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Fire Safety Bill

Volume 808: debated on Tuesday 24 November 2020

Third Reading

Relevant documents: 25th and 29th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Fire Safety Bill, has consented to place her interest, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.


Moved by

My Lords, in moving this Motion, I want to thank all those around the House who have taken part in the Bill’s passage so far. I am proud that this is the first Bill I have taken through your Lordships’ House solo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Lords, this short, two-clause Bill has provoked considerable interest across the House, which is surprising, as it is a Bill that seeks to remedy some of the system failures that led to the appalling tragedy at Grenfell Tower. I join in the thanks to the Minister for arranging meetings with those of us who wished, through amendments, to improve the Bill. I thank him very much for listening to the concerns we raised.

The Bill, as amended, provides greater protection for residents by implementing some of the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry phase 1 report and requiring fire risk assessments to be made publicly available for potential residents. The Grenfell Tower Inquiry is, little by little, exposing the building practices that resulted in flammable cladding being attached to Grenfell Tower—and many other buildings across the country—with such tragic consequences.

Currently, there is a crisis involving people across the country who are in constant fear and anxiety because they are living in flats that are encased in flammable cladding. Currently, it is the leaseholders and tenants who are expected to pay towards the costs of making their homes safe. However, we have passed an amendment to stop that outrageous practice. They have been sold homes that were deemed to be safe but are not, because of building failures. The cost of putting those failures right must not be theirs. The amendment we passed on Report puts that principle into the Bill.

Since Report, I have had many emails and messages from desperate and distraught residents of these flats. Some are being asked to pay way over £40,000 towards the costs of putting these cladding and other building failures right. It is not fair and it is not just. I hope the Government will be able to accept the principle set out in the amendment. I very much look forward to the Minister’s reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much does the taxpayer front up? We have already fronted up £1.6 billion; we will probably have to look at more in due course, but at the moment we are spending the first billion. The taxpayer should stump up, because sometimes the warranty claims are not there. The warranty system is, frankly, not fit for purpose, as I have said before at the Dispatch Box. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, has also made that point: often, a 10-year period is not enough when you are buying a home for life, and two years for defects is not enough to cover substantial structural issues, as we are finding out.

Beyond the taxpayer, we can then look at levies, as have been raised in Australia; but levies do not raise very much, and you have to balance that with the need to build more homes. So, levies can be looked at by government, but they are no silver bullet. Lastly, we can look at loans. Loans are a vehicle to make something that is unaffordable affordable, but at this stage we have not announced policy, and this is not the legislation to announce policy around how we deal with the cost of historic remediation. So, I consider this a little opportunistic, yet I do think it is constructive, because it is a serious issue that the Government have to grapple with.

I finish by thanking noble Lords, and I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.