That is 75,000 fire doors for a start that may not pass muster under the new regime. There are, of course, millions more doors than that in total, and if three-quarters of them also prove unfit for purpose, we can predict that the installers and tradespersons with the right skills will be in very short supply as well. The new recruits and the new skills cannot be materialised overnight. Beyond that, the supply chains themselves may well be stretched. I note in passing that none of those things is going to get any easier with the closing of routes for employment via the European Union. Amendment 3 places a duty on the Government to consult on all these matters and to make a proper assessment of them, and to report on them to Parliament as a preliminary to the new regime coming into force.
Perhaps today, or in a letter to follow up, the Minister could tell us the Government’s current assessment of the capacity of the fire and rescue service, the fire engineering profession and the construction industry to deliver on the workload that the Bill will impose. Can he tell us how he intends to boost recruitment and training, and phase in the introduction of the scheme so that those at highest risk are covered first? Will half-baked and gimcrack assessments be weeded out thoroughly, and urgent work prioritised? How much does his department expect it all to cost, and who will be paying for it?
I understand that the Minister might be reluctant to accept Amendment 3 today, but I am expecting him to assure your Lordships that everything is in hand and that various steps are being taken, et cetera. However, for those of us—I think that is everyone in the Committee—who wish success to this Bill, there is an uneasy feeling that, in fact, the Government have not yet got everything in hand, and that they are at risk of a severe overreach that would bring the regime into disrepute. More seriously, it could fail to achieve its key objective of making people’s homes safer, leaving us with a framework Bill that proves to be more of a hole than substance—more red tape than safety net—and still leaving us a long way from tackling, let alone solving, the problems that the Grenfell inquiry and Dame Judith Hackitt have identified. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation, the representative body for housing associations in England. I thank the Minister for his briefing on the Bill, although, sadly, because of my technological ineptitude, I was able to access only a part of it, but it was very good of him to do that and it was very helpful.
The fire at Grenfell Tower has had a profound impact, certainly on our sector. Ensuring the safety of residents is the number one priority for housing associations. They are taking urgent and comprehensive action to inspect buildings with safety concerns and to remediate them as a priority in line with Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations. I therefore welcome the Bill and its aims of ensuring the safety of residents in multi-occupied buildings.
I will say a few words about points raised in other amendments, but I particularly support Amendment 4, in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy, because it seeks to ensure maximum consultation with all interested parties. Housing associations are committed to working with government and all other partners to achieve our shared aim of keeping residents safe and ensuring that a tragedy such as the fire at Grenfell Tower never happens again.
None the less, as others have said, there are challenges in implementing the Bill’s proposals. There is severely limited capacity to effectively inspect and remediate external wall systems, not just in our sector but in sectors such as inspection and construction, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, emphasised. The scale of this work cannot be overestimated.
It is important at this point to emphasise potential challenges in both capacity and resource if everyone is to work with government towards a risk-based approach in transitioning to the new requirements. In order to ensure a just and deliverable transition, would the Minister consider staggering implementation, using risk as the determining factor to prioritise when the buildings move to adopt the new regulations in the Fire Safety Bill and in the draft building safety Bill? Does the Minister accept that it is critical that the Government co-ordinate limited resources and capacity for remedial works to ensure that these are directed first at buildings that need them most? Does he accept that only the Government can fulfil this role?
Proposals in other amendments to update and strengthen the fire safety order would be welcome, as would proposals to clarify responsibilities, improve the competence of fire risk assessors and clearly define higher -risk workplaces. The new regulatory system must strengthen building safety standards for multi-occupied residential buildings covered by the FSO but outside the draft building safety Bill’s more stringent regulatory regime.
Finally, the Bill seeks to clarify duty-holders’ responsibilities for inspecting flat entrance doors. Right of access to uphold this duty is imperative. Unfortunately, in a small minority of instances, access is repeatedly denied and the duty-holder must seek a court injunction to gain the necessary access. The court process is lengthy and, as we know from recent reports, subject to ever-lengthening delays. There are then additional safety risks for everyone in the building as a result of how long it takes to gain access through the courts. Does the Minister agree that there needs to be a strengthened process to take account of the urgency of the safety inspections and works required under the regulatory changes that will come from the Bill?
The Bill needs support, but it also needs improvement. I hope that the Minister will address the need for inspection of all buildings to be based on a prioritisation of risk and that he will consider other amendments tabled by noble Lords; for example, on the need for fire risk assessors to be properly accredited and on the need to clarify the definition of a responsible person. It is clear that we on these Benches, and the Government, seek the same goal: to put right the flaws in the building and fire safety regimes and to give residents confidence that they live in a secure environment. I wish this Bill fair wind: it is needed urgently.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stunell has made a characteristically well argued and factually detailed contribution in moving Amendment 3. The basis is this: that the practical implementation of new legislation is as important as the legislation itself. Fine words butter no parsnips, as the saying goes.
The Grenfell tragedy taught us, I hope, that the concerns of tenants and residents must be listened to. At Grenfell, concerns were ignored, with horrific consequences. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in his amendment, seeks to list potential consultees. There is always a risk in this that some valuable contributions may not be heard because they were not included in the list. Constructors should be among those who are consulted, and I thank the British Woodworking Federation for its detailed briefing, as referenced by my noble friend when proposing the amendment. Hence I prefer the more general statement in our Amendment 3, which is much more open-ended.
Experts are invaluable, fire safety assessors never more so. In the debate in the House of Commons, the Minister stated:
“I share honourable Members’ alarm at the existence of unqualified fire risk assessors”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/6/20; col. 51.]
The fact that vital fire risk assessments are being carried out by people not qualified to do so is something that we should be taking very seriously. Later amendments seek to close any possibility of unqualified assessors by creating a public register of those certified to undertake the varying demands of the role. As my noble friend has pointed out, there is always a cost attached to improving safety regulation. The question then is: who will be required to meet that cost?
It is surprising that those who have constructed buildings in the last decade are not currently being required to meet the majority of the costs of putting right their errors. Perhaps the Minister can say whether the construction firms are seen as being a significant part of the solution to those leaseholders now facing potential costs in the tens of thousands to make their homes safe.
In response to the last group of amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, stated that construction firms and insurance companies are expected to contribute towards these significant costs—which is good news. Perhaps the Minister will be able to explain how quickly this will occur and what actions the Government are taking to ensure that decisions will not be long drawn out, as, for many, three years with no light at the end with the tunnel is already far too long. How much can these leaseholders expect to be paid from the government funding?
I look forward to the Minister’s response to these important questions.
My Lords, I very much support Amendment 3, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. My own amendment in this group is very specific. It is about ensuring that relevant organisations are properly consulted and that, after consultation, a report on the findings is laid before Parliament. I hope that the Minister will be specific about consultation on changes made by the Bill to the fire safety order, because we must go much further than the National Fire Chiefs Council. I am looking for commitments to consult local authorities, trade unions, including the FBU, and representatives of tenants and residents.
I noted the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, in respect of my amendment, and refer her to (e), which adds
“any other bodies deemed relevant”.
The point of my amendment was to highlight that certain organisations must be consulted, along with any others that the Secretary of State is minded to.
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, is particularly appealing in respect of the requirements set out his proposed new subsection (5)(b) and (c). As the noble Lord set out, the potential implications of the amended fire order for individuals and organisations are huge.
