Committee (4th Day)
Relevant document: 20th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
My Lords, Members are encouraged to leave some distance between themselves and others and to wear a face covering when not speaking. If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
111: After Clause 128, insert the following new Clause—
“Sale of goods online for use in buildings
(1) The Secretary of State must, within one year of the passing of this Act, make regulations placing requirements on operators of online marketplaces to take reasonable steps to identify and remove from the online marketplace items which—(a) do not comply with safety legislation, or(b) have been withdrawn or recalled by any person in accordance with safety legislation,and that are of such a kind that are, or may be reasonably assumed to be, for use in buildings.(2) Regulations made pursuant to subsection (1)—(a) must specify what in the opinion of the Secretary of State constitutes “reasonable steps”,(b) may specify which items this section applies to, and(c) may specify penalties for failure to comply with the regulations.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this Clause is to improve the safety of buildings by preventing the sale of faulty electrical goods that can cause fires. This is particularly important in high-rise buildings in which fires can, and in the past have, spread causing fatalities.
My Lords, if I purchase, say, an electric fan or a tumble dryer online, it will arrive at my door within a few days and I will plug it in and use it. However, the item could be electrically unsafe or may be one that the manufacturers have withdrawn because they have some concern about it as a potential risk. I have no way of knowing whether the item I have purchased is in that condition for the very simple reason that there are no regulations that require online distributors to take any reasonable steps to ensure that items purchased online are safe. Of course, if the item is unsafe, it could threaten the safety of my home, perhaps causing a fire. If I live in a high-rise block like the ones we are talking about at the moment, that fire could spread and endanger the other flats in the block and the lives of the people who live in them. This is the danger that my amendment seeks to resolve.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, Amendment 111 seeks to address the issue of potentially unsafe electrical items purchased online and the impact that could have in high-rise blocks. Some noble Lords may believe that this is not a very serious issue and that perhaps not very many such products are available.
Electrical Safety First has done a detailed analysis of the work of the Office for Product Safety and Standards and, in a test, 63% of electrical products bought in an online marketplace were found to be non- compliant and, of those, 23 were unsafe. The OPSS publishes a weekly product safety report, which details products found to pose a risk to health and safety. Analysis of these reports by Electrical Safety First shows that, during 2021, 31% of all unsafe products identified were electrical, 72 of them having been purchased online. A separate investigation that it carried out found that 93% of a sample of electrical products tested from online marketplaces were unsafe. It has also repeatedly found numerous items that have been recalled by manufacturers—often due to a concern about the risk of overheating and fire—but were still available for purchase online. We are not dealing with a small problem.
We know that there is an increasing number of fires in high-rise buildings: the number has gone up year on year. In fact, there has been a 20% increase in the last two years alone. We know that some 53%—over half of all of the fires—were caused by electricity in one form or another. In many cases, the source of ignition was a faulty electrical product. The fire in Grenfell Tower was caused by an electrical appliance—a fridge freezer—as was the fire at Shepherd’s Court in 2016, which was caused by a recalled tumble dryer, and the fire at Lakanal House in 2009, which was caused by a TV. I do not know whether, in each of those cases, those products were purchased online, but we know from all the research that an increasing number of electrical appliances are purchased online. In February last year, 75% of UK shoppers said that they bought such products online, compared to just 40% the previous year—this was obviously enhanced by lockdown.
This is an accident waiting to happen, and we need to do something about it. That view is supported by many organisations: following the OPSS consultation in 2021, they argued that change was needed to ensure that markets remain fair, and specific powers were requested by them in relation to online marketplaces and platforms. The National Audit Office—the NAO—carried out an investigation and found that there were “gaps in regulators’ powers” to regulate the online marketplace. A Public Accounts Committee report includes findings and states that the OPSS had explained to it that
“under current legislation, online marketplaces are not responsible for the safety of products sold by third parties on their platforms.”
Yet there is of course a requirement for purchases made not online but in normal shops, so it is odd that there is a discrepancy here.
It is particularly odd that the Government have done nothing about it so far, because, in answer to a House of Commons Written Question, the Minister said:
“The Government is committed to ensuring that only safe products can be sold in the UK.”
The purpose of this amendment is to achieve exactly what the Government want—to ensure that only safe electrical products can be purchased, whether they are purchased in normal shops or online. It seems a simple amendment. I have not spent a lot of time going through it, because I am absolutely certain that the Minister is just going to say, “Yes, Don, good idea, we’ll agree to it.” I look forward to hearing her say that in a few minutes.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely. I invite the noble Baroness to speak.
My Lords, I support all three amendments in this group. Amendment 111, which was laid by my noble friend Lord Foster and to which I have added my name, aims to protect consumers from items purchased online that are non-compliant with rules for purchasing the same products in shops. I thank him for his clear and detailed explanation of why it is needed.
The excellent analysis by Electrical Safety First of the Office for Product Safety and Standards demonstrates that there is a real safety issue. Nearly two-thirds of electrical products bought in an online marketplace are non-compliant and a shocking quarter is actively unsafe. Electrical Contracting News said that in 2020 faulty appliances caused 43 fires per week in England. Everyday household appliances caused 15,000 accidental fires in homes. We know that some serious and fatal fires in high-rise and medium-rise buildings were caused by faulty appliances. Some fires were due to household items being placed too close to the source of heat or to misuse of appliances, but a number were due to appliances that were found to be faulty.
If two-thirds of electrical products bought in online marketplaces are non-compliant and, worse, a quarter is unsafe, that is a recipe for danger. Perhaps it is not surprising that legislation is taking time to catch up with new ways of purchasing goods, yet the focus of this Bill is to ensure that buildings are safe, especially high-rise buildings. This amendment proposes a solution to the problem and I support it.
Briefly, I want also to add my support to Amendment 112 laid by my noble friend Lady Pinnock and Amendment 117 laid by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. The amendment of my noble friend Lady Pinnock also responds to evidence given at both the Grenfell inquiry and Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of the appalling habits of too many construction product companies of managing to soften or even blatantly breach the safety regulations. It is evident that the regulations are out of date and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond favourably to this, too.
Finally, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, highlights the importance of the provision of CO detectors and alarms and seeks for the responsible person to ensure that they are provided. Too many times, people end up with unsafe equipment, whether an old gas fire or, worse, a new exterior gas fire being used inside through ignorance, which has resulted in the deaths of far too many people. We are used to having smoke alarms in buildings, especially high-rise ones. We should also have CO detectors and monitors as a matter of absolute routine for safety. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I would like to speak to my Amendment 117 in this group— I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings heath, for supporting this amendment with me. I should declare my interest, as I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group and I chair the CO Research Trust.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, faulty appliances are often a source of carbon monoxide, but so are wood-burning stoves and oil central heating. Anything that burns a carbon-based fuel can produce carbon monoxide, which is colourless, tasteless and odourless and results from incomplete combustion of the fuel. The problem is that high levels kill you rapidly, within a few minutes, but the symptoms are that you just feel warm and sleepy. You think that you are comfortable and sleepy; the next thing you are dead. However, low levels also produce long-term damage and are thought to damage the developing foetus in pregnant women.
Rather alarmingly, a recent National Energy Action report showed the dangers of indoor spaces where people live and work. It looked at households in the low-income bracket, with a range of vulnerabilities, and found that 35% of the properties it looked at had prolonged spikes of a carbon monoxide level over the threshold at which it can have possible health effects. Some 22% had spikes that lasted longer than 15 minutes, which could be fatal. Households with the maximum carbon monoxide levels were linked to those reporting stress and anxiety about energy affordability, which reaches statistical significance in correlation. There seems to be a relationship between underheating and poverty, then using appliances, sometimes even a gas oven, as a source of heating. That is linked to elevated levels of carbon monoxide.
Older homes have older and riskier types of boilers. When people face fuel poverty, servicing appliances is one of the first things to go. As we try to decrease energy consumption in new buildings, we make them more airtight. The indoor air quality deteriorates, because it is trapped. This was brought into even sharper focus during Covid, when it was well documented that there was a higher incidence of death from Covid in places with poor ventilation.
It is well established that a higher incidence of exposure to carbon monoxide and other indoor pollutants occurs during the winter, when people spend more time indoors. According to the Office for National Statistics, one in eight households in Britain has no access to a private or shared garden. That rises to one in five households in London. During the winter, these people are indoors with their children, often burning gas or other fuel that risks carbon monoxide production.
A study from Queen Mary University concluded that deaths from Covid were 70% higher in areas of increased air pollution. That has been linked to nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide. A similar study has not been done sampling the quality of indoor air during Covid, although people have now become aware of raised carbon dioxide levels because, if there is more exhaled air, there is a greater chance of more coronavirus in that air. Hence we have suddenly become aware of the need to open windows and so on.
Much innovation and policy-making in the built environment has focused on new buildings and expensive technologies that have low environmental impact, but there are two problems with this approach. Energy efficiency has grown and buildings have become tighter, but construction techniques designed to seal a house and prevent heat escape also decrease ventilation. That is positive from an environmental perspective, because we use less fuel to heat the home, but the down- side is poor indoor air quality.
A second major issue with the approach is that it does not account for the older buildings in which most people live and work. The UK has the oldest building and housing stock in Europe, which is largely due to the legacy of dwellings and buildings built around the Industrial Revolution, which still form the backbone of our urban areas today.
People need to know that the air where they live, or spend their day working, is safe. The cost of a carbon monoxide alarm ranges upwards from about £14, with a battery life of seven years, so it costs £2 a year for a carbon monoxide alarm to keep people safe. The cost is minimal, or negligible, but the cost associated with a life lost to carbon monoxide poisoning can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds when one looks at the problems for bereaved children in particular, when they have ongoing needs over the years ahead. On the economic argument alone, I suggest to the Government that a simple amendment requiring carbon monoxide alarms to be installed by whoever owns and runs the building would be more than cost effective.
My Lords, it was the safety failure of cladding on Grenfell Tower that resulted in 72 people tragically losing their lives. Subsequent investigations showed that construction products that failed flammability tests were used. Obviously, the safety of the construction products used is critical if we are to achieve a much improved building safety standard.
The safety of construction products in the Bill is dealt with only in Schedule 11. Ten pages of detail set out the regulatory regime around product safety. Amendment 112 in my name would add a new clause to the Bill to ensure that product safety is an integral and important part of the legislation.
The purpose of Schedule 11 is to enable the Secretary of State to make relevant regulations to control the safety of construction products. The key word used throughout is that the Government or the Secretary of State “may” by regulations do something. I suggest that the key word should be “must”. For example, Schedule 11 states that products “may” be prohibited if they are not safe. Can the Minister clarify the reasoning for not using prescriptive language?
On standards and technical assessments of products, the wording used is that construction products regulations “may” make provision for standards and technical assessments. Given the learning from the tragedy at Grenfell, I would expect product standards to meet safety standards clearly established by regulation. The schedule establishes the notion of creating a list of “safety-critical products” covered by safety-critical standards which “may”, or presumably may not, be detailed in a timely way. The regulations also make provision for enforcement—or, at least, they “may” make provision—of the safety and standards regime.
The Hackitt report, my favourite document on all this, has a whole chapter on construction product safety and some very clear recommendations, one of which states:
“A clearer, more transparent and more effective specification and testing regime of construction products must”—
I emphasise “must”—
“be developed. This should include products as they are put together as part of a system.”
That is one of the issues that I raised at Second Reading and on other amendments in Committee. It is important that a product is not only proven to be safe but proven to be safe in conjunction with other materials. That was part of the failure exposed by the Grenfell fire.
Dame Judith Hackitt states clearly in her report that that is essential. Her report recommends:
“Manufacturers must retest products that are critical to the safety of”
higher-risk buildings. The report also seeks to ban assessments in lieu of tests—that is, the desktop studies that were part of the failure at Grenfell—and allow them only in
“a very limited number of cases”.
The Government have set out to reflect in the Building Safety Bill all the recommendations in Dame Judith Hackitt’s report. Unfortunately, Schedule 11 does not do that. It certainly does not do it with the clarity of language or insistence on actions contained in that report.
Amendment 112 is an attempt to draw the attention of the Committee to the fundamental importance of ensuring the safety of, and safe use of, construction products. The amendment seeks to address the want of timeliness in the schedule by insisting on the early publication of regulations on testing and certification. Proposed new subsection (2) seeks to provide for all the recommendations in the Hackitt report to be included in the Bill. I hope that, in her response, the Minister will accept the importance of tightening the proposed regulations on construction products and, given that nearly five years have passed since the Grenfell fire, will accept that no further time should be lost in making buildings safe by ensuring that construction products are safe.
I just want to comment on the other amendments in this group. I give my full support to Amendment 111 in the name of my noble friend Lord Foster, who has made the case for the vital importance of the safety of electrical appliances and for continuing to check them. Too many fires—high-risk fires—have occurred because some electrical appliances are not safe or do not continue to be safe.
I also fully support Amendment 117 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I give the example of my own council—Kirklees Council—which provided free carbon monoxide monitors for every household. This followed the tragic death of a young child whose family was living in a terraced house where carbon monoxide leaked through from the adjacent house, which was not being properly maintained, if I may put it like that. Really sadly, the child died. As a consequence, the council—with the full support of everybody—produced free carbon monoxide monitors for every household. They are life-saving, and we will obviously fully support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness. With those comments, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I will speak to all the amendments in this group in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Finlay of Llandaff.
I turn first to Amendment 112 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. She presented the case very clearly and eloquently; the headline from her contribution was that the amendment seeks to satisfy the Grenfell review and the Hackitt review. Testing and certification are important for product safety. Ultimately, they will save lives and ensure safer homes.
Amendment 117 is in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who made a very clear and economical argument on safety and why this amendment should be welcomed by the Government and all of us—was it £2 for the developers and owners of buildings to ensure the safety of their residents? The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, mentioned the very sad example of the young child in her constituency. We can save people’s lives by welcoming and adopting this amendment.
I will focus in particular on Amendment 111 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath. He painted the stark reality of the situation we face; in 2021, something like 31% of all fires in unsafe buildings were down to electrical faults. The noble Lord also said there had been a 20% increase in fires in high-rise buildings in the last two years, 50% of them caused by electrical safety problems.
We welcome this amendment. The noble Lord mentioned the charity Electrical Safety First; its chief executive Lesley Rudd said that the absence of vital laws governing online marketplaces posed
“one of the biggest risks to product safety in the UK”.
Since Brexit, the Office for Product Safety and Standards has been set up, but what new responsibilities has it undertaken in relation to faulty electrical goods and building safety?
Can the Minister say what actions have been taken in response to the report from the Public Accounts Committee, which has been mentioned, on the UK’s product safety regime? Does she agree that there is a gap in the law which means that digital giants such as Amazon and eBay are not responsible for the safety of items sold by third parties? If she does, what will the Government do about it?
What does the Minister have to say about these challenges? We have an unregulated marketplace for electrical goods. We have had severe cuts to enforcement bodies. We have also had an increase in online purchases. It is a perfect storm. Ultimately, how will the Minister ensure that dangerous products do not end up in people’s homes?
