House of Lords
Tuesday 29 March 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.
Building Safety Bill
Relevant documents: 20th and 21st Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 3: The regulator: objectives and regulatory principles
1: Clause 3, page 2, line 13, at end insert—
“(aa) furthering the protection of property, and”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the building safety regulator to exercise its functions with a view to furthering the protection of property, which is intended to promote longer term protections for occupant safety and reducing fire damage and cost.
My Lords, even if no lives are lost, fires in any type of building—home, school, office, factory or other—can often have serious social, economic and environmental consequences. Property and equipment are lost, rebuilding costs are enormous, jobs can be lost and so on. Of course saving lives is the most important consideration, but my Amendments 1 and 16 suggest that we should be going beyond the current arrangements whereby we consider that building legislation and regulations are deemed a success if all occupants are evacuated safely. The amendments propose means by which consideration of property protection can be proportionately applied to the fire safety building regulations, measures that I believe will allow for buildings to be safer, more resilient and more sustainable than now.
At earlier stages of the Bill, I illustrated the need for such measures with reference to a large number of fires that had completely destroyed buildings. Sadly, to that list we can now add the fire just a couple of weeks ago that destroyed a self-storage warehouse in Cheadle along with the possessions of more than 650 people. Conversely, we know the benefits of applying property protection approaches. That was evidenced last week, for example, when a sprinkler system saved a large distribution warehouse in Leicestershire from being destroyed by fire. Over the past two months alone, sprinklers have prevented large, costly and potentially dangerous fires in schools in Ayrshire, in a retirement home in Bedfordshire, in high-rise blocks in Chester, Newport and Irvine and in a furniture warehouse in Sheffield.
In Committee, the Minister avoided addressing the crux of the proposition that I am making. I find that odd, particularly given that the Government have already commissioned research into property protection measures. It is disappointing that we have reached this stage of the passage of the Bill without seeing the results of that research, which would have been enormously helpful to him. It may be that the Government want to use it to determine future considerations for fire safety building regulations, but surely the most appropriate time to be doing that is now, while we have this Bill before us. We know how difficult it is to find legislative time to bring in further measures. It is particularly strange when the Minister has said categorically that the Bill before us is intended to deliver the biggest improvement in building safety in nearly 40 years.
The Government may well also say that they have the opportunity at a later stage to amend guidance in these matters. We must of course accept that there have already been changes to guidance on fire safety over recent years; indeed, there have been changes in relation to high-rise buildings as a result of the Grenfell fire. However, the sad truth is that placing something in guidance does not necessarily ensure that the actions that we want will happen. That was the case back in 2007, some years ago now, when Building Bulletin 100: Design for Fire Safety in Schools was introduced, with the suggestion that sprinklers should be installed. In the first few years that is exactly what happened, but over subsequent years the incidence of the introduction of sprinklers in new school buildings reduced dramatically as developers found ways around the guidance.
I mention that because we should be looking at changes not to guidance but to the actual regulations. After all, that was what was thought important when we made changes to the regulations in respect of cladding. That was not a change to guidance; it was a change to regulation. That is why my Amendments 1 and 16 would introduce into regulation measures to provide improvements to property protection. I say to the Minister, who I know is interested in this issue, that that would not be a particularly strange thing to do. After all, many other countries have thought it important to do this; for instance, Germany, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Japan and a number of others have already introduced such measures. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to my proposals or, if he is not prepared to accept the amendments, give us an update on the research that is currently being done and what the Government’s plans are to make changes—in due course, sadly—to the regulations in this matter.
I have another amendment in this group, Amendment 8, which relates to the need for the regulator to
“within two years … carry out and publish an assessment of the benefits and costs of measures on improving the safety of people in or about buildings relating to … certification of electrical equipment and systems”—
that is the installations, not the equipment running off them. In Committee, I pointed out the inequality that exists whereby private landlords in high-rise buildings are required by law to have a valid electrical safety certificate, whereas social landlords are not. This is strange, as the Government want equality between the two. The social housing charter states 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.”
The Minister said:
“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 elsewhere, the Minister appeared less committed, saying only that
“In the Social Housing White Paper we committed to consult on electrical safety requirements in the social sector”.