We obviously support the intentions of this Bill very much, but one of our concerns is the question of who will be doing all this work. What will be the qualification requirements and levels? There is no quick fix to that. I am sure that I and other noble Lords do not wish to see a race to the bottom, with people who have very limited skills being authorised to undertake assessments and inspections, because that is a route to disaster and no lessons will have been learned. We need properly skilled, properly qualified people undertaking this work. There will be new obligations, and there must be a process, a route to achieving them, without cutting corners. Proposed subsection (5)(b) in the noble Lord’s amendment sets us off in the right direction.
Equally important is proposed subsection (5)(c) in the amendment. We must understand the cost implications and who will be responsible for those costs. As I have said many times, far too often the Government place additional obligations on local authorities but then provide inadequate resources for them to deliver. This problem is potentially very acute here, because undoubtedly huge financial pressures are now biting, incomes have been reduced and pressures have increased. We must understand the costs. The point on consultation here is most welcome; my own amendment was more specific.
My noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe highlighted the work being done by housing associations to keep residents safe. We should pay tribute to the work of the National Housing Federation and all housing associations. In my own work as chair of the Heart of Medway housing association, we are all clear that the safety of our residents is paramount and is the focus of all our work, ensuring that buildings are safe and that the required checks are carried out. I have been particularly proud to be the chair of the association during the pandemic, because of how staff have worked to make sure that people are safe.
I look forward to the Minister’s response to these amendments, as they both raise important issues which the Government must address.
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.
My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Stunell.
My Lords, I thank all those who have participated in the debate for their support for the general idea that we ought to know what we are doing before we do it. I do not think that that is a particularly extreme requirement and I was extremely pleased to hear the Minister indicate that he very much wants to follow that course. I think we have highlighted some of the big-picture issues and some of those we shall come to in the next group of amendments, so I will not rehearse them at this point.
I am pleased that the right atmosphere has been created for us to look really seriously at how this scheme is going to work. It is essential that we do not launch a dud: it has to work, and that means a lot of deliberate thinking has to be done rapidly and we have to deliver a massive skills, development, training and recruitment effort in order to make it happen. That is, perhaps, only one out of three things that are missing at the moment and that need to be done. So, I thank noble Lords, particularly my colleague and noble friend Lady Pinnock for her strong support, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for some very useful cross-fire. I appreciate that and I look forward to working right across the House to see the Bill developed better—and quickly. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendment 4 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 5. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this, or anything else in the group, to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
5: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Duties of owner or manager
The relevant authority must by regulations amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (SI 2005/1541) to require an owner or a manager of any building which contains two or more sets of domestic premises to—(a) share information with their local Fire and Rescue Service in respect of each building for which an owner or manager is responsible about the design of its external walls and details of the materials of which those external walls are constructed;(b) in respect of any building for which an owner or manager is responsible which contains separate flats, undertake annual inspections of individual flat entrance doors;(c) in respect of any building for which an owner or manager is responsible which contains separate flats, undertake monthly inspections of lifts and report the results to their local Fire and Rescue Service if the results include a fault; and(d) share evacuation and fire safety instructions with residents of the building.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would place various requirements on building owners or managers of buildings containing two or more sets of domestic premises, and would implement recommendations made in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report.
My Lords, we come to a substantial group containing Amendments 5, 6, 7 and 9 in my name, and Amendments 15, 16 and 17 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock.
Amendment 5 seeks to make progress in respect of the recommendations of the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry. It is disappointing that progress has been so slow, frankly, on all these matters following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017, some 40 months ago. We have on record pledges from Ministers to implement in full the recommendations in the report of the first phase of the inquiry, but the Bill before us today does not include any of the provisions or measures called for in the inquiry to be implemented. When the Bill was before the other place, the Government did not take the opportunity afforded to them to correct this. They opposed moving forward and instead said that they would launch a consultation. The consultation was launched in July and ends this month, a full year after they pledged to implement the recommendations of the inquiry.
I hope the Minister can set out for the House the timescale the Government are working to, as people have waited far too long for legislative action. Will he say why the Government are not even prepared to include the simplest of the recommendations the inquiry called for in this Bill—recommendations such as the inspection of fire doors and the testing of lifts? There is an urgent need for these recommendations to be implemented and the Government need to act with much more speed.
Amendment 6 returns to points I made previously today and at Second Reading. The fire safety Order requires regular fire risk assessments in buildings, but there is no legal requirement for those conducting these assessments to have any form of training or accreditation for this work. Although this service can be commissioned from council-run building control services, numerous private providers compete for the work and their numbers have rapidly expanded since the fire at Grenfell Tower. Numerous experts have criticised the poor quality of the work in building control and fire safety. As I have said before, we do not want a race to the bottom, where anybody can set up and say they are an inspector with very little training to do the work.
I want to hear from the Minister today that we will ensure that when fire assessments are done, we will have people who are properly accredited and able to do the work. Although I accept that there are some voluntary accreditation schemes, it is sadly the case that the use of unregistered fire inspectors is commonplace. The lack of training and accreditation in this important area of work is, frankly, unacceptable. The Government should be using this Bill to legislate for higher standards and greater public accountability in fire inspections.
Amendment 7 requires the schedule for inspecting buildings containing two or more sets of domestic premises to be based on a prioritisation of risk. At present, there is no guarantee that the schedule for inspections will be based on any sort of risk analysis rather than an arbitrary distinction between types of buildings. This was raised in the Commons by my honourable friend the Member for Croydon Central, who said that many experts and stakeholders have “significant concerns” over how the Bill would be implemented. She drew attention to reference by the Minister in Committee to:
“The building risk review programme, which will … ensure that local resources are targeted at those buildings most at risk”.—[Official Report, Commons, Fire Safety Bill Committee, 25/6/20; col. 62.]
I agree, but it should also be pointed out that local fire and rescue services know their area well, and know the buildings where there is greatest risk. It should be they who decide the priority list.
Amendment 9 would require the UK Government, for England, and the Welsh Government, for Wales, to specify when a waking watch must be in place for buildings that contain two or more sets of domestic premises and have fire safety failures. There are still major issues around removal of flammable ACM cladding from tower blocks. A significant number of buildings remain covered, more than three years after the Grenfell Tower fire, and other types of dangerous cladding have also been identified and not yet removed from buildings.
I accept that coronavirus caused many contractors to stop work on cladding sites, while others have not even begun work because of legal disputes, including, as I mentioned in a previous debate, disputes over guarantees and insurance payments. These delays mean that residents are in buildings that are unsafe, which cannot be right, or face extortionate fees for removal. Guidance from the National Fire Chiefs Council suggests waking watches should be a temporary measure, yet some residents have been forced to pay for waking watches for years, with some put in place immediately after the fire at Grenfell Tower, more than 40 months ago. They can cost up to £10,000 a week.
Amendments 15, 16 and 17 have considerable merit. I am happy to offer my support to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and will listen carefully to her when she speaks to them. I hope the Minister will give a full response to all the amendments and I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 15, 16 and 17, variously in the names of myself and my noble friends Lady Pinnock and Lord Shipley. Again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his helpful remarks and support: as his amendments show, we have similar views.
Our debate on Amendment 3 prefigured many of the matters covered by our three amendments here. Our intention in tabling them is to get into the Bill some of what I expect we will be told by the Minister are the good intentions of the Government in the first place, and to make them real and concrete. This is a new policy area for the Government, and a new direction of travel—more regulation not less. It is both very necessary and very welcome, and we on the Lib Dem Benches are not just willing but eager and keen to help the Government produce the best Bill possible.
Amendment 15 would mandate a national, published fire risk assessment register. The picture which emerges with devastating force from the evidence given to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry is that when those with power and authority find out bad things—about high risks that are there yet do not affect them, but put the vulnerable and weak at risk—their natural reaction is to keep the news to themselves, to avoid trouble and expense and to hope for the best. When it comes to fire safety, we have to end decisively that hoarding of bad news by the informed and powerful, and empower the vulnerable who carry the risks and sometimes pay the ultimate price: of life itself.