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate on additional building safety measures. As noble Lords know, making sure everyone’s home is a place of safety is at the heart of the Bill. I will address each of the amendments discussed in turn.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for raising the important matter of ensuring that electrical goods sold online are safe. The Government remain committed to ensuring that only safe products can be legally placed on the UK market, both now and in the future. Preventing the sale of unsafe electrical goods is clearly important to achieving this aim, but this extends to ensuring that all consumer products sold in the UK are safe. Existing product safety legislation places obligations on manufacturers, importers and distributors to ensure that consumer products are safe before they can be placed on the UK market. This applies to products sold both online and offline.
In common with the noble Lord, Lord Foster, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Khan, the Government also recognise that the rise of e-commerce presents a particular challenge. However, it is not true that the Government are doing nothing. They are undertaking a thorough review of the UK’s product safety framework, which includes an assessment of the impact of e-commerce.
Following a call for evidence last year, the Government are developing proposals for reform of the product safety framework and intend to consult in due course. This includes options to address the sale of unsafe products online. We are also taking forward a number of immediate actions. This includes implementing a programme of work focusing on the safety and compliance of goods sold by third-party sellers on online marketplaces.
I thank noble Lords for raising this important matter. However, the Government will not be supporting the amendment at this time, given the broader work as part of the product safety review and the existing regulatory controls that I have outlined.
I am very grateful for what the Minister said the Government are doing, but before she moves on to the next amendment, can she give a clear indication of the timescale? Far too often we hear the phrase “in due course”—the Minister has herself used it. We all know what it means; can she give us something a little more concrete?
I am afraid I pushed my officials to give me a specific time. They have agreed that we may write with more details to give the noble Lord an indication of when this might be forthcoming.
On Amendment 112, I thank the noble Baroness for raising the important matter of the testing and certification of construction products. The Government are committed to reforming the regulatory framework for construction products and it is important that our approach to reform considers the system in the round and is based on engagement with stakeholders who make, distribute and use construction products.
We therefore do not believe that it is right to set a deadline of six months to introduce new measures, as this will constrain public debate. We intend to introduce a requirement for products to be corrected, withdrawn or recalled where they are not safe. This will deliver a greater practical benefit than publishing information about known safety concerns.
We recognise the importance of accurate, reliable performance information to support appropriate product choices. However, a product’s testing record is unlikely to provide useful information for this purpose. Instead, we will create a statutory list of “safety critical” products, where their failure would risk causing death or serious injury and require manufacturers to draw up a declaration of performance for these products. Dame Judith Hackitt’s review recommended that industry should develop a consistent labelling and traceability system for construction products. We agree that industry is best placed to develop an approach that will be effective in practice.
I could sense the frustration of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, with the language used in the Bill, specifically in Schedule 11. I am afraid that the “may versus must” argument recurs in many bits of legislation that I have taken through, and particularly here, when Dame Judith used “must” in her report. However, the whole reason we put “may” rather than “must” in legislation is that this approach is designed to allow the Secretary of State to review existing regulations, consult as needed and bring forward new regulations where needed. We clearly intend to use these powers and published draft regulations in October 2021. I recognise that that probably will not wholly satisfy the noble Baroness but it is as far as I may go.
Did the Minister say October 2021?
Yes. We clearly intend to use these powers and we already published draft regulations in October 2021.
Are we allowed to see the draft regulations? It would be really useful.
They are published.
We will circulate them to the whole Committee.
That is really helpful. I thank the Minister.
We will also be introducing requirements for labelling construction products, to support regulatory activity. Once again, I thank the noble Baroness for raising this matter but, based on the explanation I have just provided, the Government will not be supporting the amendment.
Finally, on Amendment 117, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, I thank her for raising the important matter of carbon monoxide and the risk it poses. Carbon monoxide can be released from faulty or leaky boilers and chimneys. As the noble Baroness said, it is colourless, odourless and tasteless and can lead to life-changing injuries or death. It is indeed sometimes called the “silent killer”.
The Government take the risks and consequences of carbon monoxide poisoning very seriously and share a common goal with the noble Baroness of wanting to safeguard people from this deadly gas. She was right to stress the relationship between poverty, particularly fuel poverty, and the high incidence of harmful indoor air quality. However, the new clause is unnecessary. Legislation is already in place, as I will go on to explain, and we will bring forward new legislation and updates to guidance that will safeguard people from the harmful effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. We believe that, together, these measures will achieve the improvement in safety sought by this clause. The gas safety regulations require the safe installation, maintenance and use of gas systems, and they require landlords to carry out annual gas safety checks, which reduce the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.
While carbon monoxide alarms are not a substitute for the proper installation, use and checks of combustion appliances, they are a useful additional precaution. Currently, our building regulations require appropriate provision for carbon monoxide detection and alarms when solid fuel appliances are installed in homes, irrespective of tenure. The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 require carbon monoxide alarms in privately rented homes where there is a solid fuel appliance.
Recent evidence and analysis show that, although solid fuel appliances, such as wood-burning stoves, continue to be responsible for a disproportionate number of carbon monoxide incidents, the case to require alarms for combustion appliances using other fuels has grown. Therefore in 2020 we consulted on proposals to extend provisions for carbon monoxide alarms to be fitted when oil and gas-heating boilers are installed in all homes, irrespective of tenure, and to require that alarms are installed in any room used for habitation with a fixed combustion appliance, excluding gas cookers, in privately rented homes and social housing. These proposals received broad support and, in 2021, we announced that we will amend the regulations as soon as parliamentary time allows, with the changes coming into effect as soon as practicable. We will also update the statutory guidance on carbon monoxide alarms.
These new measures extend the use of carbon monoxide alarms to the extent that we consider appropriate, based on the current evidence available. The extended alarm measures are not limited to high-rise buildings and will apply to newly installed combustion appliances in homes irrespective of tenure and to all private and social landlords. While I appreciate the intention of the amendment, I hope I have reassured noble Lords that we have committed to extending the requirements and guidance around carbon monoxide alarms where appropriate to do so. I therefore ask the noble Baroness not to press the amendment.
Once again, I thank noble Lords for this debate, which has considered wider matters connected to safety, and I hope that, with the reassurances given, noble Lords will be content not to press their amendments.
May I ask why the Government have not extended the requirement to all new builds and to major refurbishments when they are bought by a company and subsequently sold, and why there is a resistance to insisting that alarms are installed in workplaces? More and more firms are now struggling with the cost of heating. They may be turning it down, and people in the workplace may, in wanting to keep warm, bring in heating devices from outside that should be used for camping and cooking outside, or whatever. With fuel poverty, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is going to rise.
Simply to put into regulation that alarms need to be installed seems a move that would not cost anything significant to the building trade, or anyone refurbishing buildings—but to leave it simply restricted to landlords and to rely on annual checks, when we know that they are not always done adequately, seems completely inappropriate and highly risky. The landlord has to check the appliance installed, but when people are in fuel poverty they often cannot afford to run that appliance as it should be used—and, as I said, they will do such things as use an oven with the door open to try to stay warm, and that will pour out carbon monoxide. The other problem with that is that the level of air in the room is exactly at the level of a toddler’s face, so children are more exposed than adults in such a situation. If an alarm was installed, it would go off irrespective of relying on a landlord.
The other problem is that a lot of people now in fuel poverty are not in rented accommodation. They have mortgage commitments which they are struggling to pay. They are suddenly finding that they are in a band of poverty that they never imagined they would be in when they took out a large loan to purchase their property, particularly with interest rates going up as well.
As I said in my speech, the extended alarm measures will apply to all newly installed combustion appliances in homes, irrespective of tenure, and to all private and social landlords. I should also add that we consulted in November 2020 on proposals to extend the requirements for carbon monoxide alarms to oil and gas heating installations and to social housing. The Government are yet to respond to this consultation, but we will do so in due course.
My Lords, I think we are all grateful to the Minister for her remarks. It is clear that the Government share the concerns we have expressed about construction products, CO2 monitors and, in relation to my amendment, electrical appliances. However, I have to say that I suspect there is deep concern in this Committee about the language the Minister used in relation to when any action will be taken. We have heard her say “in due course”, “as soon as parliamentary time allows”, “as soon as is practical” and so on. I am grateful that she said she will write to me on Amendment 111 to tell me when some of that action will take place, but I suspect there will be pressure for all these issues to be raised again at a later stage in the Bill’s passage.
In 20 seconds, I will beg leave to withdraw my amendment, but I first want to add a bit of light relief. The Minister’s ministerial colleague, who has told us that he is very tired today, is a great fan of Latin mottos and phrases. On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, got Hebrew mottos in as well. I thought it might be helpful to look up an appropriate motto for an amendment to make electrical goods sold online safer, then realised that “electrical” and “online” were hardly likely to appear in Latin. However, much to my surprise, when I did a Google search, I found that I was able to get a Latin translation, which is most bizarre. I share with the Committee that, if we want to make an electrical good sold online safer, “fac tutius bona electrica online” is the motto we should be using. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 111 withdrawn.
Amendment 112 not moved.
Schedule 11: Construction products regulations
Amendment 113 not moved.
Schedule 11 agreed.
Amendments 114 and 115 not moved.
Clause 129: Amendment of Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
115A: Clause 129, page 133, line 23, at end insert—
“(2A) In article 6 (application to premises), in paragraph (1B)(b) after “balconies” insert “, but only insofar as any such balconies pose a material risk of the spread of fire, flame or smoke”.”Member’s explanatory statement
Amends the Fire Safety Order to make clear that only balconies which pose a material risk of the spread of fire are included as part of the external wall. This would avoid balconies being remediated unnecessarily.
My Lords, I was already feeling inadequate enough, but my inability to come up with a Latin phrase or joke on this particularly peculiar amendment of mine is nerve-racking. Clause 129 makes further amendments to the fire safety order and focuses partly on the risk of balconies. My Amendment 115A suggests tightening up the wording so that balconies should be considered a risk only if and where they can be shown to materially contribute to the spread of fire, flame or smoke.
I think this amendment is needed because I am concerned about unnecessary building safety work. I am not sure if this amendment is the right way to resolve the problem, but leaseholders who I have spoken to see emerging a widespread focus on alleged non-cladding defects, such as balconies. This can be a driver to carrying out unnecessary fire safety work, for which leaseholders must pay, with no existing government funding to help. We are all familiar with the “#claddingscandal”, but I want to avoid a scandal, or at least an injustice, emerging that is not to do with cladding. That is what this amendment probes.
Broadly, we now have a situation in which a block of flats can have a fire risk assessment that effectively determines that the building is sound but, because some notionally flammable material has been used, for example in the balconies, there are problems with valuations associated with EWS1 and a pre-emptive, rather than necessary, remediation approach. Leaseholders are then encouraged to think of their blocks with these balconies as unsafe and to believe that remediation work is necessary—and the costs will inevitably be charged to them as a fait accompli. This could be driven quite cynically by freeholders using building safety to do upgrades or carry out what otherwise would or should be regular maintenance, at leaseholders’ expense. To be less cynical and assume far more good faith, or at least to understand the pressures on freeholders and owners, I am worried that one of the unintended consequences of this Bill would be to drive up fears among owners, assessors, accountable persons and so on, under the weight of legal and insurance liability, that they would be blamed for any fires that occur, in any circumstances. As such, blame avoidance could mean stretching assessments of what is considered unsafe beyond credibility or credulity.
This seems to be partly the explanation to the rather panicky response to any building materials that can catch fire. At the moment, this is expressing itself as the almost default assumption that balconies with timber as a component are dangerous and should be replaced. This is in spite it being well documented that timber can outperform steel in a fire, depending on how it chars. An example of where this can lead is a block of flats in Castletown in Dorset. Leaseholders were shocked, at the start of the year, to receive a letter telling them that the timber-decked balconies of the 204 flats in their block had to be replaced by aluminium balconies, as some may be unsafe. Guess what? Leaseholders must meet the cost of this work estimated, on average, at £10,000 a flat.
In addition to that horrifying financial prospect, the Atlantic House Leaseholders Association raised some other issues pertinent to the Committee debates so far. For example, there was no consultation at all with the leaseholders on this decision about the balconies. Leaseholders are a tad suspicious that the contract for the work to replace the balconies was awarded to the block owner’s subsidiary company. The plan that was just announced, but not consulted on, is to carry out the installation inside people’s flats, instead of putting up scaffolding, regardless of the major inconvenience and intrusion this will cause in leaseholders’ homes. The other day I talked about whether you can call it your home if people can just come in, in the name of safety. This is really going to affect people’s home lives.
Also, if there is wear and tear on the timber decking on the balconies in question, it should actually have been the building owner’s responsibility to maintain them and keep them up to standard. Yet, despite them having failed to do so, leaseholders are now being forced to pay for the changes to the balconies, under the auspices of building safety and the threat of fire risk.
I am concerned about a climate in which there is a danger of failing to weigh up risks and assess matters objectively and proportionally. Sometimes, in the name of safety—I think that this was true in that instance in Dorset—leaseholders’ lives are being made a misery, and they are being made to pay a lot of money for remediations that do not necessarily mean that they are safer.
I do not know if noble Lords saw the story in the Manchester Evening News about social housing tenants in Salford suffering freezing conditions for months, since cladding came off their blocks. Having lobbied to get their concerns heard, they were recently sent a letter by Pendleton Together, which manages the nine council blocks, offering
“top tips for keeping warm”.
These included: “dress in layers”, wear “a hat and gloves”, keep “active” and consume “warming food and … drinks” —I thought that these might be handy in this Room, which has been rather chilly. This is another top tip:
“don’t drink alcohol to keep warm as it can give you a false feeling of warmth when you’re actually cold”.
If I were cold, I might still have a drink.
More seriously, I am glad to see that Salford council, which should, in general, be commended for its aspirational housing policies—I am not particularly having a go at it—has apologised for what has happened in its area and for the patronising and condescending message of the letter. But I was using it to illustrate that measures designed to keep people safe from fire can lead to home owners suffering freezing cold, for example, in the middle of an energy price crisis. Unfortunately, fire safety can trump common sense.
I will take noble Lords back to balconies and the Atlantic House block in Dorset that I was talking about. There is a similar perverse outcome in relation to balconies there allegedly being made safer, because, ironically, the decision to replace timber decking with aluminium might make them less safe. Luckily, the chair of the leaseholders’ association is a retired engineer from the construction industry, so he spotted that the use of aluminium might not be a safe option at all. Aluminium can be corroded by salty sea air—the block is near the sea—unless it is anodised. The truth is that those leaseholders might well be safer, and not facing a £10,000 bill each, if the balconies with timber decking remained.
My amendment is narrow and might seem a bit specific or even trivialising, but it is an attempt to probe whether the Government will consider adopting a broader cost-benefit analysis approach specifically to balconies to avoid more EWS1-type problems. It is also an attempt to encourage the Government to be wary of the zero-risk approach of a one-sided and overly precautionary culture of fear, with which the Hackitt review is imbued; there are lots of good things in it, but there are also a lot of things that I do not want to just endorse. Many of the leaseholder campaigners whom I have talked to say exactly the same: they warn that we should talk more to leaseholders, who of course want to be safe but do not want safety to lead to them having to pay for expensive and unnecessary remediation work, on balconies in this instance, when it is just not needed. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, has done a considerable service, because she has highlighted quite a number of things. You might say balconies represent important facets in terms of building safety. The question of balconies may have been triggered by a fire—it may have been in Australia—caused by a discarded cigarette end on a timber-deck balcony. The circumstances, of course, of timber in high summer in New South Wales or wherever may be significantly difficult from in a typical English summer. I grant you that—and, of course, timber does not retain significant degrees of combustibility throughout the season, typically, in this country. I can certainly testify to disposable barbeques being a far more potent source of fire in such circumstances.