Commitment to consult is a far cry from a commitment to achieve the same regulatory standard. The Minister continued:
“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.”—[Official Report, 2/3/22; col. GC 319.]
A commitment to consider mandatory checks is a far cry from the words in the social housing charter and the Minister’s own words at Second Reading.
The mandatory checks every five years that I am proposing have the support of the National Fire Chiefs Council—the people at the very sharp end who have to deal with fires; we should certainly listen to them—Electrical Safety First, the National Home Improvement Council, the Electrical Safety Roundtable and industry itself, including NAPIT and Certsure. Social housing landlords support such checks. A consultation by Electrical Safety First showed overwhelming support for mandatory checks in the social rented sector: 98% of the social housing providers responding, including many of the largest ones, supported them. That is why my proposal, in the amendment of my noble friends on the Front Bench, is so important.
There should be a change to bring equality among leaseholders too. Leaseholders, particularly those in mixed tenure high-rise buildings who recognise that fire takes no account of the status of residents because it can spread from one to another, are clearly supportive. Some 87% of leaseholders support the introduction of mandatory electrical safety checks. The same survey found that 91% of leaseholders were more concerned for their safety and that of their tenants as a result of what they saw in the tragic fire at Grenfell.
I am well aware that concerns have been expressed about costs to leaseholders in the light of other changes being proposed in this legislation. I support the measures now being proposed, but I just say to the Minister that checks to these electrical installations cost £150 for a five-year period. That means £30 per year or 60p per week to improve significantly the safety of people living in high-rise buildings.
I have proposed as quickly as I can three important measures that I hope the Government will be willing to take on board. I look forward to the Minister’s response and beg to move Amendment 1.
My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 2, I thank those noble Lords who have added their names to it. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has asked me to inform your Lordships that he cannot be in his place today as he has Covid. I am sure that we send him our best wishes. However, I am delighted that the noble Lords, Lord Bethell and Lord Stunell, are here and I thank them and others who will speak to this amendment. In passing, I also thank the TCPA and other organisations outside your Lordships’ House which very much support this amendment and have provided support and notes to a number of Members.
I emphasise that this is very much a cross-party amendment. I know that there is a lot of support for the principles involved. It is very simple and quite profound. It offers a simple definition of safety: the risk of harm to the health and well-being of an individual. It is a very simple, common-sense notion that applies to safe stairways, electrical wiring, dampness and cold as much as it does to fire.
In Committee, the Minister in effect argued in response that there did not need to be a definition and that definitions were satisfactorily covered in the current arrangements. There is no legal duty in the planning system that deals with human health. For that reason alone, it is important that we have a definition. More widely than that, I think that we need one for both negative and positive reasons. The negative reason is that, unless there is a definition, I believe that a Government of any party will always be in reactive mode. Amendment 8, which I am happy to support, is a perfect example; it lists four specifics related to human health and well-being and to safety and draws them to the House’s attention as of particular concern.
There will be others. One could produce a much longer list and there are things that we have not thought of yet. We could think about subsistence, air pollution and all kinds of areas that might be caught. The Government will need to continue to address all these issues as they come up—tactically, if you like, and on an ad hoc basis. I am quite sure that, as the Bill was being prepared, the Minister and his colleagues will have wanted to ensure that not too many things were added to it. The danger is that they may not be added to the Bill but will be added to parliamentary and government time afterwards.
There is an enormous advantage to being strategic—to setting out a definition that asks the regulator, and therefore everyone else in the system, to pay attention to health and safety, which embraces all these issues. That will help to bring about the cultural change in line with what I believe the Government want from the Bill. It will allow them to get ahead of the game and be ambitious, as the Long Title suggests that the Bill should be about
“safety … in or about buildings”.
There are positive reasons too; I have already talked about being ambitious. With their proposals around levelling up and elsewhere, the Government are undoubtedly seeking to improve the lives of citizens in the country. Housing and the built environment are absolutely at the heart of those ambitions. Covid has reminded us that our homes, if not being our castles, are certainly the foundations of much else in life: they are our sanctuary, a place for education and a place for stability and safety. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, will say more about the impact of Covid and the relationship between health and housing and buildings more generally. We have always known about that link and so have Governments in the past. For something like 50 years, the Secretary of State for Health was also the Secretary of State for Housing; the two were intimately linked. Partly as a result of that, no doubt, we saw the excellent standard of council housing built between the two wars, for example.