Those assessments must therefore be in the public domain and at least as public and accessible as an energy performance certificate is for every home in the country—and I hope it would give a rather more realistic picture than the average EPC does. It is quite unacceptable for landlords and building owners to hoard assessments to the detriment of those to whom they rent and lease their property, and whose lives are in their hands. Grenfell Tower residents’ legitimate and specific fears about weaknesses they could see with their own eyes were swept away by those in authority. No one knew whether any assessments had been made, what they said or what should be done about it, or who should rectify the faults disclosed. Only an open public register can safeguard residents. I hope to hear from the Minister that he fully accepts that case and will give us an assurance on that crucial point.
Amendment 16 would mandate an open register of fire risk assessors. We have already heard some cautionary words from noble Lords in the previous debate. Here, the risk is linked to the likely shortage of fully competent professional assessors, and the very big risk that people would be attracted to pass themselves off as suitable and qualified when actually they are not. More positively, when landlords are recruiting assessors a public register will make that task a much simpler prospect. We should remember that there are many semi-professional landlords with a modest property portfolio, perhaps only one or two properties, and with no great professional competence themselves. They will be dependent on word-of-mouth recruitment, possibly via small ads or a local website. Making sure they have a safe route to recruiting a qualified and competent assessor is vital to the integrity of the new regime. Again, I hope to hear from the Minister that he entirely agrees, and will take on board the need to ensure there will be an open register of fire risk assessors.
Amendment 17 is on an entirely different point: who pays for the work that is going to be needed? This subject has already raised its head in the debate and I heard something from the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, in response. I am hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, may be able to improve on his offer. Amendment 17 could hardly be simpler or clearer: the innocent occupiers—the renters and leaseholders of millions of homes across the country—should not be held to ransom by building owners and forced to pay for making their home safe, when it should have been safe from the start. I know that the Government have begun to face up to the excessive costs facing leaseholders but I think the Minister, along with me, believes that far more remains to be done. I will not rehearse some of the hard luck stories that we are all familiar with. Instead, I will make a simple case that may appeal to Treasury bean-counters.
The longer this issue of payment hangs in the air, the more risk there is that yet another terrible tragedy will occur; the costs of that would quickly overwhelm any budget it may cost to help lubricate the repair and restoration process. The Bill, as we have discussed, extends the reach of the assessment regime much more widely, so the likelihood of problems similar to those we have heard about—of leaseholders and renters being stuck with huge bills—is likely to grow, not shrink, with its passage. Again, I hope that the Minister can give us, and millions of leaseholders, some words of comfort and support.
My Lords, I have added my name to most of the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy. He has explained the objectives of the proposed new clauses extremely well, so I will not add much to that. I particularly emphasise the need for the accreditation and professionalisation of fire assessors to instil some degree of confidence in the advice which owners, tenants and leaseholders receive. On the definition of responsible persons, this takes us some way forward to adopting my noble friend’s amendment. It is also important that the Government ensure that the terminology used here is the same as that in the draft building safety Bill, and in existing regulations, so that we avoid any confusion or ambiguity over who is responsible for what.
I did not sign up to Amendment 9 in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy. That is not because I disagree with the wording on the Marshalled List. I support that but it could be misinterpreted. My noble friend has already referred to the concerns in this respect, and the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, referred to them in an earlier debate. This amendment deals with waking watch and the whole concept is that if a building has been designated as a fire risk, we need constant checking on the safety of that building. But many tenants and leaseholders find that the waking watch arrangements are used as a reason to delay improving the basic physical safety of the building. Moreover, they are faced with substantial costs on the operation of a waking watch. I do not intend to undermine my noble friend’s Amendment 9. However, it needs to be put in a context where the cost does not fall on the tenants and leaseholders but on those who are genuinely responsible for the lack of safety in the building. Waking watch is not an alternative to the amelioration of that physical condition.
My Lords, I strongly support all the amendments in this group because they would help improve standards immensely. My name is attached to Amendments 15 and 17.
The purpose of Amendment 15, which is also in the name of my noble friend Lady Pinnock, is to secure an up-to-date public register of fire risk assessments, to be kept and made available on request. I see this proposal as a matter of significant public interest and of vital concern to those who live in a shared accommodation block, particularly one which is high-rise. As my noble friend Lord Stunell pointed out, they have a right to know that their building is safe. I raised this problem previously when I discovered that such publication can be excluded under freedom of information legislation. Surely all those who live in tower blocks have a right to know about the fire safety of their block, so I wonder what further assessment the Government may have made of the rights of those who live in such blocks to further information.
On Amendment 17, there is a clear case for a prohibition on freeholders of a building passing remediation costs for their building on to leaseholders or tenants. We know that following Grenfell, as we have heard, so many leaseholders have found themselves being asked to meet huge remediation costs. In addition, many owners cannot sell their homes because they have not got—and cannot get—the right certification on the construction of their building. Preventing the provisions of the Bill, when it becomes an Act, leading to further costs for leaseholders or tenants must be an absolute priority for government.
My Lords, I wish to speak against Amendment 17. The purpose of this clause is to prevent freeholders passing on remediation costs to leaseholders and tenants through demands for one-off payments or increasing service or other charges. This issue is of understandable concern to leaseholders, who are not to blame for the situation. The problems arise from the behaviour of product suppliers, the building industry and the failure of the regulatory system over many years.
The Building Safety Bill, which has already been referred to this afternoon, makes provision for a building safety charge. That Bill will need to make provision for leaseholders to be protected from unaffordable costs, as the Minister recognised in his evidence to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill.
Amendment 17 does not make provision for freeholders to recoup the cost of work, so it will not help leaseholders who collectively own the freehold of their block—nor will it help councils, housing associations or other freeholders who, equally, are not to blame for the failings of the construction industry and successive Governments of all political colours. I cannot support this amendment.
We can see the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, but unfortunately we cannot hear him. I am going to call one more time, then move on. Lord Bhatia? No. Clearly there are difficulties there. I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock.
My Lords, I look forward to the Minister’s response to these amendments, which all seek to add detail carefully so that the positive purpose of this Bill is not marred by the inadequacy of its implementation.
The biggest investment people make in their lives is in a home. All sorts of checks are currently required or advised prior to purchase and a mortgage offer. One of these is not readily available. It should, and will, be; the question is whether it will come via a legislative requirement or pressure from home buyers. As my noble friend Lord Stunell said, it is much better for the Government to demonstrate their commitment to fire safety by enabling a public register of the fire status of buildings for accuracy and ease of access.
When the Government’s own Minister in the Commons has decried the existence of unqualified fire risk assessors, why is there an apparent reluctance by the Government to address the issue face on? I do not understand why the issue that was acknowledged by the Government during the Commons debate has not been addressed. I hope that the amendment in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and myself will provide the Government with the way forward. I hope that the Minister will agree to a meeting prior to Report to discuss these important practical concerns about a Bill that has our wholehearted support.
The third of these amendments, regarding costs—I have signed it alongside my noble friend Lord Shipley—may not have been in the purview of the Bill when first constructed, but where, if not here, will the issue of who pays for fire risk remediation work be settled? Leaseholders in newly constructed blocks of high-rise flats in Leeds and across the country in despair. They currently pay significant sums of several hundred pounds each month toward the cost of a waking watch, while the costs of remediation—the removal of flammable cladding materials—will run into tens of thousands of pounds per householder. Meanwhile, their homes are worthless. They are not able to move and are in despair. This is through no fault of their own. Where the fault lies is for the Government and, no doubt, the courts to determine. However, the Government have some responsibility in seeking a fair and just remedy that will not bankrupt innocent leaseholders and will assess the responsibility of construction companies.