This brings proportionality into question. Combustion of timber elements on exteriors or balconies depends on location and vulnerability, and it depends on the actual use. This may not be straightforward to assess, although I think it should be possible to do some sort of coarse sift without getting too involved in the liability of having signed off a building as safe.
I think this also relates back to the earlier Amendment 112 on the suitability of materials. Here, I will share with the Committee a page from the family scrapbook, in the sense that my own daughter used to have a flat in east London that had a steel construction but timber decking. The timber decking needed replacement, as it does after a period of time, and it was recommended that she use a composite, on the grounds of longevity. I looked at this, and it had a much more significant fire risk than the timber would have had, yet this product was being freely marketed and recommended for use in this instance. Of course, I straightaway advised her that she should not use that product. As it happens, she has now sold the flat, so the matter has moved on. But that brings into sharp focus the need to make sure that such products, on refurb, on refit or on repair, are not used in inappropriate circumstances. It may be perfectly appropriate to have a composite decking at garden level or just above garden level in a back garden, but not where it is part of the building, where it can create a real threat to the integrity of the building as a whole.
I am actually familiar with balcony failures, because my employer’s sister firm had to do a lot of remedial work in a block development in a major south coast town where a chunk fell out and narrowly missed a person some floors down. It was about £15,000 to replace the deck of each of those balconies—by the time you had got a hoist up, done all the protective work and got people who were competent and trained to use it, and only then got the guy in with a jimmy bar and a screwdriver to actually fix it. So, I think the noble Baroness has raised a very valuable point.
I go back to the question of proportionality, and asking the straightforward question: “Has it got any timber, or has it not?” I think the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said minimal bits of combustibility may not be significant, and I think we ought to have regard to that and not be overstrict, otherwise we will have far more buildings needing and receiving remediation whose occupants are being prejudiced by an adverse EWS1 or some sort of waking watch or something like that, and it will be totally unnecessary and disproportionate. We have to get a handle on this, and perhaps there is a lack of clarity in guidance while we are all busy trying to sort this thing out. I am sure the Minister understands where I am coming from, and maybe the noble Baroness in responding will comment.
My Lords, I will add a few extra words to this. I apologise to the Committee; I am struggling, as I think a number of us are, as there are so many Bills going through that we are bobbing in and out of various Bills. It is frustrating for us that we cannot necessarily sit and follow everything through, but I think this probing amendment touches on some really important issues for us.
Not surprisingly, after the absolute horror of Grenfell, we are rightly trying to think about how we offer maximum safety for everybody. But safety comes at a cost, as we are all aware. As we work on a Bill that we hope will do its job for many years, we need to take an objective view on some of these areas, particularly on what the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said about proportionality.
If a balcony is made of wood, there is the possibility that it is flammable and there is a level of risk. However, we have to look at whether it is a risk just of the balcony or whether the balcony will spread fire around the entire building. I am not sure that is clear enough in the existing fire safety order. My fear is that we may now be so risk averse that we are not keeping a balanced view on things. Once a balcony which is part of the external wall systems is identified as a fire risk, it will necessarily require remediation, which is not covered by the Government’s generous grant scheme as it is non-cladding related, meaning that it will inevitably fall on to leaseholders.
One issue picked up on by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, is that there is a whole range of risks, of which balconies are one. Assessors should be forced to present a clear argument as to why balconies need removing as part of remedial works rather than there being a default approach which says that wooden balconies are an inherent fire risk without having necessarily to make that argument. It is worth our while pausing on this matter. As the Bill progresses, we need to look at proportionality on a number of levels, of which this is one illustration.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, has raised an interesting theme which has been expanded on by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that of proportionality. I want to come at it from a slightly different angle. We have to decide whether something being a fire risk or not is an objective or a subjective decision. If we think it is an objective decision, and that it is possible by some process in a square box to say, “Yes, there is no doubt that this is a fire risk”, the view of a resident that it is not a fire risk is irrelevant, because it is a fire risk. Or we may think that there is scope for human judgment in that, and that the assessment of the resident—or, at least, of residents collectively in a block, if they decide that a particular level of risk is one they are prepared to accept—may have some bearing on the situation. Where does that objective judgment come from? I think that is at the heart of the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, has brought to this discussion.
We know that there is a tremendous absence of qualified fire risk assessors. So my first question would be: was it a qualified fire risk assessor who made that judgment, or was it somebody who thought they were qualified but who actually was not? Therefore, if you are not quite sure—and we have all done it—in the current climate you obviously give a fail. What professional reputation you have depends on it. I put it to the Minister that this connects to the whole skills and training agenda, in that we do not have enough qualified people with the right skills to do the assessments on the basis of which those huge bills are then handed out.
I think that is really important. It is also important to consider what actual training we are talking about for these fire risk assessors. I presume that, apart from the necessary professional qualifications, they will also act to a code or a guidance note, or something that will be issued by the Secretary of State as part of the regulations that are otherwise in the Bill. That comes back to the question of what the basis is of the guidance that will be given to a fire risk assessor about these inevitably marginal and grey areas of what is and is not risky.
The Minister assured us some time ago that the EWS1 was no longer a factor in these things—but we know that not every insurance provider has come to the same decision. Therefore, it may still be the case that some insurance and mortgage providers will say, “I’m not going to provide you with the finance unless we see an EWS1, or something equivalent to it”. We go around in a circle here: the shortage of qualified people with proper guidance to make decisions in difficult and marginal cases means that less qualified people take the safety-first line, which is causing a lot of pain and work to be commissioned unnecessarily. In other words, we could safely afford to cut it finer if we had sufficient trained and qualified risk assessors acting with proper guidance provided by the Government.
I hope that we keep the level of risk as low as it is sensible to do. Secondly, I hope we invest a bit more time in making sure that, among the professionals making these decisions, there is a better common understanding of the phrase “what is sensible and proportionate to do”—of what that line is and where it gets drawn between a balcony that needs to be replaced and one that does not. There are some deep issues here that go far beyond whether leaseholders do not particularly like a decision about a set of balconies in one place or another.
I will just connect this to the situation in Salford, which the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, also brought to our attention. I believe my noble friend Lord Foster did so as well. A large number of residents of those blocks have had all their cladding—and therefore insulation—stripped off and are waiting for an outcome. There are some unintended outcomes lingering on from decisions taken on fire risk. I referred in our previous session to the fact that buildings have more ways of killing you than simply through fire. We need to make sure that, in eliminating one risk, we do not create others as deadly.
My Lords, I shall briefly speak to Amendment 115A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. It is good to see her put it in—I think she is becoming an expert on tabling amendments now. As other noble Lords have said, including the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, this is an issue that needs clarifying in relation to subjectivity, objectivity and proportionality. Just to quote the words of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, this amendment, if accepted, would alleviate the marginal and grey areas.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, for her top tips on keeping warm—I shall print them out tonight and use them in future. I wanted to ask the Minister whether the Government have made an assessment of how many balconies pose a material risk and are in need of any remedial works. Is she aware of any new buildings with balconies that do not comply with fire safety regulations? I look forward to her response.
I have tricked the noble Lord, Lord Khan—I am responding to this one. First, we have not gone around counting every balcony in the country. Given that there are 7,500 medium-rise buildings and about 12,500 high-rises, we have other things to do with our time.
I met the devolved Administrations of Wales and Scotland today; we need to know roughly how many buildings require remediation and then do it as quickly and effectively as possible. There is some way of knowing that with high-rises, and through surveys we have a pretty good grip on the number of buildings where remediation may be required—it is actually very few—as well as mitigation. Increasingly, we want to see more innovation so that we can avoid costly remediation wherever possible.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, is very clever. I have been trying to distil amendments in up to three words—I have got it down to two on one occasion—and it would be easy to say that this is the “balcony” amendment, but I do not think it is. It is the “proportionality” amendment. It is fair to say that this was addressed when, on 10 January, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State set out some building safety reset principles. He said:
“We … need to ensure that we take a proportionate approach in building assessments overall … too many buildings … are declared unsafe, and … too many … have been seeking to profit from the current crisis.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/1/21; col. 283.]
The noble Baroness was very eloquent in giving examples of precisely that—where, essentially, an industry is fuelled by trying to profit at the expense of leaseholders, very often, who do not have the shoulders to bear the costs being charged to them. That is why we are putting a number of protections for leaseholders in this Bill, for both cladding and non-cladding costs, which we have discussed in other groups, and the very strong principle that the polluter must pay wherever possible, as we discussed in an earlier group today.
The Government have taken three measures with regard to proportionality. It is important to reflect on them, because they are easily forgotten as we debate things. None is in this Bill; I will turn later to some things that are. First, we withdrew the consolidated advice note of January 2020; that was seen as a driver of decisions to remediate without thought on too many occasions, when it was not necessarily the right way to go. Secondly, after withdrawing the advice note, the publicly available specification was introduced, produced by the British Standards Institution; it will enable fire engineers and other experts to have a consistent and auditable assessment of risk—basically, grading whether something is high, medium or low—of the external wall systems, which sometimes include balconies and sometimes do not. That is an important tool to have to be able to start having sensible risk-based assessment of external wall systems.
I have one query on that. I thank the noble Lord for his response, but on the recommendation of high, medium and low risk, everything I have read on this suggests that with high or low risk we know where we are, but medium risk says, “There is some risk, but don’t worry, you don’t need remediation”. The point made in everything I have read is: who will go along with that? If you say that there is medium risk—this is where risk aversion comes in—there is concern that the assessors do not have the expertise, as has been referred to, and may say, “There is medium risk, but can I go home and sleep at night, because I am not quite sure what that means? There might be a risk.” That is where blame avoidance comes in. This comes back to the assessors; I do not think that will solve it.
I did not say that it would. The noble Baroness intervened too early; that is the problem with interventions. No one was saying that any single thing—
I was just trying to clarify something—that is good.
The noble Baroness raises the issue of balconies. I am talking about a system that looks at the external wall system. We then have the Fire Safety Act, which we took through this House. I have all the scars to prove that it was not an easy matter to get that three-clause Bill past a number of the people here today. We got it on the statute book, however, and it will commence shortly with a building prioritisation tool.
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, spoke very eloquently on fire risk assessments. They will look at the risk in the round, going beyond external wall systems and including balconies, the external walls, the flat entrance doors and whether they are fire doors, et cetera. Fire risk assessors will have to look in the round, consider whether there are enough ways to exit the building and come up with a series of action steps, which will often be very small, that can make a building safer. It is right that we make sure that those risk assessments are done by competent professionals. They need to be kept up to date. They will come up with a series of actions that can be taken. Not all of those will require huge expense, but they will make the building that little bit safer.
I think noble Lords need to see this as a package. In answer to questions raised, the proportionality agenda does not have a silver bullet as an answer, but there are a number of things that the Government are encouraging that will lead to a more proportionate approach. PAS 9980 refers to materials on a balcony that may be combustible, such as timber decking, which may be relevant even if the construction of the balcony itself includes materials that present minimal or no risk. The current position, with the inclusion of balconies in the fire safety order and the professional guidance in PAS 9980, is all about encouraging that proportionate approach.
The competence of fire risk professionals is a relevant factor and ensuring that is a major objective of the Bill. We are bringing about greater professionalism in the sector through Clause 129, with a requirement that anyone appointed to undertake a fire risk assessment must be competent. That stipulation is in the Bill, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. A lot of this is not happening in the Bill, but there are clauses which aim to drive competence, which directly answers questions raised in this debate. That is what we have to look to, rather than necessarily seeing this specific Bill as the answer in isolation. We must look at the measures the Government are taking in the round.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. My heart was in my mouth when the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, spoke, because I thought, “He knows what he’s talking about and I’m not sure I do”, so I was glad that he recognised something in what I said on the professional point about materials and so on. I am not an expert but I know lots of people who work in this area.
My concern is that there are blocks of flats all around London whose residents are being told that the balconies have to be remediated, but they have passed their fire risk assessments. This is basically coming from freeholders acting in a precautionary fashion, as in the Dorset example I used. They have said, “We think some of these balconies are unsafe. We’re going to take them down and you have to pay.” They are using safety as the basis but they should have maintained the balconies. There is great concern about the balcony question but I have been caught out by the Minister, because this was really an attempt to talk about proportionality. That is what I really wanted to do. Although I keep hearing about balcony scandals, that was my main focus.
We want to keep people safe all the time, but the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans made the important point that safety has a cost. Carrying on from our Committee meeting the other day, I was talking about a cost-benefit analysis and always thinking about balancing. If you want 100% safety, you would never leave the house. We also need a sense of proportionality towards fire, which is still very rare. People are not dying of fires in their thousands, in this country. I want to get the right balance.
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, made a very important point, on which I have been trying to get balance. As a leaseholder, I have tried to speak on behalf of leaseholders a little, because I thought I could make a valid contribution. I am not suggesting that every time a leaseholder says something, we all have to believe it. Leaseholders are not experts, and their fears and concerns should not make the decision, but sometimes it is worth asking them what they know or think and part of the Bill suggests that. The objective point about competence is key. I am suggesting that, because of blame avoidance, fear of litigation and measures being brought in by the Bill, people will always take the most risk-averse decision. That could be at the expense of leaseholders and will not necessarily improve safety.
I shall withdraw my amendment, but I hope it has contributed to a broad discussion to which we can return on Report to make sure that the Bill does not create more problems than intended.
Amendment 115A withdrawn.
Clause 129 agreed.
Amendments 116 to 119A not moved.
Clauses 130 to 133 agreed.
120: After Clause 133, insert the following new Clause—
“Consultation on staircase regulations
The Secretary of State must, within 6 months of the day on which this Act is passed, consult on regulations requiring staircases in all new build properties to comply with British Standard 5395-1.”
My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I shall try to be brief.
The Bill was introduced to avoid life-changing horrors, such as we witnessed with the Grenfell fire. “Safety first” has now become our general watchword. Falls on stairs are hidden killers, every year affecting the lives of over 700 families in England. A further 43,000 people are admitted to hospital, often with life-changing injuries. Anyone who has cared for someone who is perhaps advancing in age, with poor balance, eyesight or both, knows just how much of a worry a trip down the stairs can be. Many older people acknowledge the problem and choose to make their retirement home a bungalow—boring maybe, but safe.
I tabled my Amendment 120, with cross-party support, to ensure that staircases in our homes are built to the correct industry standard. It calls for the Secretary of State to consult on regulations requiring all new-build properties with staircases to comply with British Standard 5395-1 within six months of the Bill becoming an Act. However, when it was introduced, it was never enshrined in law; it exists only as a standard and, as such, only a recommendation. This amendment has the backing of the housing industry, because building firms recognise that the existing BS 5395-1 would make stairs safer at little excess cost. The fact that such an industry standard exists but is not universally used is really quite beyond belief. Countless lives will be saved if we simply enshrine this standard in law. Very few amendments to Bills are as uncomplicated, straightforward and beneficial as this.