These are long and profound links. The way we design and build our homes and the whole built environment matters not only to people but to the Government’s policies around levelling up, around achieving net zero and around health inequality, to mention just three of the things that have been debated in this House in recent times. I would add the importance of preparation for the next pandemic and more generally for securing increased resilience in the country as a whole.
I have not decided whether to press for a vote and I will obviously listen carefully to what is said by the Minister. I will ask him what steps he will take to meet the concerns that the amendment raises and the need for a profound link between health and housing and whether he will meet me and colleagues to discuss these issues further. I believe that he is also the Minister for Levelling Up, so these issues will undoubtedly return in another guise and at another time. The quality of homes, communities and the built environment is fundamental to levelling up our society. I will also listen with great interest to noble Lords who represent the other political parties in the Chamber. I hope that they will support these principles and will similarly consider how, in the longer term, the links between health, housing and the built environment can be developed and taken forward.
My point here is a simple but big one. In wider society, people have made the connection between health and well-being and the built environment, just as they have made it between health and well-being and the natural environment. The issue will keep coming back to your Lordships’ House. It is far better to get ahead and be strategic and ambitious. This is an idea whose time is coming. The built environment, like the natural environment, is crucial to the health and well-being of the population and therefore to the future prosperity of the country.
My Lords, I support Amendment 2. It is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Crisp; he put the arguments for the amendment incredibly well so I will keep my comments as brief as I can.
As Health Minister during the pandemic, I realised how unhealthy our country is. Time and again, one saw from the front line of Covid—through the ICUs and test and trace teams—reports of how connected the spread of the disease was to the housing conditions of the country and how the comorbidities of those arriving in our ICUs were often connected to the environment in which they lived. Housing and illness are inextricably linked; I came face to face with that during the pandemic.
The pandemic led to a huge amount of misery through loss of life and severe disease. It also hit the country’s economy extremely hard; there is no doubt that we had longer and harder lockdowns as a result of the fact that our country is so poorly. However, we cannot ask the NHS and our healthcare system on their own to be responsible for the improvement of our national health. There is a role to be played by education, sports, scientists, civic society—all the parts of our country, including and especially housing. That is why I support the healthy homes principle from the TCPA.
This issue is recognised in the levelling-up White Paper, to which the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, referred. However, it is not clearly recognised in the Bill. The priority that housing should support health and well-being should be fundamental to the underpinnings of this Bill. That is the purpose of this amendment, which is why I put my name to it. I ask the Minister to put on record a commitment that the department will look at ways to augment the Bill’s focus to bear on the health and well-being aspects of housing regulation, and to meet the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, myself and others to discuss how this might be done.
My Lords, having had the very last amendment debated in Committee, I now mount my retentions hobby-horse once again, but riding on a slightly different course and in the first group on Report. My Amendment 7 would give the building safety regulator a duty to keep possible safety risks arising from contractual arrangements, including payment conditions such as retentions, under review in fulfilling his or her role of improving building safety and standards.
Procurement and contractual arrangements are crucial in setting the tone for relationships between different-level contractors in a building or building maintenance project. They can determine whether those relationships are adversarial—seeking advantage for one side against the other and looking to minimise cost—or collaborative, mutually beneficial and focused on adding value and maximising safety.
Yesterday, I attended a webinar hosted by King’s College London to launch the Guidance on Collaborative Procurement for Design and Construction to Support Building Safety, produced by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities with the support of its procurement advisory group. To quote the invitation,
“preventing another Grenfell Tower disaster depends on a major overhaul of construction procurement practices, breaking away from the adversarial ‘race to the bottom’ through which low prices undermine safety and quality.”
The first speaker was none other than Dame Judith Hackitt, who gave her strong support to the guidance. She emphasised that culture change in construction has to start at the very beginning of projects, and that contractual arrangements are crucial in setting the tone for relationships between different-level contractors. She also restated her view that retention policies are totally inconsistent with collaborative procurement and do not encourage a focus on building safety. Contractors assume that they will not receive the funds withheld and look for other ways to reduce costs, through cutting investment in training and quality or using substandard materials. I only wish that Dame Judith could be speaking on my amendment.