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.
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.
The Government acknowledge that work remains to be done to ensure that residents have access to vital fire safety information in order to be safe and feel safe in their homes. They need to be assured that a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment has been completed and that all appropriate general precautions have or will be taken. For potential buyers of leasehold flats, I should also say that any good conveyancing solicitor would ask for sight of the fire risk assessment from the responsible person—the freeholder—as part of their pre-contract enquiries. If it was not forthcoming, one would expect a solicitor to advise their clients accordingly and make all due inferences.
The fire safety consultation brought forward proposals in relation to the recording of the fire risk assessment and the provision of vital fire safety information to residents. Therefore, we are considering what information residents need to be safe and feel safe in their home, and how this information could be made available. We are also considering whether a requirement should be placed on all responsible persons to record their completed fire risk assessments, thereby providing a level of assurance that their duty to complete a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment has been fulfilled. The consultation closed on 12 October and responses are currently being considered. We will publish the response to this consultation at the earliest opportunity.
I now turn to Amendment 16, which seeks to create a public register of fire risk assessors. I agree that to improve standards there is a clear need for reform concerning fire risk assessors. I understand that this is a probing amendment and it may be helpful to outline ongoing work in the area of fire risk assessor capacity and capability. Some Members will be aware of the industry-led Competence Steering Group and its subgroup working on fire risk assessors. It published a report on 5 October, including proposals in relation to third-party accreditation, a competence framework for fire risk assessors and creating a register of fire risk assessors. The working group recommends that the register is compiled from the existing registers and would be easy to use, with open public access to records of individuals and organisations. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the HSE and the Home Office are considering the recommendations of the report in detail.
The Government have been working with the fire risk assessment sector to develop a clear plan to increase its capacity and capability. We are funding the British Standards Institution to develop technical guidance to support professionals to make an assessment of the fire risk posed by external wall systems. This guidance will support the industry to upskill more professionals to take on this work and will increase the quality and consistency of the assessments. Again, the responses to the consultation proposals will inform the approach on issues relating to competence.
To summarise, the right approach is for the Government to consider first the Competence Steering Group and its subgroup’s proposals in relation to a register of fire risk assessors. Our position is that this work should continue to be led and progressed by industry. I am happy to state on the record that we will work with the industry to develop this. I suggest that any future statutory requirements on fire risk assessors might be achieved through secondary legislation, which will offer greater flexibility to add to or amend in future.
I now turn to Amendment 17 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and thank the noble Baroness for tabling it. The proposed new clause would stop all remediation costs from being passed on to leaseholders, regardless of the terms in individual leases. The person responsible for funding remediation will vary from case to case, depending on what is set out in the lease. A freehold owner—who may have significant funds or none to meet these requirements—may be legally responsible for carrying out the remedial works, but leaseholders may also be responsible through a right to manage company or resident’s management company. It is important that the current flexibility is kept in place to ensure that the costs of remedial work fall on the most appropriate entities. However, I agree with the intent to reduce the financial burden on leaseholders. That is why this Government have already committed £1.6 billion to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings where the building owner has refused to pay or the work is not covered by warranties. That money includes the £600 million that we have made available to ensure the remediation of the highest risk and most dangerous aluminium composite material cladding of the type that was in place on Grenfell Tower. The £1 billion Building Safety Fund will support the remediation of unsafe non-aluminium composite material cladding, such as unsafe high-pressure laminate cladding, on high-rise residential buildings.
The funding does not absolve industry from taking responsibility for any failures that led to unsafe cladding materials being put on these buildings in the first place. We expect developers, investors and building owners —and the construction industry—who have the means to pay, to take responsibility and cover the costs of remediation themselves, without passing on the costs to leaseholders. The draft building safety Bill sets out a comprehensive list of enforcement measures that will be available to local authorities and the new regulator to enforce against building work that does not comply with building regulations for up to 10 years from completion. The new regime in this Bill is being introduced to prevent such safety defects occurring in the first place for new builds, and to address systematically the defects in existing buildings.
Moreover, as part of any funding agreement with Government, we expect building owners to pursue warranty claims and appropriate action against those responsible for putting unsafe cladding on these buildings. By doing this, we are not only ensuring that buildings are made safe and that residents feel and are safe, but we are also ensuring that the taxpayer is not paying for work that those responsible should be funding or can afford to fund.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, wanted to know about the vehicle by which we shall address this, in the event that it falls on leaseholders. I ask her to be patient—it will be addressed within the forthcoming building safety Bill which has just passed its pre-legislative scrutiny. I appreciate the intent of the noble Baroness’s amendment, which aims to protect those poor leaseholders who, through no fault of their own, are facing—in some cases—astronomically high remediation costs. The Secretary of State has asked Michael Wade, the former Crown insurer, and a senior adviser to MHCLG, to work with industry and our officials to come up with a solution to ensure that, in no instance, do the costs of historic remediation become unaffordable for leaseholders. He is working to find out what funding structures would be most appropriate to achieve this objective. Leaseholders should not have to face unmanageable and unaffordable costs. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has committed to updating our position when the building safety Bill comes before Parliament.
I ask Members to recognise the complexity of this policy area, which cannot be solved through this amendment. This new clause would make owners, who in some cases will include leaseholders, responsible for funding any and all remediation work. 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. I hope that noble Lords agree that there are more effective ways of achieving this important policy. We have the same aim, but we have to find different ways of achieving it. For these reasons, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to withdraw his amendment.
I have had a request to speak from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.
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.
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.
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.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Amendments 6 and 7 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 8. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
8: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Meaning of responsible person
The relevant authority must by regulations amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (SI 2005/1541) so that in article 3 of that Order (meaning of responsible person) it is specified that where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises, a leaseholder shall not be considered a responsible person unless they are also the owner or part owner of the freehold.” Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause aims to clarify the definition of “responsible person” to ensure that, where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises, leaseholders are not considered a responsible person unless they are also the owner or part owner of the freehold.
My Lords, Amendment 8 in my name seeks to clarify the definition of a “responsible person” to ensure that, where a building pertains more to a set of domestic premises, leaseholders are not considered a responsible person unless they are also the owner or part owner of the freehold.
The fire safety order requires building owners and other responsible persons to undertake regular fire risk assessments. These changes mean that the safety of elements such as cladding will need to be considered in any fire risk assessment. As I said, my amendment aims to clarify “responsible person” to ensure that leaseholders are not considered a responsible person unless they are also the owner or part owner of the freehold.
We need absolute clarity on this point. That is what the amendment is about: having an effect. I am sure that the Government, and other Members, want to achieve that. This is not a Bill for fuzzy, unclear opaqueness. What we need is crystal-clear clarity, with no room for any doubt about who is responsible for what.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley, in his Amendment 18, seeks to update the definition of firefighting equipment in premises where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises to include fire sprinklers and water mists, in order to draw attention to their effectiveness.
The National Fire Chiefs Council has reported that people are 22% less likely to require hospital treatment if they are in a fire in a building that is controlled by a sprinkler system. As was said in the previous debate, in Wales, since 2011 many new-build properties have had to have fire sprinklers installed. I think the case for those is made, and I look forward to the Minister responding at the end of the debate.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing this group of amendments. I have listened carefully to the debate so far; some excellent arguments have been made in favour of going even faster than the Bill does. I support it, but, as I shall try to outline, there is an argument for going faster.