Stair accidents are a silent killer because, by their very nature, they do not make headlines: they happen one at a time, usually to older people, and they are so commonplace that we take them for granted. By outlawing the use of unsafe stairs in new builds, this problem will be steadily weaned out, and a fresh page turned. I recognise that retrofitting every home is not realistic, which is why I am focusing on new builds. This is straightforward; it will cost very little more, but will save countless lives.
There is no doubt that this amendment would save lives, and I hope that the Minister will support it. If he feels unable to, I hope he will share with the Committee a compelling reason why he will not give the amendment his blessing. I would then be very grateful if he would meet with me and others to explore his alternatives. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris of Richmond and Lady Brinton, are taking part remotely. I invite the noble Baroness to speak.
My Lords, I support Amendment 120 in the name of my noble friend Lady Jolly and other noble Lords and would just like to make a few comments.
At Second Reading, we heard how important it was to ensure that BS 5395-1 was accepted. I am disappointed that the Government have not yet made a concession on this. In fact, there is no mention at all of stair safety in the Bill. In the 2010 legislation, the standard was put in place only as a recommendation, as we have heard. It is now time to put it in this Bill as a requirement and ensure that all new buildings comply from 2024, as my noble friend Lady Jolly has indicated. We know that hundreds of lives may be saved every year—estimated at about 700 in England alone. If this standard were adopted for all buildings, we could prevent the hospitalisation of around 43,000 more people. Think what amount of money that would save in costs just to the NHS, never mind the trauma suffered by the families of those injured.
I ought to declare a small interest here, as I have increasing difficulty using the stairs in my own home, as they are both steep and deep. In fact, I am having to have another handrail put in so that I can use them safely.
It is vitally important that stairs in high-rise buildings, indeed any communal building, are of sufficient depth and width to allow numbers of people to use them simultaneously in an emergency. We know that the horrors of the Grenfell Tower disaster were exacerbated by totally impractical stairs in the building. I cannot believe that any building company or architect designing a new high-rise building would rely on just one staircase for multiple flats. That would be a complete dereliction of duty, in my opinion. In the event of an outbreak of fire in a high-rise building, there will inevitably be a rush to get out down the stairs, as lifts will be out of use. It is therefore inevitable that people will fall. BS 5395-1 should be put into law during the passage of this Bill and I urge the Minister to accept this immediately.
My Lords, I have signed Amendments 122, 123 and 124 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and will come to them in a minute, but I wanted to start by supporting Amendment 120, laid by my noble friend Lady Jolly.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has said, BS 5395-1 ensures that staircases in new-build homes have the best possible ratios between treads and risers. This is especially important as many new-build homes are built to fewer square metres than recommended, resulting in staircases being squeezed into narrower spaces. There is only one consequence of that: stairs become steeper, and too often even fail to have a handrail all the way up because of the narrowness of the stairs. That is a recipe for falls, whether for children, the elderly, or the disabled.
Let me tell noble Lords, it is extremely scary to have to come slowly and painfully down steep emergency exit stairs, holding a handrail, with a stick in your other hand, while others race past you. On one occasion, someone tripped on my stick as they tried to race past me, resulting in both of us falling—luckily, only a couple of steps. Had it been at the top of a run of 10 steps, not only would we both have hurt ourselves badly but others following would probably have fallen over us too. Building standards are there for a reason and should be a minimum for new builds. Building in safety is part of Hackitt’s golden thread.
Elderly and disabled people using a stick, or sticks, on a narrow and steep staircase, possibly with no handrail, will be at serious risk of falls. Special fracture clinics report that falls in the vulnerable often lead to life-changing injuries, serious muscle loss while they are in hospital, loss of confidence and, sadly, earlier deaths. So it does not just cost lives; it costs quality of life, and it also costs the NHS and social care millions every year in extra treatment and care support.
I now turn to the other three amendments in this group in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, to which I have added my name. One of the worrying aspects of fires in high and medium-rise residential blocks is the number caused by faulty or defective installation. Home Office data shows that this number is growing, whether from the cables themselves or from the shoddy work on party walls that breaches compartmentation, both of which are completely unacceptable. These amendments address that.
Amendment 122 requires leaseholders to ensure the safety of electrical installations in high-rise buildings. Amendment 123 specifies that leaseholders in mixed tenure high rises have to ensure the safety of their electrical installations. Amendment 124 places a specific responsibility on social landlords to do the same. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, spoke eloquently in the first group this afternoon about the problems of breached compartmentation and quoted from Dame Judith Hackitt’s report. The same applies here, but currently the same responsibility does not apply to different types of landlords and leaseholders, and this is an unacceptable loophole. The amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Foster, remedy that.
The requirements in these amendments make it clear that leaseholders and landlords have a duty to ensure that installation works must be safe. Surely, that is not too much to ask. Surely, all these various types of flat should have a current electrical installation condition report, which not only demonstrates that they, the landlords and leaseholders, have taken care to ensure the safety of residents and the buildings they live in but gives them the same protection as those of flats with private tenants. Dame Judith Hackitt’s golden thread does not just apply to the construction industry; it also applies to those with responsibilities for the buildings once they are lived in. Most tenants are not aware of the distinction between different types of landlord and leaseholder in building safety law. Surely, our law should be consistent.
My Lords, I was delighted to see this amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. As she pointed out, more than 700 people die each year from falls on the stairs. But in addition to this, 43,000 people are admitted to hospital. Falls are tragic and common, but they do not often make the news. Someone is estimated to fall on stairs every 90 seconds, and falls on stairs account for a quarter of all falls in the home. Obviously, when stairs have an inadequate guardrail, the trauma sustained is even worse, as it is when they are a long flight of stairs.
The most common injury is a fractured hip, but the most costly to the country is a spinal cord injury, which is absolutely devastating. The lifetime average cost of a spinal cord injury is £1.12 million, which works out at a total of £1.43 billion for all the accumulated spinal cord injuries. These are staggering figures, yet the British Standard, which has been referred to, is associated with a 60% reduction in falls. It has existed since 2010 and has been thoroughly tested, evidenced and assessed by industry and government. If we are to have homes that are built as homes for life, we need stairs in them that are safe. If workplaces are to be safe, they must have safe evacuation stairs as well.
As they grow older, many people need to install a stairlift in their home to enable them to go up and down stairs safely, particularly when they have items to carry. Many homes are still being built with stairs too narrow to safely install a stairlift on. In the long term, the British Standard is a very good investment for the nation.
I know that the Minister is aware of all of this and has been working with RoSPA to come to a solution. I look forward to hearing an update from him on this matter, because RoSPA and those of us who signed this amendment honestly believe that this one action could save more lives than anything else in the Bill.
My Lords, before I remark on Amendments 122, 123 and 124, I express my surprise that we still have arrangements in our House whereby those who wish to contribute virtually do not appear to have the same flexibility as the rest of us to choose when they speak. I feel very sad for my noble friend Lady Brinton, whose support for these amendments I am enormously grateful for. She has to speak before those amendments have even been moved. I hope that the authorities will have a look at this.
I will make two apologies to the Committee. First, I have no Latin motto to offer the Minister on this occasion, unlike the previous one. Secondly, I fear that I cannot be quite as brief in speaking to these three amendments as I was when I spoke to the earlier one. As I said on the amendments that I previously raised, however, the number of fires in high-rise blocks with 10 or more flats has risen considerably year on year—this has been repeated subsequently by a number of noble Lords—with a rise of nearly 20% in the last two years. We also heard that, as I said, 53% of those fires are related to electrical faults.
In the debate on the previous amendment, I referred to electrical faults caused by faulty electrical appliances purchased online. These three amendments in my name raise the issue of faulty electrical installations. We can find ways of dealing with electrical appliances—I suggested a way of doing this in the previous amendment —but in building new blocks, electrical installations are installed and checks carried out on them, quite properly, to ensure that they meet all the necessary safety requirements.
I was pleased that, when I had the opportunity as a Minister for a brief period in the department, I was able to introduce some changes to those regulations to improve still further the safety of installations in new buildings. As we all know, however, over time those installations can be degraded; indeed, some can be damaged by work carried out by overenthusiastic DIYers and for a whole series of other purposes. It makes a great deal of sense to ensure that, from time to time, there are periodic checks of the electrical installations in flats in high-rise blocks—indeed, I would argue, in all properties.
I am very lucky that, when I am in London, I live in a flat that I rent from a private owner, who is required under the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 to have the electrical installations in my flat checked every five years by a qualified person. That landlord is also required to provide me, the occupant, with a copy of that report. It means I am fortunate: I am a private tenant and my landlord has to undertake these periodic safety checks, so my neighbours and I can have confidence that the electrical installations in my home are safe and will continue to be so over time.
However, a fire in a tower block does not check on the ownership or residency status of those it threatens, so it would be reasonable to assume that similar requirements through regulations apply to all flats, regardless of the basis of occupation. Some blocks may be entirely occupied by private tenants, some by leaseholders and some by social housing tenants. Quite often, blocks have mixed tenure. To ensure the safety of all from faulty electrical installations, all properties in such blocks, regardless of the status of the occupants, should obviously have periodic checks of the installations by an appropriately qualified person, leading to an electrical condition report and, if need be, a requirement for action to resolve any issues identified. However obvious that may seem, many noble Lords will, I suspect, be surprised to learn that, except for private tenants such as me, there is no regulatory requirement for this to happen. Some freeholders may require leaseholders to have such checks and report the results as part of the lease; some do but, sadly, many do not. There is certainly no legal requirement that it happens.
Perhaps more surprisingly, while tenants in privately rented property get this protection, tenants in socially rented properties do not. Of course, some social land- lords —Southern Housing is a good example—carry out periodic checks of electrical installations in their properties, but it is a small minority, as the evidence shows. Only 10% of social housing providers have in-date electrical installation condition reports for all properties; 90% do not.
Of course, social landlords have some obligations in this area and, no doubt, the Minister will refer to them. There is a requirement under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to keep electrical installations in repair and, under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, they have to keep them free of electrical hazard. Neither, however, requires social landlords to hold a valid, in-date electrical installation condition report. As I have just said, the vast majority do not do so voluntarily. Therefore, the requirement—and the safety provided by it—which applies to the privately rented sector, does not apply to social housing properties.
At the same time, in the Government’s own social housing charter, they have said unequivocally:
“Safety measures in the social sector should be in line with the legal protections afforded to private sector tenants. Responses to the social housing Green Paper showed overwhelming support for consistency in safety measures across social and private rented housing.”
Indeed, the Minister said at Second Reading:
“The Bill is unapologetically ambitious, creating a world-class building safety regulatory regime that holds all”—
I emphasise “all”—
“to the same high standard.”—[Official Report, 2/2/22; col. 916.]
Yet existing legislation is, as I described, deficient in this respect, and it does not achieve the Minister’s stated aim. My amendments rectify this: all three require that leasehold properties and social housing properties in HRRBs should have valid electrical installation condition reports providing those residents with the same protection as those required for privately rented tenants.
It is very simple. Privately rented sector tenants get protection; all the rest currently do not. The Minister says that everybody should have the same level of protection; these amendments seek to achieve that, and I look forward to hearing the Minister accept them.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as vice-president of RoSPA. I shall not take too long, however, because those who have already spoken have made a watertight case for Amendment 120 to be included in the Bill.
The truth is we do not have to convince the Minister, certainly not of the value of this amendment. He said enough at Second Reading for us to know that he would like the life-saving potential of this amendment to be built into every new house. But we have to convince him that its capabilities to prevent injury and death should be in the Bill now. He must know that every alternative to these words going into the Bill now means delaying the introduction of measures that would help prevent injury and death. It would be a fatal delay because, when we are certain that today, tomorrow and the day after, people will fall downstairs and be seriously injured or killed, we see the tragic implications of delaying this measure.
This amendment is a sure and safe step forward in the fight against preventable falls. The housebuilding industry itself acknowledges it has seen a 60% reduction in falls where this particular standard, BS 5395-1, has been applied. I do not need to remind the Minister that the Government are engaged in one of their biggest housebuilding programmes ever. Let us make sure that this vital safety measure is an essential mandate for anyone who is taken on to help fulfil the Government’s targets. Let us ensure that those developers that have built things they should be ashamed of will not be allowed to build unsafe stairs again.
We are all aware and appreciate that the Minister is overseeing the enormous job of putting together measures that will prevent the reoccurrence of another Grenfell. Although he has to deal with an extraordinary tragedy, I ask him not to walk past commonplace tragedies. They, too, cause people injuries and death and, on the issue of this amendment, 10 times more. Minister, we know you believe in this amendment. Accept it in the Bill now and advance the life-saving legacy that the Building Safety Bill can be for generations of house occupiers to come.
My Lords, I will briefly speak in support of Amendment 120— I will call it the safer-stairs amendment, as I know the Minister likes short names for amendments—to which I have added my name. I will not repeat the excellent evidence and support that has been given by several speakers already.
It is simply to say that this will potentially become more of a problem, because we are all getting older—and we in this House should know that more than anybody else. Also, because of the wonderful feeding and other benefits we have given our children, their feet are bigger. With bigger feet and advanced old age, they will become a complete and utter liability, if we continue to build the poxy little stairs, with inadequate surfaces and terrible handrails, that we see all too often in both public and private buildings. This is something that not only would the Minister welcome, but housebuilders are saying they are keen to get ahead with, but they are not willing to do it unilaterally. Housing providers, both public and social, are keen on it, as are fire chiefs and local authorities. It would not cost any more, is absolutely needed and will be needed even more.
One of the endearing things about Governments—although as a staunch Labour supporter, I find it difficult to think of a Conservative Government as endearing—is when they say, “Yes, that is a very good idea. Let’s just do it”. This is an opportunity for the Government to say that of this Bill now, to avoid deaths, injuries and life-changing circumstances, particularly for older people, which are happening as we speak. There is probably somebody falling down stairs in the House of Lords right now. Minister, if you want us to be fulsome in our praise, put this in the Bill.
My Lords, safety has a cost, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans reminded us. We have to decide where we should require money to be spent. I will talk a bit about the electrical safety and standards provisions and then come back to staircases.
I know there is a shortage of electrical experts able to carry out these assessments. Our own electrician, who is very expert, cannot do the assessments we are being asked to provide for social housing and other blocks of flats—for example, my son has a let flat, because he is an academic. The electrician says that he needs to go on a week’s course and, as a busy self-employed person, he does not have time. The lobbying organisation Electrical Safety First, which tried to get me to support Amendments 122 to 124, because I am keen on safety and looking after the consumer, seemed relatively unconcerned about this. Moreover, the amendments are wide-ranging and uncosted. As noble Lords will know, I worry a lot about the shortage of skills in the industry.
These amendments would further jeopardise housing supply, this time including social housing, and leave flats empty. Social housing landlords will be doing this sort of thing anyway post Grenfell, I think. For similar reasons, I am against the wide-ranging Amendment 121.
I am much more relaxed about Amendment 120, especially as it includes a consultation provision. The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, and I did the Consumer Rights Act together; she is right to think forward to the needs of an increasingly ageing population, which is exactly what this amendment does. We also heard from the noble Lord, Lord Jordan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young. The huge potential cost to the NHS of accidents in an ageing population is also a very strong argument for action, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff.
This is Committee, so I am sure the Minister will reflect further, but if one can find a way—without imposing significant costs—of making staircases safer, that could be extremely useful.