Professor David Mosey, who was one of the two authors of the guidance, gave an outline. It sets out how improved collaborative procurement practices should be linked to safety approvals for any in-scope new build or refurbishment, following four principles: first, selection of teams on value rather than cost criteria; secondly, early involvement of supply-chain participants; thirdly, collaborative relationships, including with residents; and, finally, ensuring the golden thread of digital information throughout the life of a project. The guidance is closely aligned with the gateway process created by the Bill, spelling out questions to be addressed at each gateway to ensure that these four principles are met. It also makes specific reference to retentions, echoing Dame Judith’s views in stating:
“Arguably, any collaborative relationship should exclude the use of cash retentions. If exceptional circumstances require a retention, then it should be held in an account ring-fenced by a trust arrangement.”
The one thing that concerns me about this excellent and highly practical guidance is whether it will actually be followed. I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, about guidance being not followed more often than followed. Professor Mosey mentioned what he described as
“the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ of idealistic debate”—
probably what we are having now—
“cynical criticism and unrealised good intentions”,
into which so many worthy previous initiatives have disappeared without trace. Lots of good advice is available, including the Construction Playbook developed by the Cabinet Office and the Prompt Payment Code, but it often seems to be honoured more in the breach than the observance. Meanwhile, after several years of work by BEIS, the Government still have not decided on a legislative approach to tackle retentions, claiming to be waiting for the emergence of an industry consensus, which seems even less likely to arrive than Godot.
My amendment seeks to ensure that this guidance fares better. By requiring the building safety regulator to look for safety risks arising from contractual arrangements, it would create a process for highlighting the safety impacts of inappropriate procurement arrangements and contract terms, including the use of retentions, and enabling intervention if necessary.
If the Minister cannot accept this modest but important improvement to the Bill, I hope that he may commit to finding another way to formally incorporate his department’s collaborative procurement guidance in the new regime, perhaps through secondary legislation. The guidance is clearly intended to be part of the regulatory framework, but I do not see how this will happen as it stands. Guidance is by its nature voluntary and past experience shows all too often that the construction sector does not do voluntary. Some sort of statutory underpinning is needed to ensure that the fundamental importance of procurement and contractual arrangements to the building safety regime embodied in this Bill is recognised and acted on. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and others. I had the privilege to be on the Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment, which reported six years ago with Building Better Places. We had extensive evidence from Public Health England on the impacts of the built environment on health. That built on the work done by Michael Marmot on the social determinants of health and the evidence of the cost to the nation of poor housing. In our report, we recommended that those working in housing should take account of the health impacts of their decisions. The relevant paragraph of the government response to our report said:
“The Government recognises the importance of considering health as part of the planning process and believes health impacts should be considered as part of the wider policy environment.”
The plea that we heard from the noble Lords, Lord Crisp and Lord Bethell, to integrate these factors and consider them at every stage has been supported by the evidence for many years. I hope that the Government will listen to the evidence that they themselves took on board in responding to our report.
My Lords, I added my name to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, in Committee but was unable to speak to it, so I welcome the opportunity to add a brief footnote to the excellent speech that he made a few moments ago. I do so having been responsible for building control under the Thatcher and Major Administrations.
No one could object to the aspirations behind the amendment and the Healthy Homes Act campaign and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond sympathetically. I understand that so far the Government have objected to the proposal on the grounds that this is a matter for planning rather than for building regulations. The boundary between the two is inevitably not clearly marked and many people think that, if they have planning consent, that is the end of their interface with the local authority.
I have just one suggestion to make. The Minister may take the view that some of the objectives in the TCPA brief fall on the planning side rather than the building regulations side. I quote from its manifesto, which says that homes should
“be built to design out crime and be secure … all new homes should … provide access to sustainable transport and walkable services, including green infrastructure and play space”
and should have a minimum liveable space. Those all seem to be entirely reasonable requests. If my noble friend takes that view and believes that they are not appropriate to this Bill, can he give an assurance that they will be incorporated into the next planning Bill so that we can get to the same destination, albeit via a different route?