My interest in the Bill is in fire detection and suppression. I worked on the Channel Tunnel, and after the Notre Dame fire we had some interesting debates in your Lordships’ House about how to detect fires in the roofs of old buildings and how to extinguish them. I was disappointed to be told, “Well, we’re putting fire detectors in the roof, but there’s no access to extinguish a fire.” I still worry about that because, as we all know, the biggest risk to old buildings from fire is when the contractors are in.
The Bill is about the domestic environment; I welcome it. My amendment is a probing amendment about including sprinklers and mists in the definition of firefighting equipment. Mists are very effective and useful, and would be a comparatively low-cost installation for anything between the Houses of Parliament and the buildings that the Bill covers.
I am impressed by mists, even compared with sprinklers. I am aware that many experts on old buildings say that they should not have sprinklers in them because they destroy the contents of the building. That is true—but at least they enable the building to survive. Mists do not destroy the contents, but preserve them to a much greater degree. They are good with electrical fires—which is what we are talking about here—and also with fuel and chip pan fires. I am told that one nozzle, with a small pipe, will cover 16 square metres of building.
I look at a building, whether it is a big one or someone’s property, and I think, “If you can put in a water mist system using a small pipe, it is not that different from installing a ring main for electricity.” Perhaps we should look at making water mist installations a requirement in all habitable buildings in the same way as we require electricity to be put in them—most of the time, anyway.
I know that there is a downside and that it will not happen through this Bill or indeed for many years, but the costs are low and the damage caused is much less than that caused by a fire or by sprinklers. In his response, I would like the Minister at least to say that he will look at this, particularly for domestic rented, leased and privately owned properties, as well as considering the options for new build along with existing ones. I think that we should start the process now because, as we heard at the beginning of this debate, some 14,000 electrical fires are started every year. Many of them could have been and could be avoided if a water mist system were installed.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. He is not responding, so we will come back to him. I call the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in relation to the responsibilities of leaseholders. It is important that this is reflected in the terms of the Bill. Leaseholders are not the responsible person unless they happen to be co-owners or co-freeholders, and as we heard in the debates on earlier amendments, leaseholders are being faced with quite substantial costs. It would be wrong if the legislation allowed an interpretation whereby in certain circumstances they were the responsible person. They are not. The owners or their agents are the responsible person and we should make that quite clear.
I also strongly support the principles of the amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Berkeley. Like him, I am astonished that at the moment, the regulations relating to domestic dwellings and indeed other buildings do not include a requirement on new build and major refurbishments for the installation of sprinklers.
Perhaps I may divert slightly from the question of high-rise domestic buildings. When I was at primary school in the 1950s, the school burned down. The fire actually started in my classroom. The report on that fire suggested that a simple sprinkler system would have quickly suppressed the fire and saved the building. As a result, when we returned to school, we were accommodated in temporary huts. Those temporary huts, in 1952, were required to have a rather crude sprinkler system. I was astounded to find out that in the year 2020, there is no such requirement for school buildings and no such requirement for high-rise buildings and premises in multiple occupation. That is something that should be addressed, if not in this Bill, at least in the batch of measures being brought forward by the Government in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy.
I am grateful to my noble friend for raising this issue because it needs to form part of the Government’s thinking in relation to the overall response to fire safety problems. I hope that at some point the Minister can indicate where that proposition will end up. I would strongly support such an addition.
My Lords, I apologise that I could not participate at Second Reading. I had wanted to raise carbon monoxide detection—a silent killer production of combustion—with fire detection, but I understand it is outside the scope of this Bill. I would like to speak to Amendment 8, to which I have added my name. Let me explain why.
I remain haunted by seeing the blazing Grenfell Tower from my daughter’s window, and I have every sympathy with those whose flats all over the UK find their leasehold purchases are now valueless and are still paying out their mortgage and charges. Back in the 1970s, we financially squeezed ourselves to buy our first flat, only later to find it was built with high alumina cement and, until deemed safe, completely worthless. That is why I feel a commitment to others caught in this plight. This amendment would bring further clarity to the meaning of a “responsible person”, and ensure that leaseholders who are not also freeholders are not made liable or responsible for any remediation work needed as a result of poor building and development decisions on flats which they believed, and were told on checks, comply with building regulations. I want to read the Minister’s response to the previous amendment very carefully, as I hope that it allays some of my concerns, but I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, has raised some ongoing questions.
The huge costs of fire safety checks, materials testing, removal and replacement of dangerous materials, and the retrofitting of sprinklers and other fire safety equipment, all currently fall to leaseholders. Let me illustrate this with information from one such leaseholder. For residents of three blocks of flats in Baltic Avenue, Brentford—which probably should never have been signed off—fire safety checks have been quoted between £15,000 and £24,000, the mock testing of current cladding and insulation will cost £50,000, and rectifying all identified issues has been initially quoted to be at least £6 million. The previous group of amendments highlighted the huge burden on leaseholders, so who is responsible? This is surely the responsibility of developers and their team of architects, builders, et cetera, and the freeholders—and what about the banks that earn an income from the loans?
As the Minister has pointed out, he is well aware of the crippling costs, and he is clearly committed to doing something about the many leaseholders living in flats that are currently valueless, that cannot be sold or re-mortgaged. Many leaseholders are already financially stretched and bought their flats using the Help to Buy scheme, but if they cannot afford to pay for the fire safety checks they need to obtain an ESW1 form, Homes England will not value any properties bought under the scheme. Despite living in flats that are valued at zero, many leaseholders still find themselves having to cover interest payments on a loan that was given on the basis that if it fell in value you paid less. If the flats are worth zero, have all these loans been reset to zero, and are we sure that that has happened?
Even more seriously, these leaseholders are now suffering real mental health problems, not only from the financial burdens but because they know they are stuck in flats tonight that could go up in flames at any moment. The removal of cladding and other dangerous materials really is a matter of life and death. All this means that insurance costs will be sky high for buildings that are still considered to pose such a high risk. Can the Government give us some evidence of really speedy action?
In July, the housing Minister agreed that all costs should not have to be met by leaseholders and should be met by the developers or building owners. Many leaseholders believe the Government have changed their position, saying that leaseholders would still have to foot some of the bill, but they just do not have the money to do it. This amendment rectifies this by being absolutely clear about who is responsible for what, and that is why I support it.
My Lords, I am going to try to call the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, again.
I am here. I apologise for not joining the Committee earlier but we had some kind of IT glitch.
I want to look at another important aspect of who the responsible person can or should be. The problem that I want to guard against is the absentee responsible person: the anonymous set of initials from a remote managing agency with a non-responding website and no phone lines, or the international property holder registered in the Cayman Islands or Bermuda. I want to press the Minister to commit to ensuring that every responsible person is a real person, not a company or a corporate body, and that that person has a functioning terrestrial address and a phone number based in the UK—in short, that they can always be held accountable, can be assessed and if necessary trained to deliver their statutory obligations, and has the skill and intention of communicating effectively with residents in the properties for which they take responsibility. We do not want to add absentee responsible persons to all the existing problems of absentee landlords. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
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.
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.
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.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Amendment 9 not moved.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 10. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
10: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Review of Scottish and Northern Irish legislation covering similar matters
Within 24 months of the day on which this Act is passed, but no less than 12 months after the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a review of legislation covering similar matters to this Act enacted by the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would ensure that the Government considers legislation covering similar matters to this Act enacted by the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.