My Lords, I added my name to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Foster, which the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, has just disagreed with. Those three amendments seem to me an essential guarantee of safety for the tenants, leaseholders and others who occupy buildings that are owned by what are broadly social landlords.
The noble Baroness is correct that the normal training of electricians does not include an ability to do this, but that needs to be addressed. I contrast it with the gas situation. Social landlords are obliged to have a gas inspection regularly and, by and large, they do it. Gas suppliers both train their people in that respect—it is an essential element of a gas fitter’s training—and, certainly in my experience of London boroughs, they carry it out pretty regularly and effectively. I do not see why electrical suppliers should not be in the same situation.
As has been said, over half of fires are ultimately caused by electrical faults; most of those are in appliances, but if those appliances are fitted to an installation and a system whereby the defusing mechanism does not work and the fire goes back into the wall and beyond, you have a terrible and inaccessible situation. That is exactly what the more serious fires caused by electrical faults are. There is clearly a responsibility on the manufacturers and retailers in terms of the quality of the appliances, but there is also a responsibility on those responsible for the buildings to ensure that there is a proper inspection of the whole electrical system. That needs to be addressed; it is an anomaly that gas is different from electric. There was a time when the biggest accidents were gas—now they are predominantly electrical. I hope that these three amendments are carried.
On staircases, I agree with the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Jordan. I would also say—somebody referred to it earlier—that there are new high-rise and medium-rise buildings that have received planning permission with one staircase and one means of escape only. That is perfectly legal at the moment. It should not be, but I know of at least three examples in London boroughs which have been passed because they say that there are alternative means of escape—in other words, a lift. Most of us are advised not to use a lift in a fire, and it is pretty much built into our psyche, so that is not a sufficient reason. If we are addressing the staircase regulations, for medium-rise and high-rise buildings, two means of escape without involving an electrical lift need to be written in. I support all the amendments in this group.
My Lords, it has been an interesting debate about two very different but important aspects of safety. I want first to talk about the Safer Stairs campaign introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. She and others made it clear that falls on stairs are a huge issue, but unfortunately it seems continually to go under the radar when it comes to what to do to stop so many people suffering often catastrophic falls.
As we have heard, the British Standard has existed since 2010. It has been rigorously tested by industry but has never been made a legal requirement. That is strange: we have a standard, but we do not have to bother with it—that seems a very odd way to go about things. There does not seem to be anything to stop the Government putting this standard into primary legislation. There is a precedent for doing so: the ban on combustible materials went into the Building Regulations 2010. My noble friend Lord Jordan put it in a nutshell when he said that, if the Minister were to accept the amendment, we would have the opportunity to end day-to-day tragedies—the smaller stuff. Kicking the can down the road will cost lives. If we do not address it now, it could be many years before any new ombudsman tackles the problem. If it is 10 years before we get a grip on this, that is 7,000 more unnecessary deaths.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, and the other signatories to the amendment therefore have our strong support—as well, it seems, as that of many noble Lords, not just in Committee today but at Second Reading. This is the Minister’s opportunity to do something that would genuinely make a huge difference. He should accept the amendment and, as my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone said, just do it.
We also fully support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, which aim to improve the safety of electrical installations. We have heard that the number of fires in high-rise residential blocks has risen consistently year on year, which indicates that we need to do something practical to try to stop that number continuing to increase. Safety parity for all renters was mentioned. As we have heard, it cannot be right that in a mixed-tenure block a private renter will have electrical checks carried out by law while the social tenant living next door will not. As the noble Lord said, a fire in a tower block does not check the tenancy status of those that it threatens.
I will briefly reference my noble friend Lord Whitty’s point about how wrong it is that there is only one escape staircase in blocks now. A planning application was recently overturned because it was challenged on that. As part of the response to Grenfell, the Government really need to get to get to grips with this. I know that this is a planning issue, but I hope that the Minister will take this away.
In the social housing charter, the Government said:
“Safety measures in the social sector should be in line with the legal protections afforded to private sector tenants. Responses to the social housing Green Paper showed overwhelming support for consistency”.
We have heard that social landlords are required to keep electrical installations, but this is general and they do not have to hold a valid electrical safety certificate, as private landlords do. I find that disparity quite extraordinary. I appreciate what the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, said about training and numbers of people, but, if you can do it for the private sector, why can you not do it for the social sector? It really needs to come together.
We had the tragedy of Grenfell, and I am worried that we are doing a lot of different things in the Bill—some of them are very major—and are now adding on extra things. Individually, things such as the proposals on staircases and electrical safety might have helped to prevent that tragic fire, but each of them has a cost. So it is obviously up to the Minister to look at them in the round and work out what is needed to try to ensure that we have a safe environment. I now support what was said on staircases, because a very good case was made and I am always open-minded, but I am a bit worried about these all piling up and separately chasing the same thing. I have found that, whenever there is a disaster, people come up with several things, and if we had only done some of them 10 years ago we would not have had Grenfell at all.
I appreciate where the noble Baroness is coming from, but I still think there should be parity across the board going forward. Thinking about the Government’s levelling-up White Paper, if we are going to level up, surely parity should be part of that, so that all renters have the same protections.
I will sum up because we still have a lot to get through today. Given the nature of the discussion and the concerns that social housing landlords rarely carry out the certification—the problem is it is not mandatory, so it does not happen very often—I hope the Minister has listened to all of this debate. There is a lot for him to take back to his department.
My Lords, it has been an absolutely fascinating debate. This is very much the additional safety measures group—that is three words; you cannot do better than that. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, in particular for raising this important issue, as well as noble Lords who have spoken about the Safer Stairs campaign. I am sorry that I did not hear from my noble friend Lady Eaton, but she could easily have joined forces with everyone here.
I have been invited to say, “Just go for it” or “Just do it”—it is almost like a Nike ad in this House—but I think that it is a question of how you go for it. I met with the chief executive of RoSPA, Errol Taylor, in this House, and we have a plan that is important to share with noble Lords. As my officials have said, it would be highly unusual, even though people are grappling for precedents, to include in an Act of Parliament something that is as detailed as this, referring to a specific technical standard.
We are not graced by the presence of my noble friend Lord Young, who was Minister when the building regulations were passed. It is possible that this existing standard, BS 5395-1, could be included in an approved document. Indeed, it is in Approved Document K. I have received a letter from RoSPA making that proposal, which we will take to the next meeting of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee—BRAC—which advises on these things. We have effectively brought forward the next meeting, which was scheduled for September, as I know that noble Lords are very impatient.
We brought forward that meeting, which essentially is an emergency BRAC, to 16 March. That is how fast we move in my department. You meet someone on 23 February, you set up an emergency meeting on 16 March and you get an answer. Let us see whether the route of updating the approved document is an elegant way of fulfilling the desires that have been laid out by so many noble Lords. We all have elderly parents, or some of your Lordships may well; I do not. No, I take that back—perhaps we do not all have elderly parents. I suddenly realised that that was probably not the thing to say. [Laughter.]
Shall I take over?
Has the noble Lord been drinking?
I have not been drinking. I have had some Polos. In fact, I am not drinking anything at all.
I move on to the next campaign, which is electrical safety first. In fact, I am being bombarded with emails and letters. I promise noble Lords that I have had the briefing document from NAPIT—it followed up even today to check that I had it. That is also an incredible campaign.
I have to say that I particularly enjoyed the way the noble Lord, Lord Foster, introduced these amendments. His Amendments 122 and 123 have both been brought forward to ensure electrical safety in homes. I thank the noble Lord for raising this important matter and for his comments on the matter at Second Reading, but I am afraid that the Government cannot support these amendments.
We recognise the intention of these amendments, but we believe that they place a disproportionate burden on leaseholders in high-rise buildings. Under Amendment 122, high-rise leaseholders would be required to obtain and keep up to date an electrical installation condition report—an obligation we place on no other homeowner. Under Amendment 123, that obligation would also be placed on leaseholders who live in mixed-tenure high-rise buildings. “Mixed tenure” is defined as buildings where in addition to leaseholders there are also social housing or private rented tenancies. We believe that leaseholders living in their homes have a fundamental motivation to ensure that their home is safe and will take steps to ensure the safety of electrical installations. Therefore, we do not currently believe there is sufficient evidence to place further burdens on leaseholders in high-rise buildings.
I also assure the noble Lord that the intention of ensuring that residents take an active role in ensuring the safety of their building has already been met in the Bill. The Bill imposes a new active duty on residents not to create a significant risk of spread of fire or structural failure and empowers the accountable person to enforce these duties through the courts. These are systemic changes that are broader in scope than specific requirements for an electrical installation condition report; they will promote genuine collaboration between all parties in keeping their building safe.
The Government thank the noble Lord for raising this important point and will highlight in our guidance to accountable persons and residents the importance of considering electrical installations as part of their building safety decisions. With that assurance, I must ask him not to move his amendment.
On Amendment 124, I thank noble Lords for raising this important matter, but I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept this amendment. However, I can assure them that their intention is being met by the Government. In the Social Housing White Paper we committed to consult on electrical safety requirements in the social sector, and expert stakeholders participated in a Government-led working group last year to inform the content of that consultation. The working group considered the mandating of electrical safety inspections in all 4 million social homes, not just those in high-rise residential buildings, as moved by this amendment. The group also considered how to keep social housing residents safe from harm caused by faulty appliances. We will consider whether the best way forward to protect social residents from harm is to mandate checks and bring parity with standards in the private rented sector, and it is important that we work through all the issues to reach the right decision. The consultation will be published shortly.
“Shortly” is better than “in due course”.
Social homes are already safer than homes of other tenures in respect of electrical safety. In 2019, 71% of social homes had all five electrical safety features compared to 60% of owner occupied and 65% of private rented homes. Under obligations in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, social landlords are required to keep electrical installations in repair, and the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 requires social landlords to keep homes free of electrical hazards.
With that explanation, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Perhaps I am the only person in the room who does not know what updating the approved document actually delivers, so perhaps the Minister could give us some information.
Effectively, the Building Act 1984 has various approved documents, and Approved Document K would be the relevant document to update, which would then set that standard in building regulations. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has pointed out, when you build new-build homes, you have to build to those regulations. Does that help the noble Baroness understand what I said? I am sorry I am so unclear; I will do better next time.
My Lords, this has been a really fascinating debate. We have a listening Minister, and it looks as if we have a good outcome. I am sure he will carry on listening and, if he does not listen, I am sure we will carry on trying to talk to him to make sure we get what we would like. He said he has met the RoSPA CEO, and he is very insistent and will not take no for an answer. I look forward to pressing this further with the Minister in due course.
I live in Cornwall, and we do things dreckly. For the moment, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 120 withdrawn.
Before we move on, could I just say we have quite a lot more to get through this evening, and we have a hard stop at 9.15 pm? I do not want to stifle debate, but perhaps we could avoid repeating arguments made by previous speakers in the same group.
121: After Clause 133, insert the following new Clause—
“Existing homes: standards
(1) This section applies to domestic properties that have been used as such since before this Act is passed.(2) The Secretary of State must ensure that—(a) all domestic properties achieve a minimum standard by 2035, and(b) those domestic premises that, because of their standard, present a serious risk to the health, wellbeing or safety of people living in them, that the occupant is unable to rectify for financial or other reasons, achieve a minimum standard by 2030,where practical, cost-effective and affordable.(3) In this section a “minimum standard” is the achievement by the property of—(a) Level C on an Energy Performance Certificate issued under section 43 of the Energy Act 2011 (domestic energy efficiency regulations) or any amendment to that section made by the Secretary of State by regulations; or(b) an equivalent level on any new method of measuring the energy efficiency of properties that may be adopted by the Secretary of State by regulations.(4) The duty in subsection (2) does not apply to a domestic property where the following exemptions apply—(a) an occupant or anyone else whose permission is needed for works to be carried out has explicitly refused such permission; or(b) it is not technically feasible to fulfil the duty; or(c) the cost of carrying out works to fulfil the duty would exceed £20,000. (5) The Secretary of State may by regulations add to or change the exemptions referred to in subsection (4).(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations define the terms “practical”, “cost-effective” and “affordable”.(7) In this section “wellbeing” includes the ability of an occupant to keep warm at reasonable cost.”Member’s explanatory statement
This Clause requires that existing homes achieve a minimum standard in order to protect the safety, health and wellbeing of occupants.
My Lords, I will try my very best to be as quick as I can, as I have tried to in all my contributions. I began my last contribution with concern about the speaking order of Members. Can I just say that it was particularly disappointing to have to start speaking for this amendment knowing that, already, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, had indicated she will not be supporting it? I hope that by the end of my remarks, she might change her mind. I give way.
I owe the noble Lord an apology. It was my fault for getting it in the wrong order. I have been trying to be on the other Bill as well.
The noble Baroness is forgiven entirely, and let us hope she will come to support the amendment at the end.
The Bill is clear what it is about. It is to make provision about the safety of people in and around buildings and about the standards of buildings. As I said on Second Reading, it is surely relevant to consider the impact of poor-quality homes on the safety of people who live in them, not least given the claim by the Building Research Establishment that millions of individuals and families are living in unhealthy housing, a reality that is having a huge impact on the NHS. Even more worrying is the number of deaths caused by poor-quality homes. We know from the ONS figures that some 8,500 people died in the winter two years ago because of cold housing. They simply did not have sufficient money to keep their homes warm, and often that was because of poor insulation.
We still have in this country over 13.5 million homes that are deemed below what the Government have set as the acceptable energy performance level, that is band C on the energy performance rating. Of those, over 3 million homes are occupied by families deemed to be fuel poor, that is people who even without the rocketing bills that we are now experiencing simply cannot afford to stay warm. Far too many people in this country are having to choose between heating and eating. On Second Reading, I also pointed out, as others have done subsequently, that the removal of unsafe cladding is making the situation worse.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, I was horrified by the remarks of the group that runs the Pendleton tower block in the note that she mentioned, which gave tips about dressing in layers, wearing a hat and gloves, not drinking alcohol and so on. What the noble Baroness did not point out was that that note came to light in a meeting to discuss increasing the rent for residents in that block. It was absolutely condescending. We need to do more to help the fuel poor, as well as those having to deal with the removal of unsafe cladding. That means improving the energy efficiency of existing homes.
The Government have said that they want to do that. The Heat and Buildings Strategy states:
“To meet Net Zero virtually all heat in buildings will need to be decarbonised. The benefits of more efficient, low-carbon buildings for consumers are clear: smarter, better performing buildings, reduced energy bills and healthier, more comfortable environments.”
In the light of this week’s very sobering Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change report, which drew attention to the worsening impact of climate change, and the letters we are all receiving this week from our energy suppliers about increases in our bills, action is urgently needed.
The great thing is that the Government are committed to taking action. The energy White Paper referred to
“our target of reaching as many existing homes as possible at EPC Band C or above by 2035.”
On 9 February last year, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, assured me in an Answer to a Written Question that the Government were committed to this, describing the
“aim for as many homes as possible to be EPC Band C by 2035, where practical, cost-effective, and affordable.”
In relation to the fuel poor, the Government want to achieve exactly the same: EPC band C for the over 3 million such homes five years earlier, by 2030. Government commitments are really clear on these points. The fuel poverty strategy, published in February last year, spoke of meeting the target and achieving the outcome of all fuel-poor homes achieving EPC band C by 2030. This has been repeated in Answers to Written Questions, when I have been assured that that really is the Government’s aim.