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. In so doing, I declare that I am a trustee of the Nationwide Foundation, which supports the TCPA’s Healthy Homes Act campaign. I shall not detain the House for too long other than to reiterate the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who introduced the amendment admirably. This is a simple but profound amendment that should be taken note of. As we have heard, we already have a great deal of evidence about the impact of housing on both health and education—Covid highlighted all of that—and how that contributes to inequalities in health. For all those reasons, it is important that we take note of the amendment and make sure that it is incorporated, whether into this Bill or a planning Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, said. One cannot fault the logic of what has been recommended, so I strongly support the amendment and look forward to the Minister’s response. I also urge him to agree to meet some of us to see how this issue can be taken forward.
My Lords, I offer Green support for all these amendments, which have been so powerfully and comprehensively introduced. I am not going to go over any of the same ground but shall focus particularly on Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, with full cross-party backing, particularly the wording,
“‘safety’ means the risk of harm arising from the location … of buildings”.
In some ways that might be seen to deliver the aims of two amendments that I tabled in Committee but have not brought back on Report, Amendments 132A and 132B, which would have delivered what has been called Zane’s law, targeting the issue of contaminated land and the risks that such land may represent to residents and others in nearby buildings. For those who do not know, Zane’s law refers to the tragic child Zane Gbangbola, who died and whose father was disabled when flooding carried contaminants from nearby land into their home.
If we had a safe location for every building, that would seem to deal with the issue. However, looking at our debate in Committee, I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, kindly offered support for amendments in this direction. What she said then clearly sets out the problem:
“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”.
In responding, the Minister suggested that the Building Safety Bill was not the right place to bring in Zane’s law because it would take the focus away from the environment and put it only on buildings. I think that she was right in that supposition, which is why I have not brought the amendments back now; the planning Bill, if indeed we see one, may well be the place to do that. However, where I disagree with the Minister—she was responding to my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who kindly introduced these amendments as I could not be present—is where she noted that Section 143 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990
“was repealed, but it was replaced by Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990”.—[Official Report, 2/3/22; cols. GC 333-34.]
However, that was a significant downgrading of the protection and the powers offered by local authorities. It is worth looking at what was known as, perhaps rather unfortunately, the Red Tape Challenge: Environment Theme Proposals from March 2012, which effectively downgraded three-quarters of environmental regulation. Those changes to the guidelines said that they were
“anticipated to save business £140 million a year by reducing uncertainty about when land needs to be remediated”.
“Reducing uncertainty” is a phrase that needs to be re-examined and reconsidered.
I commend all the amendments, particularly Amendment 2, which focuses on the issue of the safe location of buildings. A great deal of regulatory work would have to be done to deliver that, which would include Zane’s law. If this becomes part of the Bill, the Government would have to look at that, but it would be a big step forward if we focused adequately on ensuring that—in this age of the Anthropocene and the climate emergency, in which new risks are emerging that were not present before—no one has a home or building in a place that is dangerous.
My Lords, I will briefly speak to support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and declare an interest as chair of Oxford University’s Commission on Creating Healthy Cities. I also declare my interest as a vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association.
An obvious case of building safety impacting on health and well-being is surely the permitted development rights regime. Submissions to the Oxford Commission on Creating Healthy Cities have revealed widespread condemnation of the appalling building standards allowed via permitted development rights, which permit conversions of commercial and industrial buildings into accommodation without the need for normal planning consents. This has led to the creation of some ghastly, substandard new slums often on non-residential business parks full of safety hazards, with no facilities, no play areas for children and danger from traffic. Research at University College London reveals that a very large proportion of the well over 100,000 homes delivered through these permitted development rights have been substandard.
I am pleased that there has now been some regulatory change and requirements for at least some natural light and minimum space standards. However, this controversy has highlighted the importance of adequate space, sufficient daylight, protection from noise and a surrounding environment that is not hostile and unhealthy. That underlines the need for bringing together housing and health issues under the banner of minimum standards that recognise the broader definition of safety in the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. This would engage the new regulator in the process and require attention to be paid to health and well-being as essential aspects of the homes that we build and the places that we make. I support Amendment 2.