My Lords, Amendments 10, 11 and 12 in this group are in my name. Amendment 10 requires the Government to consider legislation covering similar matters to those in the Bill that has been enacted by the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. The Bill covers England and Wales only, since Scotland and Northern Ireland both have separate legislation in place under their legislative competences. The Government should work with the devolved Governments to share best practice and consider which legislation works best, and what should be in place where they alone have legislative competence.
Amendment 11 requires the Government to consider the Bill’s impact on local authority finances. The LGA and local authorities are concerned about the impact of the Bill on their finances, as we have raised in previous debates. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, commissioned by the LGA, found that councils in England are facing a funding gap of more than £5 billion by 2024 to maintain services at current levels. This figure could double amid the huge economic and societal uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a serious situation. It is therefore vital that councils are fully compensated for new requirements and burdens resulting from the Bill. As I have said before, the Government too often place extra burdens on local government, without a commensurate level of resources to deliver them. That is certainly not acceptable when looking at something as important as the Fire Safety Bill. It needs to be properly addressed when we consider matters of such importance.
Amendment 13 requires the Government to consider whether there is a skills shortage in the United Kingdom, in relation to the requirements of the Bill. Skills have been discussed in relation to many amendments. The lack of qualified professionals has already been raised today, along with the fear that, to get around it, we will have a race to the bottom, allowing unskilled people, who are not professionals, to undertake the work required of the Bill.
Britain has a skills shortage, particularly in higher technical skills, due to a number of reasons, including cuts to further education. The CBI said that two-thirds of businesses worry that they will not have the skilled posts to fill the work that needs to be done. The Government should make it clear whether they believe there is a sufficient skills base in the UK for the purposes of fire safety. If they do not believe that there is—and that may well be the logical conclusion—they need to set out what they will do to ensure we have the right skills base. I look forward to the Minister answering those points in his response. I beg to move.
My Lords, I offer my support to Amendment 12, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, which looks to have a UK-wide, or at least England-wide, skills audit. There is clear evidence, particularly for matters relating to infrastructure, construction and this topic specifically, that there is a serious deficit in skills and training, and in the attractiveness of the industry to new entrants. There are many reasons for that but discussing them would be a different debate.
Clearly, if the Bill is to be a success, not just in its initial moments but in the ensuing years, there needs to be a steady stream of well-trained and fully experienced professionals—not just in the white-collar sense, but professionals who can deliver and install changes to buildings on a very big scale. It matches the parallel demands being placed on the construction industry from the move to improve the energy performance of homes and buildings in general. Again, a massive programme of investment is in train and planned by the Government.
This skills audit is urgently needed. I dare say the Minister will talk about the Construction Leadership Council and the various work being done on that front, but it needs a level of intensity and urgency that cannot be held by just one trade association or government advisory body. It must be a central driving initiative of the Government themselves. Although we all sincerely hope the current economic circumstances will turn and improve dramatically next year, they strongly suggest that there will be opportunities to recruit and upskill people who have to make career changes. The Government can and should seize this moment to make sure upgrading skills and recruiting new entrants is taken as a serious opportunity, consequent upon the passage of the Bill. I strongly support what is set out in Amendment 12.
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.
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.
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.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
Amendments 11 and 12 not moved.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 13. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
13: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Application of the Fire Safety Order to short-term lettings premises
(1) The relevant authority must, by regulations under section 2, amend article 2 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (SI 2005/1541) (interpretation) as follows.(2) In the definition of “domestic premises”, after “one such dwelling);” insert—“but does not include any premises let to persons for gain as holiday or short-term accommodation during the occupancy of the premises by such persons.””Member’s explanatory statement
The amendment will clarify that the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to holiday lets.
My Lords, Amendment 13 in my name sets out to highlight what may be a gap in the protection afforded by the fire safety order. The fire safety order does not apply to domestic premises, other than bedsit properties or houses in multiple occupation, so hitherto the protection afforded by the order did not extend to houses in respect of residential blocks. It effectively stopped at the flat’s front door. The order applied only to the common parts and the planning and arrangements for escape through those common parts of the building.
It appears to be the position of the Government—and I stand to be corrected if I am wrong—that they have always assumed that where someone lets their property for a period of time through Airbnb or some other website, which they otherwise use as their residence, or do so for part of the year, then during the time that the flat is let through Airbnb or some similar organisation, the flat is subject to the protections of the order. However, I doubt that this can be a correct interpretation of the order as it currently stands: domestic premises are defined in the order as all those premises, and parts of premises, occupied as a private dwelling which are not used in common by the occupants of more than one such dwelling.
If a person lets out his private dwelling for part of a year, or just a room in that private dwelling, it is difficult to see why or how the premises ceases to be a private dwelling; with a room let out through Airbnb it certainly does not mean that that room or the whole premises are being used in common by the occupants of more than one dwelling. If we look at the terms of service provided by Airbnb, there is talk of “guests” and the statement:
“You understand that a confirmed booking of an Accommodation (“Accommodation Booking”) is a limited licence granted to you by the Host to enter, occupy and use the Accommodation for the duration of your stay, during which time the Host (only where and to the extent permitted by law) retains the right to re-enter the accommodation according to the agreement with the Host.”
Having guests in your private dwelling where you retain the right to re-enter is not a typical situation that the law treats as your property ceasing to be a private dwelling because you have let it out.
The government guidance is confusing in respect of the letting of rooms in dwellings. Letting Rooms in Your Home: A Guide for Resident Landlords identifies that properties classed as bedsits or shared accommodation—HMOs—must be licensed and comply with various regulations, including the fire safety order. However, it goes on to state that
“if the property is a House in Multiple Occupation fire safety could be an important consideration … But as for any other home, it is generally a good idea to ensure that the occupier ‘knows their way round’ the house, to help prevention and escape from fire. Smoke alarms are strongly advised: ideally one should be fitted on each floor of the property. It is also highly recommended to keep at least a fire blanket in the kitchen; and depending whether, for example, several people are likely to be cooking and/or smoking, having a fire extinguisher could be a sensible precaution.”
If Airbnb and the like automatically create a type of rented accommodation that takes premises from being domestic premises occupied as a private dwelling and makes them subject to the fire safety order, one would expect the guidance to say that—but of course it does not. Article 26 of the fire safety order states:
“Every enforcing authority must enforce the provisions of this Order … in relation to premises for which it is the enforcing authority”.
Enforcement of the order involves an assessment by the fire authority of what in its patch comes under the fire safety order, as well as some kind of inspection regime. Some fire authorities in centres may attract many tourists—such as central London or any other big city—for whom there are plenty of flats that are offered through Airbnb or similar sites. The remainder of the time, they are used as private dwellings. It must be a matter of serious doubt whether the fire authority has the capacity to handle all these properties, or even know how many such properties are out there; it is even more doubtful that the owner of such a property has been advised or read the guidance that spells out that the premises may be suddenly subject to the fire safety order while they are being used for guests through Airbnb or a similar site.
Freedom of information inquiries have revealed that no fire authority has ever done a risk assessment on an Airbnb property and that authorities are unaware of how many there are in their areas. If the Government are correct that the order does not require this amendment to bring Airbnb properties within the protection of the order, no harm will be done by spelling it out in the way that this amendment does. The Bill provides a reminder of an issue for the Government: people renting premises temporarily should be protected by the appropriate fire prevention measures being in place for the property. It should have been assessed and the information should have been properly conveyed to them by their host; this should be an obligation under law. At the moment, the law is silent in that respect, which is the point of this amendment.