The Government have targets to do exactly what I believe needs doing. To date, however, those targets are not enshrined in legislation, despite the Government increasingly arguing the benefits of putting targets of one sort or another into legislation, just as they have, in a very welcome way, in relation to the Climate Change Act.
Putting the very targets that the Government are committed to in the Bill, as proposed in my amendment, has real benefits. First, it ensures that it will be much harder for a future Government to kick them into the long grass. Secondly, and much more importantly, we have to ensure that we have an industry—this is the point about shortages of people and so on; the noble Baroness is right—that has the skills and equipment and has done the necessary training and preparation to carry this out. When I first proposed this in a Private Member’s Bill some time ago, over 100 businesses, including some of the largest companies, such as Mitsubishi, Vaillant and Worcester Bosch, wrote to the Minister, saying
“we require the certainty of statutory targets to give us the certainty that is needed to trigger the high level of investment necessary to achieve Carbon Budget 5 and net zero.”
Andrew Warren, chair of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, wrote:
“On far too many occasions the energy efficiency industry has been made promises by Governments, only to see them withdrawn. This has resulted in the laying off of staff, the loss of investment and the closure of factories”,
as well as the necessary training not being carried out.
I believe that, to give the industry the confidence it needs to get on with the task and achieve the targets the Government have set it, we should put these targets in legislation and enshrine them in law. That is what this amendment does. There are two ways of going forward: either the Minister can accept this amendment or she can accept the offer I made to the other Minister to accept my Private Member’s Bill, which does exactly that. I would be happy with either way. I hope they will support this amendment and that I have persuaded the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, to accept it as well.
My Lords, I also have an amendment in this group. In thinking about what the noble Lord, Lord Foster, just said, there has been a running theme through our debates on the Bill in Committee about the importance of housing standards and how good-quality housing standards can have a positive impact on health and well-being, as well as on fire safety.
Amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Foster, have also drawn attention to the importance of energy efficiency, which is the focus of Amendment 128 in my name. Energy efficiency is important, not just for safety but from a climate change perspective and for the cost of living, because we know that energy costs will rise dramatically. Energy efficiency is something to which we need to give more attention, in supporting people on how they also can save energy in their homes. The Government should use every opportunity at their disposal to look at how they can improve energy efficiency to reduce costs for consumers.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster, mentioned the Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy, which says that, to meet net zero, virtually all heat in buildings will need to be decarbonised. This will bring about reduced energy bills and healthier and more comfortable environments. Again, I am sure that is something we all support. We know energy efficiency will bring comprehensive benefits, not just for climate change but in increased property values. These are all positive aspects of what it can do.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster, also referred to the figures for excess winter deaths caused by cold homes. In a modern, 21st-century society, with everything to support warmth and heating at our fingertips, this should not be happening. In the last normal winter, 8,500 lives were lost because of cold homes. In a society such as ours that is disgraceful and should not be allowed.
We know that low incomes, high energy costs, and poor heating and insulation combine to do this. We need to do more to support insulation. I know the Government do a lot, but we need to focus more on this area. We should not have homes that are unfit for people to survive the cold or incomes that are not sufficient for people to put on the heating.
At this point, I hope the Ministers will both indulge me, if I raise a particular concern—the issue of communal and district heating networks. In the UK, 500,000 homes, 120,000 of which are in London, are heated by communal and district heating networks. They are therefore considered commercial customers, even though the people paying the bills are residents—me for one, in the flat I rent while I am here in London. Those households are therefore not protected by the Ofgem energy price cap that will be introduced on 1 April. Estimates of cost increases for those living in buildings served by communal and district heating networks range from 400% all the way up to 700%.
Some 90% of heating networks run on gas. At the start of 2022, the price of gas spiked at around five times its cost at the start of 2021. Prices remain far higher now than this time last year. This means that energy costs for these households are expected to see a large increase. The increase in energy prices will contribute to the cost-of-living crisis, which means that household finances will be under even further pressure.
We know that much social housing is supplied by communal and district heating networks, meaning that price rises are more likely to affect social housing tenants, who also tend to be in the lower-income groups, as we know. That means that some of those least able to pay for their energy are likely to be asked to pay the most. I saw the Minister nodding, so he clearly understands what I am talking about. I ask him and the noble Baroness to take these concerns back to their colleagues in government, because this is a serious issue for many thousands of people.
I am delighted to take that point on district heating back to the department. It will become an increasingly interesting area as we move to nuclear power and other ways of producing energy for district heating networks. I know that my noble friend has already made a note of that.
I shall speak first to Amendment 121 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foster. I thank him for raising this important matter, but I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept the amendment. That is not because we disagree with its aims, but because we are already doing an awful lot of work in this area, and it pre-empts a number of workstreams already under way across government.
On the assistance that we are giving those who face the tragic choice between heating and eating, I remind noble Lords that we have already introduced winter fuel payments and the warm home discount. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, introduced a £9.1 billion package of support in the spending review, encompassing a number of initiatives. A £3 billion package of energy efficiency measures will be introduced over this Parliament. All are targeted at low-income households. There is also the ECO scheme, funded from bills, which will rise from £750 million to £1 billion over this Parliament. There are also boiler upgrades. We are doing a huge amount in this space. We are not unsympathetic to the reasons for the noble Lord’s amendment, but I defend our record.
In 2017, the Government committed in the clean growth strategy to upgrade as many homes as possible to EPC band C by 2035 and as many private rental homes as possible to EPC band C by 2030 where practical, affordable and cost effective. The Government have now consulted on raising the energy performance standard in the domestic private rented sector to EPC band C and will publish a response to that consultation in due course.
We further committed in the Energy White Paper to seek primary powers to create a long-term regulatory framework to improve the energy performance of homes, alongside a package of incentives. We have consulted a wide range of stakeholders and will undertake further consultation on specific policy design before making secondary legislation. In the Social Housing White Paper, we committed to reviewing the statutory decent homes standard by 2024 to consider how it can better support decarbonisation and improve the energy efficiency of social homes. In the Net Zero Strategy, we reiterated our commitment to consulting on phasing in higher minimum performance standards to ensure that all homes meet EPC band C by 2035 where practical, cost effective and affordable. In light of these comments, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I turn to Amendment 128 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Her proposed new clause would set a requirement for the Secretary of State to consider the energy efficiency impact when making changes to the building regulations for the purpose of building safety. It is a fundamental principle of the building regulations that, when building work is carried out, all applicable technical requirements must be met. In many cases, this will include energy efficiency, referred to in the regulations as the
“conservation of fuel and power”.
If a particular technical requirement is not applicable to a specific building project, the building regulations none the less require that the building is not made less compliant with that requirement than it was before the building project. This means, for example, that where work is undertaken to improve a building’s fire safety performance, the building’s energy efficiency must not be worsened as a consequence. The opposite case is also true, in that energy efficiency improvements must not worsen the fire safety performance of a building.
As this principle is laid out in the existing regulations, energy efficiency is already a consideration in carrying out building work. We do not believe that it is necessary to introduce a specific duty for the Secretary of State to consider energy efficiency matters when making building regulations for the purpose of safety. I assure the noble Baroness therefore that her intention to ensure that energy efficiency is considered in relation to building safety has already been met under existing legislation.
I wish to reassure the Committee that the Government take the matter of energy efficiency seriously and are taking action in this space. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, in my remarks, I went out of my way to praise the current Government for the promises and commitments they have made in this area. I will go further and say that I will praise the current Government for at least some of the commitments they have made to provide the funding for the work to be carried out. But I just say to the Minister that it is the industry that will actually deliver, not the Government. We therefore need to consider what the industry needs to ensure that it can deliver.
The industry has said that it wants these targets, promises and commitments put into primary legislation to give it the confidence to carry out the investment, buy the equipment and do the training to enable the work to be carried out. It has been let down time and again by Governments of all political persuasions, with a string of projects that sound almost the same—the green deal, the green this, the green whatever—which have always failed and have not been followed through. The industry has had enough; it has made that very clear. It wants the firm commitments put into legislation. The Business Minister, Mr Kwarteng, believes in targets; he has said so on many occasions. I fail to understand why the Government will not put this one specific issue into legislation.
We will have an opportunity to raise these issues again at a later stage. Be assured that I intend to take every opportunity to press this matter but, in the mean- time, I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 121 withdrawn.
Amendments 122 to 131 not moved.
132: After Clause 133, insert the following new Clause—
“Review of external wall fire assessments
Within 12 months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must review the process used by chartered surveyors for assessing external walls of tall buildings for fire risks, in particular the EWS1 form produced by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, and must lay a report before Parliament.”
My Lords, I move Amendment 132 in my name on the subject of external wall fire assessments. I did not speak on energy efficiency as time is short, although I was Energy Minister five years ago; I look forward to discussing the opportunities and frustrations informally.
Noble Lords will know that external wall assessments have been a serious problem aggravating the difficulties that leaseholders have experienced in the post-Grenfell world.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt. The Minister has had to leave to deal with a pressing personal matter. Can I ask for a five-minute adjournment?
My Lords, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes.
My Lords, as I was saying, the Committee will know that there has been a serious problem aggravating the difficulties that leaseholders have experienced in the post-Grenfell world. This is because insurance companies and mortgage lenders have required these external wall assessments to be made and the dreaded EWS1 forms to be filled in before transactions can proceed. However, not only are the assessments expensive—or they were—but the requirement to provide them implies, or implied, a very cautious view of the needs of fire safety in particular. Worst of all, there has been a crippling shortage of RICS professionals to carry them out.
I argued during the passage of the Fire Safety Bill that this process was over the top, as sometimes happens with professional-based regulation, and increased the numbers of unsaleable properties post Grenfell by hundreds of thousands. I was therefore delighted to hear the Valentine’s Day announcement of the Secretary of State, Michael Gove—in addition to the January comments quoted earlier by my noble friend the Minister —stating that:
“The provisions will protect leaseholders and encourage a more proportionate approach to fixing buildings. Currently, building owners can simply pass all costs on to leaseholders, with no incentive to hold back on unnecessary remediation work that has brought misery to leaseholders. Today’s package, alongside the duties in the wider Bill, will create an environment for tough, proportionate action on critical safety issues while preventing cost inflation and excessive work.”
“Today’s package” sounds good to me. However, I remain a little sceptical, knowing just how bad the gold-plating has been. For example, we were right to agree earlier on the need to be proportionate about balconies, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, argued.
The purpose of this probing amendment is to invite my noble friend, who is of course the Minister at the Department for Levelling Up, to update us and agree to undertake a review of the situation in 12 months’ time. The review proposed would focus on the tall buildings that are in scope, but the whole sector would benefit from a review that assesses the position of smaller buildings as well as the interests of the consumer rather than just the surveyor—in this case, the leaseholders and property owners affected. I add that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans asked me to say that he supports this amendment but had to be elsewhere. I very much hope that my noble friend will look sympathetically on this request, particularly given the helpful change of approach by the Secretary of State.
My Lords, I will probably disappoint the noble Baroness a little, but I hope that I can also give a bit of explanation. I say that with particular feeling because she chairs the Built Environment Committee, on which I have the privilege to serve.
I understand the irritation that has been generated in some quarters by the EWS1 scheme. I ask the Committee to bear in mind that this was prepared as something of an emergency measure to deal with the logjam of unmortgageable, and therefore unsellable, properties. It was set up at the instigation of government and occurred following discussion with insurers, lenders and valuation professionals. It is a creature of common creation and not the RICS alone, although the RICS put it out. That is quite important.
The unfortunate thing is that, as it was the only form of certification around, it has been latched on to in certain quarters as providing some reassurance for things that it was never intended to achieve. In other words, it was seen as something with a wider fitness for purpose than was ever intended, and that is part of the problem.
When one produces something of this sort, it is produced in collaboration with others, but there will always be people across the spectrum; the insurance world is such that certain sectors of it will top-slice the risk. There will always be some that—a bit like some of what I might call the more adventurous motor insurers—will insure only certain clearly de-risked parts of the market in risk generally. I do not know whether that is a problem here.
This EWS1 was just reviewed in December. The RICS—again in consultation, and again, I believe, with support and collaboration from government but certainly with all the relevant bodies—decided that even though its application in terms of the problems that it created was reduced to a very small proportion, it should be kept because that was the view of valuers, mortgage lenders and insurers. The RICS as a professional body cannot ignore what these people are saying or the commercial pressures that are set before it in dealing with that. The RICS also published its justification in December, which is available on the web. I am all for de-risking things so that assessments of all sorts do not grow horns and a tail. However, I am not sure that having the Government take control and ownership of this particular matter would necessarily reassure lenders or professionals or, for that matter, benefit the market sentiment.
In its evidence to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, the RICS acting chief executive made it clear that there is already a process in hand to train up a cohort of fire risk assessors pursuant to the Bill’s objectives. EWS1 itself is probably destined to wither on the vine in a relatively short period of time. I therefore hope that I have given some sort of helpful explanation of why I am not sure that it is a good thing for the Government to take on this thing, even if they felt that they were willing to get their fingers involved in that particular pie, and why it is probably best that the matter continues on the critical path it is now and we see the outcome of this cohort of newly trained people. I am sure that other professional bodies will need to do training as well; we must try to make sure that it is rolled out as speedily as possible so that, hopefully, the problems will be put behind us.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for raising an important issue. There is confusion and concern around these EWS1 forms and assessments. There is confusion—which I will come on to, following on from what the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, just said—and there is certainly concern from leaseholders. Either they wait for ever for these external wall structural assessments, or those who do them err on the side of caution because of the way that they were brought in as an emergency measure following the awful Grenfell fire.
I looked on the RICS website to find out what it is saying. The Minister has said several times that EWS is gone because PAS 9980 has been introduced. There is a question-and-answer section on the RICS website, and one question is:
“Does the PAS 9980 … replace the need for an EWS1 form?”
The answer is:
“No. The code of practice for external walls is for building surveyors and fire engineers who will need to carry out mandatory EWS fire risk assessments … as part of the Fire Safety Act.”
It goes on to discuss the Fire Safety Act and the need for fire risk assessors, which my noble friend Lord Stunell has raised many times. Qualified fire risk assessors are an absolutely basic requirement for EWS assessments and the Fire Safety Act, and we do not have enough of them. In the discussions on that Act in Committee and on Report, I remember he brought the figures on how long it will take to train them—it was years. That did not fill me with hope that this was going to happen any time soon. So there is a logjam of issues here, which is why this amendment is important.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has said quite a lot about what the RICS folk have said, so I will not repeat that. But the trouble with this is that there is a logjam because of the lack of fire risk assessors and there is confusion about EWS and PAS, and the leaseholders are bearing the cost—I am fed up with them bearing the cost for issues that they have not created.
I am very supportive of this amendment, because all it asks us to do is think about all of the issues and come back. Perhaps the Minister will commit to writing to all of us to put our minds at rest that the Government will create a lot of good fire risk assessors or de-risk some of the issues—this is the problem—that have been created by this emergency measure, although I understand why it was done. With those brief words, I hope that the Minister will respond positively.