My Lords, it has been an interesting debate so far and I hope that I will not let the standard drop. Three excellent amendments have been proposed. I have added my name to Amendment 2 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, but I could equally well have done so to the others as well. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
In different ways, the amendments all look at the strategic vision for what building safety should be and how it should perform. The noble Lord, Lord Foster, made a strong argument for widening the purposes of building regulations from the simple protection of life to the protection of property.
The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has renewed his persistent and well-justified point that there is a terrible shortage of performance from the construction industry, driven by its dysfunctional character—in particular, as he highlighted, the use of retentions in building contracts, which makes a collaborative process difficult to achieve in the industry. He referenced the Construction Playbook and what BEIS is doing. If the Minister is just going to say kind words to the noble Lord, will he also undertake to get the Department for Education to follow the Construction Playbook and get rid of retentions in the contracts that it signs? All the questions that I have asked of the Department for Education have been answered in a rather injured tone. It says that it is doing its best for the public purse—not while it continues to insist on retentions, which undermine the collaborative way the construction industry has to go.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has had many supporters who have spoken with great eloquence and much more expertise than I on Amendment 2 and the call for a broader definition of well-being. I strongly support this cross-party amendment and have added my name to it. Well-being of the individual must be added to avoiding harm.
I think that the Minister will say that all three amendments are strategic overreach as far as this Bill is concerned. I am sure that he will find good reasons to say that this is not the right time or Bill to add these wide-ranging extra provisions. I hope that he will not say that, but I sense from the way he has responded to other debates so far that he probably will.
That brings me to Amendment 8 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Pinnock. This is within scope of the Bill; there can be no argument that this is the wrong Bill for it or that these are the wrong topics for the building safety regulator. I hope that the Minister will support the preceding three amendments to which I have referred, but I very much want him to support Amendment 8 or give us some degree of comfort that he understands the issues and will provide a solution to your Lordships to the problems raised.
In Committee, passionate arguments were produced in support of each of the four features in the amendment, which requires the building safety regulator in its first two years of operation to produce
“an assessment of the benefits and costs of measures on improving the safety of people in or about buildings relating to”,
first, fire suppression systems. That is a posh phrase for sprinklers, but it also includes other ways in which fire might be suppressed, including, as my noble friend has said more than once, how buildings are compartmented so that fire does not spread from one area to another.
Then there is the
“safety of stairways and ramps”.
We heard plenty of evidence in Committee that there is a standard but it is just not enforced. It needs to be; let us hear what the building safety regulator says, because various noble Lords advanced with much eloquence a strong case for improvements to be made. This amendment says, “Let’s just ask the new regulator of building safety to come back within the next two years and say whether noble Lords have been exaggerating—whether these are real problems or whether there is some issue we can tackle through regulations.”
The third thing listed in the amendment is the
“certification of electrical equipment and systems”,
on which my noble friend Lord Foster is an outstanding expert. Again, evidence was adduced in Committee of the costs and loss of life that arise from poorly certified or uncertified electrical equipment. An evaluation by the building safety regulator is the way to get to the bottom of each of these issues where such concern is felt by the public and such passion has been expressed by noble Lords in previous debates. Let us get to the bottom of that and get the building safety regulator to look at it.
Fourthly, there is the provision for people with disabilities. My noble friend Lady Brinton and other noble Lords with direct personal experience have clearly highlighted the difficulties that there are for people with disabilities in emergency situations in buildings. As I have said before, there is a direct conflict between some of the requirements that fire officers talk about and some of the requirements that people with disabilities see as essential. Let us get the building safety regulator to look at that.
Noble Lords have helpfully added a number of other things that might be there. Well, they are not. Only these four things have come forward in the past two years. However, the end of my amendment says that the building safety regulator may
“identify and give notice of such other matters relating to safety of people in or about buildings that they determine require further examination.”