I repeat and emphasise the point that in people’s homes there will be a single staircase to get out of the building. Have people been told what the arrangements are to get to the corridors? We need to look at this carefully. Many homes are being used on a temporary basis effectively as hotels or a place to stay. What work has been done by the company or the owner to ensure that the guests are properly aware of the risks and how to get out of a building safely? I do not believe that we are there yet; this raises an important issue. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, can see the point that I am trying to make and that he will address it when he responds to the debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for proposing this amendment and for giving us an opportunity to raise a serious if unintended deficiency in what fire safety law covers through the 2005 fire safety order. Far too often, attention is drawn to these matters only when they have terrible consequences, when it is essentially too late. I give great credit to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for raising the issue in a timely fashion. To the best of my knowledge, it would be in time to save lives rather than deal with the consequences.
I am keen that the Minister should reflect very carefully on the excellent speech made by my noble friend Lord Kennedy, and that, if he cannot provide a comprehensive assurance from the Dispatch Box, he should tell the House that the matter will be taken back to the department and full consideration given to it. I hope that the Government will either accept this amendment or introduce their own amendment.
Identifying the cause of the absence of any agency doing any oversight investigation, regulation or consideration of online rental accommodation led to a clear view from the relevant agencies that they were not required to do so. In investigating why the amendment was so necessary, and why I am so keen to support it, the answer became evident in the compelling legal opinion written by the outstanding leading counsel Richard Matthews QC, who is rightly acknowledged in all independent legal guides as not just in the top band of legal silks on health and safety, but by some as the very best legal mind in the country on those matters. He has not just been counsel for the Health and Safety Executive but has acted for the Crown in many fire-related prosecutions.
I say this just to emphasise the strength and merits of the legal arguments that my noble friend Lord Kennedy presented, and the fact that the Minister needs to ensure that his legal talking points have the right level of force and expertise to provide assurance to the House.
Richard Matthews’ opinion is that the fire safety order does not apply to domestic premises except those specifically defined in the order. The crucial question with regard to short-let holiday, business or other accommodation available through a variety of online or digital accommodation services—commonly known as Airbnb-type accommodation —is whether it falls within scope or ceases to be a domestic premises.
Mr Matthews’ advice could not be clearer. He states:
“I am firmly of the opinion that a house or flat that is let on the specific terms of the licence through Airbnb or similar accommodation for a short period of time does not necessarily by operation of the law thereby cease to be a domestic premises occupied as a private dwelling. Furthermore, I am very firmly of the opinion that a room or space in a house or flat that is let on the specific terms of the licence through Airbnb for a short period of time, whether the remainder continues to be occupied by the host as a residence, does not thereby cease to be a domestic premises occupied as a private dwelling, nor that it thereby becomes premises used in common by the occupants of more than one such dwelling. In addition, I am further of the opinion that both the Government’s written parliamentary response and its Do you have paying guests? guide are both inaccurate in this regard, and an apparent assertion that whenever anyone pays to stay in a property other than to live there as a permanent home, then the property is not a domestic premises occupied by someone, not necessarily a paying guest, as a private dwelling, is wrong as a matter of law.
Nothing demonstrates that his interpretation of the law is incorrect, which explains the fact that there has been no enforcement.
There is a clear, though unintended, gap, and it should be plugged as soon as possible. The onus must be on Airbnb hosts, and similar types of host, to have made the assessment or, where necessary, sought professional advice, to protect their paying guests. In addition, fire authorities should have some knowledge of where these properties are, or at least consider whether there is a need for inspection if a particular block or premises is being used within these terms. I strongly support the correction of the anomaly in the Bill that the amendment provides, to clarify the roles and responsibilities of temporary landlords in respect of fire prevention measures in their properties.
Finally, there is one other significant matter, which Mr Matthews’ extensive legal research and experience also uncovered, that should be addressed. It is that the 2015 smoke and carbon monoxide alarm regulations, which were brought into force at a time when the service provided by Airbnb and other such companies was well established and well known, for Airbnb premises to be within the ambit of the smoke and carbon monoxide regulations by reason solely of a licence obtained by Airbnb, such a licence would have to amount to a tenancy granting the right to occupy the premises as the guest’s only or main residence. An Airbnb will not have the effect of putting premises outside the ambit of the smoke and carbon monoxide regulations within that protection. I would be grateful for the Minister’s assurance that this too—which is surely another unintended lacuna—will be remedied, as well as the one addressed by the main amendment.
My Lords, the phrase “unintended consequences” comes to mind in Amendment 13. This short amendment seeks to ensure that there is clarity in connection with short holiday lets that use either part or the whole of a building, and it is one that we support. I am no legal expert, but the issues just raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, must be considered and a definitive answer provided by the Government.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for seeing that there is an omission in the Bill and a possible unintended consequence, and for tabling the amendment so that we can have this discussion. I hope the Minister is able to respond positively.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for raising the important issue of the treatment of short-term accommodation and holiday lettings under the fire safety order, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this brief but important debate. The noble Lord is absolutely right to draw attention to the constantly changing models and companies through which people might rent out their accommodation, particularly in this year of staycations when, I am sure, people have been staying in many more domestic properties in the UK.
As the noble Lord noted, domestic premises are expressly excluded from falling within the fire safety order. Article 2 of the order provides a definition of domestic premises which states that, to be considered as such, it must be occupied as a private dwelling. That is the key bit: the fire safety order applies at any time when the property is being leased or rented because it is not being occupied as a private dwelling. In effect, the property becomes a non-domestic premise when rented out and falls within the scope of the safety order. That is the Government’s view of the legal position. Under the fire safety order, owners of these types of premises have a duty as the responsible persons to undertake a fire risk assessment and put in place fire precautions that are adequate and appropriate to manage the risk of fire, and the fire and rescue services are the enforcing authorities for the order in such accommodation.
Anyone who provides accommodation for paying guests can also find helpful information on the GOV.UK website, which the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Mendelsohn, mentioned. The noble Lord mentioned by name the Do You Have Paying Guests? guidance, which is for people who are responsible for small and short-term accommodation. I can tell noble Lords that the guidance has recently been updated and that the new version will be called Making Your Sleeping Premises Safe from Fire, which will be a short guide for sleeping premises, small businesses and small blocks of flats. That is the part of the tranche 2 FSO guidance review, which will be published alongside the laying of secondary legislation. I hope that when the noble Lord sees that, it will assuage some of his concerns.
We do not agree with the legal position of Mr Matthews that the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, read out; if a property is rented out through Airbnb and so on then it falls within the scope of the fire safety order. I hope that reassures the noble Lord that the fire safety order already applies in the scenario that he outlines in his amendment, and that he will therefore be content to withdraw it. We will certainly be happy to continue discussing this point as we approach Report.
My Lords, I have had no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has spoken in this short debate. The Minister has confirmed that the Government’s view is that the fire safety order applies when the property is used for a paying guest. The question that therefore arises is: does the person providing the property know the obligation that they have created for themselves? Do the sites that let these properties out for them understand that? Do they know their responsibilities? Have they made adequate provision to ensure that when the property is being let, it is safe? Are people aware of the ways in and out of the property, what the fire precautions are and so on?
There is another point here. How does a fire authority know that all these properties in its area are being let and used, and how can they do inspections? Just think how many properties must be let in London. How will the London fire brigade or the local authority ever know which properties they are? How can they ever do any inspections? How can anyone ever be responsible? If no one is responsible, either the order is wrong or we have not created the conditions for the order to be effective.