My Lords, I should perhaps explain that, while I am a RICS member and fellow and a registered valuer, I do not actually deal with this particular thing. But, as a valuer, I understand constructs of risk and the attitude of lenders, because they so often dictate the process that is put in place by the valuers: they often set the fee for valuation and their form is used for this particular process. I say again that it is very difficult for a professional institution that tries to weigh up all these different bodies to get away from the big beasts of the mortgage lenders and the insurance world when it is dealing with this sort of thing. But I make no apology for that—there have been problems, and the noble Baroness is absolutely right that they have been visited, as she would say, on wholly innocent leaseholders. It is right that the whole thing should be kept under constant review.
My Lords, I rise briefly to speak to Amendment 132 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. It is a little but very important amendment and, as the noble Baroness will appreciate, “Every little helps” in making sure we get this right. I admire what the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, who spoke with great expertise, said about ending the confusion and providing clarity. That was a very important point. As a Lancastrian, I have never agreed with somebody from Yorkshire as much as I have agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, during the course of this Bill. She is quite right: leaseholders should not bear the costs for issues they have no control over. It is not their fault. We need to end the logjam.
This is my final contribution in Committee. It has been a fascinating debate. I have a special message for the Minister in Latin, to continue the theme: “Da operam, si potes”, or “You can do it, if you try hard”. We have debated a lot of fantastic amendments during this Committee. I am sure the Minister can do it and make this landmark Bill even better, to help people, residents and leaseholders across the whole country.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for her amendment. It has been a fascinating debate, with lovely Latin phrases which I am sure have been worked on all afternoon using Google Translate.
As the Government have made clear, it is important that we restore a sense of balance and proportionality to fire safety. We must ensure that fire risk assessments of external walls do not require unnecessary work and reduce the risk aversion we have seen in the sector. The department has already taken steps to ensure that industry takes a proportionate approach to the assessment of the external walls of buildings and I can reassure my noble friend that we will continue to work with industry, including lenders and surveyors, to keep under review the process used to assess external wall systems.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, mentioned that we have been tracking the data from mortgage lenders and it is available on the GOV.UK website. I have been looking at my Apple iPhone—I have given the brand away, but I do not know how I could have coded that without using the brand name—and the vast majority of mortgage valuations for flatted developments do not require an EWS1 form. The trend is also going down. I think the most recent data in January was that around 8% of mortgage valuations require an EWS1, so 92% do not. That is down from 9%. My department estimates that 492,000 leaseholders in residential buildings of 11 metres and above do not need to undergo an EWS1 assessment for their building for them to sell their property or remortgage. It is important that we continue to work with mortgage lenders to track how that is evolving over time. These things take time, but the trend is in the right direction.
The Government are also making preparations to launch a professional indemnity—or PII—scheme, targeted at qualified professionals to enable them to undertake EWS1 assessments where otherwise they would not be getting PII cover. A condition of PII coverage under the scheme will be that EWS1 assessments are carried out in line with PAS 9980. An audit process will be in place to monitor compliance to the standard.
I thank my noble friend for raising this important matter. She has absolutely championed that the Government get to grips with some of these points. I think we are making progress on a number of fronts now. I assure her that this work is of critical importance for the Government. We will continue to work closely with industry in the coming months to ensure that. I therefore ask that she withdraws her amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend, particularly for giving the figures. Before Report, it would be good to have the figures for the non-high-risk buildings as well, because one of the concerns I had was that the industry was requiring people who were not caught by measures following Grenfell to have these EWS1 assessments. It was a probing amendment and I will reflect further in light of what has been said. It was a very good debate.
There is confusion and concern about the logjam, and we need to make sure that we have the support of the industry professionals who are needed to do this. Things can take a long time in the building industry, as I think we will hear when we debate retentions. I certainly did not want to lock horns with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, who is such an excellent member of the Built Environment Committee, but to make sure that we had this debate and that we really do sort this issue, as I know the Government have said that they wish to. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 132 withdrawn.
132A: After Clause 133, insert the following new Clause—
“Local authorities: impact of land contamination on building safety
Local authorities must assess, within their local areas, the risk posed by land contamination to building safety.”
Noble Lords may have noticed that I am not my noble friend Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, but I am here to move Amendment 132A and speak to Amendment 132B, both in her name. I am sure that the Minister is listening, because it is quite important that he agrees with me on this.
I am so sorry—I thank the noble Baroness.
These amendments create an obligation for local authorities to locate contaminated land in their areas and for the Government to review the management of contaminated land. This is the first parliamentary outing of what has been called Zane’s law. It is named for Zane Gbangbola, for whom the Truth About Zane campaign was also founded, which is still working. There is wide support for the campaign—from Sir Keir Starmer and Andy Burnham to the FBU, the CWU and the Conservative-controlled Spelthorne Borough Council—to get on the record the truth about the seven year-old’s death in Chertsey in 2014, when floods swept hideously toxic hydrogen cyanide into the family home from a nearby historical landfill site. That is not what the inquest verdict concluded in 2016, but the campaign continues to fight that inequality of arms and the illogic of that verdict.
Last year, Zane’s parents, Kye and Nicole, and their supporters took up an even broader issue: the question of why it was that they and the rest of the community had no knowledge of the danger of the historic landfill site near their home. I am old enough to remember Aberfan in 1966; it was a well-known site, but it was unstable. As most noble Lords probably know, 116 children and 28 adults were killed when the landslip came on to a school. What happened to Zane—and his father Kye, who was left paralysed by the hydrogen cyanide—could awfully easily happen to another family or a whole community.
The issue goes back to 1974, when the Control of Pollution Act first took control over waste disposal. However, before that came into effect, many dumps were quietly closed and, since then, have been pretty well forgotten, as campaigner Paul Mobbs explains in a disturbing video, which I do not have here with me. EU regulations on waste and pollution required the tightening of those controls under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Section 143 brought in an obligation on local authorities to investigate their areas and draw up
“public registers of land which may be contaminated”.
Section 61 gave local waste authorities powers to inspect closed landfills and clean them up if necessary. However, lots of new housing developments, in particular, are on old landfill sites. Under pressure, the Government held three consultations on contaminated landfill registers from 1991 to 1993, eventually deciding that the aforementioned Section 143 would not be enacted and all plans for public registers of contaminated sites would be dropped. The explanation given was cost and the desire not to place new regulatory burdens on the private sector.
Limited powers were brought in in 1995, although they did not come into force until 2000, which meant that when developers found contamination problems, public authorities often had to pay. But it got worse. In 2012, as part of the Cameron Government’s “bonfire of red tape”, to reduce the statutory burdens, the right of enforcement authorities to use the law was further reduced—the emphasis being on “voluntary” clean-up, with no real power to check it had been done. This is clearly a problem for existing buildings, but also for buildings being constructed right now. It is evident that there is a great risk at potential locations of new homes right around the country, from Carlisle to Cambridge, and Dudley to Newbury.
There is also the issue of the climate emergency and the new extremes of weather, particularly floods, but also heatwaves, that cause events such as that which tragically claimed young Zane’s life. To identify the size and scale of the problem, in every local authority in the land, there has to be a starting point to fixing it and preventing future risk to life. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for introducing these two amendments. When I read them, I thought, “You know, this isn’t possible. You cannot build on contaminated land.” Certainly, from all the planning committees on which I have sat over the years, I know that it is not possible. I live in an area where there is quite a lot of land contaminated by dyes from the woollen industry, which have cyanide in them. My experience of development on contaminated land, which is a bit different from the issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has raised, is that such sites are raised by planning authorities as part of the National Planning Policy Framework, they have to be identified as part of strategic local plans, and the Environment Agency and the Environment Act all contribute towards ensuring that contaminated land is cleared—decontaminated, if you like—before it is developed.
That is a bit different from some of the issues raised by the noble Baroness, which were about building adjacent to such land. Again, I am surprised that the environment legislation which controls old landfill sites has enabled that to happen. It may be a failure of legislation, but I will wait to hear what the Minister has to say.
The only thing I would say is that the Government are very keen for development of brownfield sites, and there is a desperate need for those sites to be cleared and decontaminated before they can be redeveloped. Everybody wants the Government to continue providing grants to developers to do so. I have experience from my town, where a site has been left empty for at least 15 years. It has been allocated for housing, but no grants have been provided to decontaminate it from an old chemical works that was on the site. So former green-belt land has been developed first, because we are waiting for grants for decontamination of derelict sites.
My one plea to the Minister is to take that back to the department and to say that, if it is to be brownfield sites first, such sites nearly always have significant contamination. Sometimes it is asbestos in older buildings. Certainly, in the Midlands and the north where there have been industrial complexes, there can be quite serious chemical contamination, and decontamination is necessary before anybody can get near them. I look forward to what the Minister has to say.
My Lords, I shall be brief, because there will probably be another vote soon in the House. We are very happy to support the two amendments tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for her comprehensive introduction.
We know that local authorities, as we heard, are responsible for determining whether their land is contaminated. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, talked about the grants that her authority has been waiting for to clean up land. It is really important that these grants are dealt with quickly, because it can be incredibly expensive to clean up contamination. If we are to use brownfield sites, local authorities need to be able to do so in a way that is cost effective for them. That was an important point.
We are also aware that availability of land is one of the biggest barriers to building at the moment. The government targets for housebuilding mean that, in particularly populated areas such as the south-east, any additional homes are more likely to be built on previously developed brownfield land. No one would want to build on contaminated land by choice, but “brownfield” does not necessarily mean that land is contaminated. We need to be clear about this.
However, there is a need to ensure that houses constructed on sites affected by contamination are built to the appropriate standards, including those next to an area of contamination. We need to know where the contaminated land is so that we can do these checks properly. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, things such as flooding can bring contamination across a very wide area, with, as we have heard, sadly catastrophic consequences. As she said, on the surface of it, Zane’s law seems pretty simple and straightforward to implement. If we can identify the size and scale in every part of the country where contamination is, that would be a very logical starting point to prevent future risk to life and support local authorities in tackling the whole issue of contamination so that we understand it better as we move forward with more development and housing. I hope the Minister will listen to this, because it seems to me that Zane’s law ought to be supported.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for tabling her amendments, so ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I welcome her raising the important issue of contaminated land in this Committee. As always, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, made some very powerful points—as did the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Pinnock—on the need for speeding up the process of decontamination. I believe the ambition to bring a version of Zane’s law on to the statute book is well intentioned but I consider that the policy intent behind these proposals is already met by existing legislation and statutory guidance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is right that Section 143 was repealed, but it was replaced by Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which provides a framework for identifying contaminated land in England and allocating responsibility for its remediation. It provides a legal definition of contaminated land and lays out the responsibilities of local authorities and the Environment Agency for dealing with it. These responsibilities include a requirement for local authorities to inspect their area to identify actively land that may be contaminated, to investigate and remedy contaminated land and to maintain a public register of information relating to contaminated land. This includes contamination from non-operational historic landfill sites and is regulated by local authorities. Further, Part C of the building regulations requires reasonable precautions to be taken by developers to avoid any risk to health and safety caused by contaminants in the ground where they are carrying out building work.
Lastly, assessment of contaminated land risk currently focuses on the impact of contaminated land on human health and the environment. Shifting focus on to buildings and building safety may dilute the aims of the existing framework. Given that this existing framework is already embedded into legislation and guidance, the proposed amendments regarding contaminated land would create unnecessary duplication and could cause confusion for local authorities. Therefore, while I appreciate the concerns of the noble Baroness, I ask her to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness for her response, and I will of course check the Environmental Protection Act, exactly what it does and what protection it gives. I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Pinnock, for their support.
I care very much about this, even though this amendment is in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, because it seems that the poor always suffer. This is one of those things where, if you live on an old industrial site or whatever, you are likely to have a much lower form of housing and much less protection in any case. If we are talking about levelling up, this would be a very good thing to do.
By the way, I want all your Lordships in this debate to know that this is a much friendlier debate than the one next door. It was a real relief to come in here out of there; there will of course be another vote soon.
I understand that this is not the moment to push this amendment, but it will probably come back on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 132A withdrawn.
Amendment 132B not moved.
Clause 134 agreed.
Clause 135: Review of regulatory regime
133: Clause 135, page 142, line 20, at end insert—
““building function” has the meaning given by section 3;” Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment defines “building function” for the purposes of Clause 135.
Amendment 133 agreed.
Clause 135, as amended, agreed.
Amendments 134 to 136 not moved.
136A: After Clause 135, insert the following new Clause—
“Review of safety impact of retention
(1) Within 12 months of the passing of this Act the Secretary of State must publish a review of the impact on building standards and safety of retention of payments due to sub-contractors by building contractors.(2) Matters which the review may consider include, but are not limited to—(a) cash flow difficulties sustained by sub-contractors as a result of retention,(b) ability of sub-contractors, as a result of retention, to afford materials of a suitable quality for future contracts,(c) ability of sub-contractors, as a result of retention, to recruit sufficiently qualified staff, and(d) other factors which may cause sub-contractors to make savings on building standards and safety because of retention.”
My Lords, it has been interesting and instructive for a non-expert to listen to the debate in this rather impressive Grand Committee while waiting for my sole amendment to be reached as the very last group.
Amendment 136A is a probing amendment that seeks to encourage the Government to take some long-overdue action to tackle the pernicious practice of retentions in the construction sector. I start by thanking, in his absence, the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. He crafted this amendment in a form deemed to be in scope and then allowed my name to appear above his. I am sorry to hear that, as I gather, he has fallen prey to Covid, but I wish him a speedy recovery and I shall certainly miss his powerful support today. I am also grateful to the Minister for sparing time last week to meet me and David Frise, representing the engineering services alliance, Actuate UK, whose members are among the firms most impacted by retentions.
I shall make just three points relating to the amendment. First, retentions are a cancer affecting the construction industry, which, as noted in the Hackitt report,
“can drive poor behaviours, by putting financial strain into the supply chain”.
These can damage both quality and safety; for example, by causing subcontractors to use cheaper, substandard or unsuitable materials or to cut corners on quality in other ways. In some cases they may withdraw from contracts or even be forced out of business altogether, causing the “golden thread” which is such an important part of the thinking behind the Bill to fray, if not snap.
Retentions poison relationships between subcontractors and contractors, creating a fundamentally adversarial relationship rather than a far more productive collaborative partnership. They deprive smaller firms of funds for investment in skills, technology, growth and productivity, while causing them to waste substantial time and effort chasing payments which are due to them, but which in some cases are never paid at all—notably when the business owing them goes bust, as in the case of Carillion. Retentions are not even a particularly effective way of preventing or remedying defects; the sector has been developing much better approaches, such as modern methods of construction and the Get It Right Initiative. I salute the Minister’s evident commitment to improving the quality and culture of the construction sector, but that aim will never be achieved while unregulated retentions persist.
My second point relates to the need for legislation. There is a high degree of consensus across the sector that something needs to be done about retentions, and there is even a target date, endorsed by the Construction Leadership Council, for there to be zero retentions by 2025. That is a laudable goal, but, as Ministers regularly point out, there is no industry consensus about how to reach it. Of course there is no consensus between firms that benefit from withholding retentions, often using them to artificially boost their own working capital, and those who are deprived of funds due to them. So we have a stalemate that can only be resolved by government through legislation, whether primary or secondary.
Thirdly, the Bill provides the right opportunity for government to act—or at least to set a process of action in place, which is what this amendment rather modestly seeks to initiate. It would require the Secretary of State, within 12 months of the Bill becoming law, to publish a review of the impact of retentions on building safety and standards. Such a review would inevitably make crystal clear the damaging impact of retentions in ways set out in the amendment: cash flow difficulties for subcontractors, their inability to afford materials of suitable quality, their inability to recruit and train staff with the right levels of competence, and other ways in which retentions harm safety or quality, including situations where subcontractors are unable to complete work that they are contracted for.
I would like to see a much stronger amendment, requiring specific action by government to finally tackle the issue of retentions, following the safety review that the amendment requires, either by banning them outright or at least by ensuring that they are ring-fenced so that subcontractors can rely on their funds not being lost. This might take the form of regulations made under the provisions of Clause 138, accompanied by guidance to the building safety regulator, along with appropriate enforcement powers. Such an amendment might possibly be suitable for tabling on Report.
Meanwhile, I would like to hear the Minister—whose commitment to shaking up the culture of the construction sector to achieve a much higher level of collaboration, quality and safety I greatly welcome and admire—tell us that, after all the years of government reports, reviews and consultations, he will be the Minister who finally slays the dragon of retentions, putting St Stephen up there with St George. At the very least, he should be looking at actions such as updating the Construction Playbook to discourage retentions and ensuring that both the playbook and his department’s Procurement Advisory Group’s Guidance on Collaborative Procurement for Design and Construction to Support Building Safety are actually taken up and complied with by the sector.
Having spent most of my education studying Latin and Greek, I have been deeply embarrassed during this debate by my inability to find a suitable Latin or Greek quotation to match those quoted by many noble Lords. The only one that I could come up with was “Nil desperandum”, or “Never despair”. Many small construction firms do despair at how retentions hamstring them from achieving the performance that they aspire to, in terms of quality, safety and productivity. I cannot say that I expect the Minister to answer their prayers today, but I can of course say, “Dum spiro spero”—while there is life there is hope. I beg to move.
My Lords, I added my name to this amendment, although I am not sure whether it made its way on to the list. I support the great work of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in his quest for a resolution on the subject of retentions—that is, the retention of part of a contract cost.
The noble Lord may recall that, when I was a Minister during the passage of a motley business Bill about six years ago, I promised that a review would be undertaken by the then DHCLG. At first blush, the arrangements seemed wrong and unfair to me, from my experience of the building industry. Somehow, delivery has been extraordinarily slow. It would be nice to have my ministerial promise delivered, albeit somewhat late, by St George here. I very much hope that the Minister will do the right thing and accept this modest proposal for a long-overdue review or whatever else might be agreed between now and Report, with the ever-energetic and nil desperandum noble Lord, Lord Aberdare.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has certainly been energetic, forthright and determined on this issue, and rightly so. He has reminded the Committee that the Hackitt report made it clear that the withholding of money from second-tier, third-tier and fourth-tier contractors and suppliers put pressure on them, which made it much more difficult for them to deliver a proper and effective product or job on site. The downward pressure that they faced as a result of the withholding of that money was a major problem for them as functioning entities. That was the view expressed in Hackitt, based on the evidence that had already emerged from the Grenfell inquiry.
Of course, there is much wider evidence around the country. The collapse of Carillion is an example. I think that £140 million of retentions were held by Carillion and thereby lost from those on lower tiers in the pyramid. Whatever else might be said about it, that put a number of companies at risk of going out of business, and indeed a number of companies did so just because that money was lost to them. The evil impact of this is very clear.
Some of the impact is less clear but just as difficult. Such companies find that they do not have the resources to invest in skills, training and continuing professional development, simply because they do not have that cash in hand. So it has an impact. Under
“Matters which the review may consider”,
the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has sensibly listed in his amendment three important ones and then put “(d) other factors”. I would add investment and training as one of the other factors that suffer as a result of this.
I want to remind the Minister that it is government policy that all government contracts should be written in such a way that retentions are not in place. Unfortunately, not every government department has read the memo. I asked the Business Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, a Written Question and subsequently an Oral Question about how that was progressing. He was quite frank in admitting, and it is on the record, that the Department for Education had so far refused to implement the Government’s overall guidance that all public procurement should be without retentions built into the contract documents. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, is having a good go at the education department; I hope that I can add to that today and another Minister will have a good go at it, at the very least to make sure that the Government get their own departments to follow their own policy, which would be very much in the direction that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is advocating. I have probably said enough, but I certainly hope to hear good words from the Minister in a moment or two.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Aberdare. The matter of retentions comes right at the end of this series of Grand Committee sessions, but it is part of a culture. It is the race to the bottom, value engineering or cost-cutting. Construction contract architecture and the practices that have grown up with it are all part of the perverse incentives that have somehow been built up.
At one stage in my professional life, retentions of, say, 5% or 2.5% for limited periods, as the case may be, started as security for the proper completion of works as set out and to a required standard. However, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, that this has now gained the appearance of an informal and unconsented bankrolling of construction costs at the expense mainly of subcontractors and their suppliers. This has to stop. It is like all such situations: retentions have a legitimate use but have been subject to serial abuse. If we could keep our eye on one and render the other improbable, that would be all very well, but if the bad practitioners do not get the message, some brutal measures may indeed be necessary and better regulation and protection of sums due may follow from that. I cannot help thinking that the small and medium-sized enterprises that have dwindled and atrophied as a component part of the construction industry are the chief sufferers. They are unable to take on the big beasts of construction.
There is a real point behind this. If the memorandum that the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, referred to became a universal code of practice in the sense that you really had to justify yourself before stepping out of line, that would at least be a start. There is a lot we can do with what we know and the existing situation in terms of decent treatment, honest measures and taking care of the whole supply line we are dealing with. What the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said about investment, training and that sort of thing is absolutely on point, and I certainly support the thrust of this amendment.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has raised a very important issue and certainly has our support. Something has to be done to resolve this, and others who have spoken have swung in strongly behind the noble Lord. I am sure the Minister has listened and is taking note.
We have heard that retention is the customary practice of withholding monies to cover defects and incomplete work, but it is also being used for so much more than that, as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, explained. Depending on the size of the project, it can be insignificant or very significant. Large construction projects can be worth £1 billion; huge sums of money can be affected. As the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said, reform of the problems this can cause is long overdue.
Retention is often a cause for complaint and quarrel. Subcontractors often find it difficult and can see it as a tool to be bashed with by the paying party, who can hold back payment whether there is good reason to do so or not. I guess that I ought to declare a past interest in that I used to work for a small business that was contracted into large infrastructure projects, so I am very aware of the kind of impact that retention of monies can have. We worked with a lot of other small businesses within large projects. If payment is held back through retention, often for many months, small businesses have a serious cashflow problem, often meaning they cannot pay their staff. This is about not just training but the basic running of the business. They can then become dependent on constant, rolling bank loans, which is not the way a small business wants to run.
All that could be solved if this was sorted out. We see signs everywhere about considerate contractors, but contractors are not always considerate to their subcontractors. We need to sort this out. As we have heard, it can be such a source of pain and concern when the party holding the monies goes bankrupt. Other noble Lords have mentioned Carillion, which is probably the largest example of that happening.
I will not say any more, because we are nearly there, and we are nearly at another vote, I think. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, very ably introduced his amendment, so I think the Minister will have heard his message loud and clear. The last thing for me to say during this Committee is that today in particular, and throughout, the Minister has been given an opportunity to slay a number of dragons, not just this one, so I look forward to his response.
“St George,” “St Stephen,” “It is so easy, just do it”: I have had all the usual exhortations. I did really enjoy meeting the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and David Frise. I think it was towards the end of last month, so relatively recently. David Frise, part of the Building Engineering Services Association but representing Actuate UK, had gone through the quite traumatic experience of building up a business then effectively seeing it dismantled because of the pressures of being a subcontractor. I have declared my business interests—as someone who has started a small business, I know exactly what it is like when you are working for bigger businesses, particularly in the early days. It is tough, particularly when people withhold payments that you are contractually due just because they know they can.
Another practice we see in payments is: “Why do we not pay you in 180 days’ time?” You have delivered the services and paid all the costs, but: “We are a big company, and our payment run is every 180 days.” It is that kind of line; it does not happen all the time, and I know that is not something Every Little Helps would do; it will have a code of practice. But that is the kind of thing we have seen, and it is important, if we want to encourage smaller organisations, that we see the end of those kinds of practices. I think we are, generally speaking; certainly, blue chip companies would not do that.
One of the things I would also say about the whole construction issue is that one of the things I want to know as a businessman is who makes the money. It is clear that developers have made good money since Grenfell. Before Grenfell they made good money, but since Grenfell even more. Some of the manufacturers of the construction materials have done really rather well as well. But actually, construction is a cash-flow business on wafer-thin margins, and the further you go down from the prime contractor, the more they squeeze the margins, and that is the kind of the thing the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has been talking about—the value engineering. That is why you start to see the corners being cut.
We have to understand that we are dealing with a real cultural issue. That is what we said to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in the meeting. Yes, I would like to wave my magic wand and say there is a legislative solution—but we recognise that he is going to set out in writing to me a number of thoughts about this. I think that is what we agreed. Then, we are going to take some of those thoughts to Dame Judith Hackitt and also talk to Amanda Long, who ran the Considerate Constructors Scheme and is also building a building safety charter, to try and get players on board. Perhaps they can consider cash retentions within that. There is also the New Homes Quality Board and the new homes ombudsman, which operates underneath that. Perhaps they can think about some of these issues.
There are a number of things I can talk about that could potentially also help. The Construction Leadership Council has a business models workstream focused on collaborative contractual practices, which I think has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. We are also looking at the culture of late payments that I already referred to. Our efforts include introducing payment practices, reporting through legislation and guidance. Prompt payment is also important.
What I resolve is not to accept the amendment but to work with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, because I really feel passionate about this. It is an abhorrent practice, and we should do what we can to ensure the culture of good practice prevails and that we address those that are not following the right way. But let us get the culture right.
Before the Minister sits down, I wonder if he could comment on the Department for Education’s performance.
That is a really good way to end the debate. I will have to write to the noble Lord, because I do not know a lot about the Department for Education other that it is on the street near Marsham Street. I have been there maybe two or three times when I was a council leader. I will write to the noble Lord, but I think it is probably something, as he would well know, that I am not in a position to answer at the Dispatch Box right at this minute.
At this point, I am allowed to sit down. I have avoided a Latin phrase for the whole four hours of this debate, but the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, has provoked me: he responded to me saying that I would not resort to Latin by saying, “Id gratum esset”. I knew enough Latin to know that that means, “It would be appreciated”. Well, I have appreciated this debate, and I look forward to moving on to Report and taking this landlord Bill through this House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response, which at least confirmed my prophetic abilities and had quite a bit of encouragement. I confirm that we are working on a letter to him along the lines that he described, and we will get that to him in due course—that is a bit pessimistic; we should say “shortly”. I thank him for the other comments that he has made, which I will study and act upon.
I was absolutely delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, was able to contribute to the debate. As she said, she was the Minister responsible when I first accidently got involved with retentions in 2015. For a glorious moment, I thought that she might prove to be the dragon-slayer, but I am delighted that she continues to support the cause. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, made a very important point about investment in training as well as the fact that government itself is not doing all that it could to bring this practice to an end.
As always, I depend heavily on the vast expertise of my noble friend Lord Lytton, whom I thank particularly for focusing on the impact on SMEs. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, also did so, again pointing out the issue of cash flow and its importance. Fortunately, my SME was never in the construction sector, so that is one problem that we did not have, although we certainly had plenty of cash-flow problems. Of course, I also thank the Minister.
Fixing this issue will be a key part of achieving the goal that the Minister is setting out to achieve: a productive, high-quality, collaborative, innovative, forward-looking and, above all, safe construction sector, providing the sorts of homes and other buildings that we can be truly proud of. I am not convinced that we should not come back to this issue on Report, but, for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 136A withdrawn.
Clause 136 agreed.
Clause 137: Crown application
137: Clause 137, page 143, line 2, at end insert—
“(ba) sections (Remediation of certain defects) to (Meeting remediation costs of insolvent landlord) and Schedule (Remediation costs under qualifying leases) (remediation of certain defects);”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for the new clauses and Schedule relating to the remediation of certain defects to bind the Crown.
Amendment 137 agreed.
Clause 137, as amended, agreed.
138: After Clause 137, insert the following new Clause—
“Application to Parliament
(1) The following provisions do not apply in relation to the Parliamentary Estate—(a) sections 101, 102 and 105 (compliance notices under Part 4);(b) paragraphs 1 to 3 of Schedule 2 (powers of entry of authorised officers).(2) If the Palace of Westminster (or any part of it) is a higher-risk building within the meaning of Part 4, for the purposes of that Part the accountable persons for the building are the Corporate Officer of the House of Lords and the Corporate Officer of the House of Commons, acting jointly.(3) No contravention by a Corporate Officer of a provision made by or under Part 2 or 4 makes the Corporate Officer criminally liable.(4) Subsection (3) does not affect the criminal liability of relevant members of the House of Lords staff or of the House of Commons staff (as defined by sections 194 and 195 of the Employment Rights Act 1996).(5) In subsection (3) “Corporate Officer” means—(a) the Corporate Officer of the House of Lords,(b) the Corporate Officer of the House of Commons, or(c) the Corporate Officers acting jointly.(6) In this section “Parliamentary Estate” means any building or other premises occupied for the purposes of either House of Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause makes provision about the application of Parts 2 and 4 to Parliament.
Amendment 138 agreed.
Clauses 138 and 139 agreed.
Clause 140: Regulations
Amendments 139 and 140
139: Clause 140, page 144, line 19, after “71” insert “, (Meaning of “relevant building”)(2)(c), (Remediation orders)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for the draft affirmative procedure to apply to certain regulations.
140: Clause 140, page 144, line 21, at end insert “or paragraph 4, 12 or 13 of Schedule (Remediation costs under qualifying leases),”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for the draft affirmative procedure to apply to certain regulations.
Amendments 139 and 140 agreed.
Amendment 141 not moved.
Clause 140, as amended, agreed.
Clause 141: Extent
Amendments 142 and 143
142: Clause 141, page 144, line 41, at end insert—
“(ba) sections 120 to 127 and Schedule 9 (new homes ombudsman scheme);”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for certain provisions about the new homes ombudsman scheme to form part of the law of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
143: Clause 141, page 145, line 4, leave out subsection (3) and insert—
“(3) Section 2(2) and Schedule 1 (amendments of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974) extend to England and Wales and Scotland.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment to page 144, line 41 that appears in the Minister’s name, providing for the new homes provisions to form part of the law of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Amendments 142 and 143 agreed.
Clause 141, as amended, agreed.
Clause 142: Commencement and transitional provision
Amendments 144 and 145 not moved.
146: Clause 142, page 146, line 18, leave out “, 39 and 86 to 88” and insert “and 87 to 89”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the first amendment of Schedule 5 in the name of the Minister (and also corrects the numbering of the paragraphs referred to).
Amendment 146 agreed.
Amendment 147 not moved.
Clause 142, as amended, agreed.
Clause 143 agreed.
Clause 1: Overview of Act
Amendment 147A not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendments 148 and 149 not moved.
Bill reported with amendments.
Committee adjourned at 8.11 pm.