Those are really serious issues, so I hope the Minister will look at them between now and Report. It is not just an anomaly; it is potentially a disaster waiting to happen, and we need to do much more than we are now. At this stage, I am happy to withdraw the amendment, but I will bring it back on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
My Lords, we now come the group beginning with Amendment 14. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this, or any other amendment in the group, to a Division should make that clear in the debate. This amendment was to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Porter of Spalding, but he is not able to join us today, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark.
14: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Fire Safety Code of Practice
(1) The relevant authority must by regulations amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (SI 2005/1541) as follows.(2) In Article 26(2) (Enforcement of Order), at the end insert “and any Code of Practice made pursuant to Article 50”.(3) In Article 50 (Guidance)—(a) in the title, at the beginning insert “Code of Practice and”;(b) after Article 50(3) insert—“(4) The Secretary of State must issue a Code of Practice with the aim of securing that—(a) all fire risk assessments of higher-risk residential buildings necessary to comply with this Order are carried out as soon as practicable and before those which are lower-risk, and(b) privately-owned and publicly-owned buildings are equally able to access the resources available to carry out such work.(5) Before issuing a code under this Article the Secretary of State shall—(a) publish proposals, and(b) consult such persons as he or she thinks appropriate.(6) Before issuing a code under this Article the Secretary of State shall lay a draft of the code before Parliament.(7) Where a draft is laid before Parliament under Article 50(6), if it is approved by both Houses of Parliament—(a) the Secretary of State may issue the code in the form of the draft, and(b) it shall come into force in accordance with provision made by the Secretary of State by order.(8) A failure to comply with a provision of a code shall not of itself make a person liable to criminal or civil proceedings; but a code—(a) shall be admissible in evidence in criminal or civil proceedings, and(b) shall be taken into account by a court or tribunal in any case in which it appears to the court or tribunal to be relevant.(9) The Secretary of State may amend any code of practice issued pursuant to this Article by publishing proposals for the amendment of the code and consulting on those proposals and seeking the approval of Parliament in the same way as for the first code, but a code issued under this Article shall continue in force until it is amended.”” Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and the others in Lord Porter's name, would require the Government to introduce guidance in the form of an approved code of practice, before commencing the Bill. The approved code of practice must seek to ensure that the limited resources available to carry out the reviews of fire risk assessments required by the Bill are allocated between buildings on the basis of risk.
My Lords, I am very happy to move this amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Porter of Spalding. I shall speak to Amendments 14, 19 and 23, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Porter, and also to Amendment 22, in my name, in this group.
For many years, the Local Government Association has been calling for councils and fire services to be given effective powers and meaningful sanctions to ensure that residents are safe, and feel safe, in their homes. This is an absolute priority for councils. The introduction of the Fire Safety Bill is welcome, and I hope it is an important step in the right direction. But there is concern about some of the practicalities of the Bill, which has led to the noble Lord, Lord Porter, tabling Amendments 14, 19 and 23.
Many building owners, including councils, will need to review the fire risk assessments on their properties as a result of this Bill. It is right that they do so, because where cladding systems are on residential buildings, we must be sure that they are safe and that appropriate measures are in place if they pose a risk. It also takes forward one of the recommendations of the review of the Grenfell Tower inquiry. To make sure that this new duty can be delivered, we need to ensure that there are enough specialists to review the cladding systems. It has become clear that there is likely to be a significant shortage of assessors to carry out these reviews. Indeed, many of those qualified to conduct normal fire risk assessments do not have the specialist skills necessary to include external wall systems in a risk assessment. Insurers are also reluctant to provide professional indemnity cover for this sort of work. This leads to several potential problems. First, responsible persons, including the councils, may be unable to fulfil their obligations under the Bill. Secondly, there is a risk that a demand/supply imbalance drives up the cost of assessments, adding to the burdens on the housing revenue account or the taxpayer. Thirdly, if owners with sufficient resources pay the higher cost to get all their buildings assessed, irrespective of the risk to residents, high-risk buildings with less well-off owners will be left at the back of the queue—and that queue could last for some years. Finally, delays in some buildings obtaining fire risk assessments could compound the problems caused by the inability of residents to obtain EWS1 forms and the consequent effects of this on mortgage applications, even in buildings that have safe cladding systems.
The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Porter, seek to ensure two outcomes: that responsible persons are protected in law, where they are genuinely unable to review their fire risk assessments, and that higher-risk premises are assessed before lower-risk premises. The precise method of doing this will be set out in the code of practice. It will rely on risk assessment tools which take account of the various factors that increase the risks fire poses in a block of flats—for example the height, if they have sprinklers, and the number of escape routes. This is being developed, as we know, by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Fire Industry Association.
This tool should allow buildings to be placed in various categories of risk, with each category to be given a different level of priority and a different deadline to complete its assessment. In order to get these effective deadlines, the Government need to undertake research to establish a clearer picture of the number of buildings likely to be affected in different categories and the number of assessors available. This is unlikely to happen before the Bill commences, so either the Bill needs to be delayed or deadlines need to be capable of being changed relatively quickly.
A balance will have to be struck between commencing the Bill as soon as possible, so that the fire service can use its powers, and assessing the disparity between the number of fire risk assessments that will need be reviewed and the capacity of the fire risk assessment industry to do so. Parliament needs to make this judgment, and the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Porter, includes a requirement for the approved code of practice to be laid before both Houses for scrutiny.
The tragedy that unfolded at Grenfell Tower must never be allowed to happen again. We need a building safety system that works. The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Porter, seek to ensure that, on the issue of fire risk assessments, we have a practical set of proposals agreed by this House. I hope that the Minister will respond positively and I am very happy to move the amendment on behalf of the noble Lord. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendments in this group and I acknowledge the sterling work done by the noble Lord, Lord Porter, over the past three and a half years to improve building safety following the Grenfell fire. The central aim of the amendments is to ensure that resources are used to best effect in reviewing the fire risk assessments required by the Bill. The criteria for prioritisation must be based on anticipated levels of risk, so the process and the code of practice outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Porter, seem appropriate to meet this objective. That said, I hope the Minister has understood the concern of many speaking today that improving fire safety needs faster outcomes, and that nothing in this group should mean longer delays for assessments that are felt to be less urgent.
Finally, Amendment 22 is obviously key to the delivery of the intentions behind this group, because it requires sufficient fire safety inspectors to be available, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has emphasised. It is a clear duty of government to ensure that enough qualified inspectors are available, and I very much hope the Minister will shortly confirm that this is indeed the Government’s intention.
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.
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.
I also remind the noble Lord about the comments made in the other place by his Front Bench in wanting the Bill to be commenced as early as possible. That is exactly what this Government want; this amendment has the potential to delay the commencement of the Bill.
I would be happy to meet my noble friend Lord Porter between now and Report regarding Amendments 14, 19 and 23, but I hope that he is reassured that the Government are listening to his concerns. In the meantime, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister so I call the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark.
My Lords, I was very happy to move this amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Porter of Spalding. He is highly regarded in this House and in local government, where he led the LGA for many years with distinction and was respected by councillors of all parties and none.
There have been constant themes this afternoon: the effectiveness of this order; the need to make sure that it works properly; the competence of the people who will have responsibilities under the order and who they are; and the resources available to local authorities and others to ensure that they can deliver what they are responsible for. I am sure that we will come back to these issues on Report. However, I am pleased to hear that the Minister is prepared to talk to the noble Lord, Lord Porter, on the issues he raised in this amendment; I know that the noble Lord will take these matters up with him between now and Report.
At this stage, however, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Porter, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
Amendments 15 to 18 not moved.
Clause 3: Extent, commencement and short title
Amendments 19 to 23 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Amendment 24 not moved.
Bill reported without amendment.
House adjourned at 6.32 pm.