That is the catch-all, if you like, but I say to the Minister that these issues are not going to go away. They, and the noble Lords who advocate on their behalf, are going to pester him—and his successors, if necessary—to get this problem tackled. Here is an opportunity, with a clean slate and a new building safety regulator, to set out clearly in this Bill the four topics that need the most urgent attention. Let us hear what the building safety regulator has to say about it. If they come back and say that I am hopelessly exaggerating the concerns and problems so it is not necessary to regulate, let us hear it. However, if it is necessary to regulate, let us hear that as well. We want to hear a positive reply from the Minister. If we do not, we will certainly want to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, briefly, I wish to support the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in his amendment on retention. I am not sure whether this is the right Bill for it but there is a problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. My only experience of it—I think it was a form of retention—was many years ago, in the early 1990s, when I had a derelict farmhouse and barns done up in Cumbria. About half way through the job, I said to the electrician, “You must be making a pretty penny out of this.” “Some hope”, he said, “it’ll be next year before I get paid and I’m fourth down the line.” I asked what he meant by that. He said, “The contractor said I’ll get paid for your job only when I have bid for three others and done them. Once I finish the third one, then they’ll pay me for yours.” I was appalled but he said, “Oh, that’s standard practice in the trade, guv, nothing we can do about it.”
I do not know whether that is standard practice in the trade, or whether it actually is retention, but it is a racket that ought not to continue. I hope that, at some time in the future—in some other legislation if not in this Bill—my noble friend the Minister will be able to crack down on that sort of racket. I know that there are views on both sides of this issue but it is not right at all because there are safety implications. The electrician was to get paid for the job he did for me only if he went in at a rock-bottom price to win three other jobs. That is a safety issue.
My Lords, turning first to Amendment 1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, we agree that longer-term protections for residents’ safety are absolutely critical. His amendment also raises the importance of how we manage longer-term protections relating to fire safety.
Look at the government cuts to the fire service. Between 2010 and 2016, the Government cut central funding to fire and rescue services by 28% in real terms. In 2020, that was followed by a further cut of 15%. If the Government are really serious about tackling fire safety—there is a lot of good stuff in this Bill—they need to look at reversing those cuts to our fire safety organisations to make sure that they have the proper support they need to do the job that needs to be done.
Turning to Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, I assure him that, in principle, we support what he is trying to achieve. The issues that he raises are important. Health and well-being need to be considered in a lot of our legislation and we too often overlook it. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, introduced his Amendment 7 very ably, as he always does, and we certainly support in principle what he is trying to achieve with it. We have every sympathy with many of his practical suggestions for what could be done to improve things in this area.
Amendment 8, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, which he just clearly introduced, is particularly important given the areas that it includes and to which he referred. We had a long debate in Committee on the importance of the safety of staircases and making sure that the minimum standards are properly applied. We heard from many noble Lords about the RoSPA campaign and the number of people who die falling down staircases. This is an opportunity to do something about that.
We also had much debate in Committee on electrical certification and the importance of the safety of electricity systems. It is important that this also includes provision for disabilities. I am aware that the Government have introduced amendments on disabilities, but this is another opportunity to support that.
It is important that we have an amendment that looks at timely intervention—timely action—on safety issues. Grenfell was not the first time in recent years that a fire in a high-rise block of flats resulted in loss of life. In 2013, coroners wrote to Ministers about two separate fires: first, Lakanal House in Camberwell in 2009, in which six people died, and then Shirley Towers in Southampton in 2010, in which two firefighters died. The coroner’s letters included clear points of criticism and recommendations, which were not acted on. These also included retrofitting sprinklers into high-rise social housing blocks. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, includes the importance of sprinklers. The Lakanal House fire involved high-pressure laminate cladding, but that was not ordered to be removed from buildings until 2019—between 2009 and 2019 is 10 years.
It is important that when coroners, for example, or anyone who understands the safety of buildings writes to Ministers about genuine and serious concerns with actions that need to be taken, these are acted on in a timely way. That is why we strongly support Amendment 8, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell and, if he decides to divide the House on it, we will support him.
My Lords, I thought that it would be helpful to reflect on why the Bill is before us today. It is entirely driven by the Grenfell fire tragedy, which took place on 14 June 2017 and resulted in the largest loss of life in a residential fire since the Second World War. It was also the deadliest structural fire in the United Kingdom since Piper Alpha in 1988. As the Minister who has taken on responsibility for both building safety and fire, as Building Safety Minister in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Fire Minister in the Home Office, I have reflected on the factors that drove that outcome of such a loss of life. One of those was the corrosive construction industry culture that uses the sort of Spanish practices mentioned by my noble friend Lord Blencathra. I have had similar experiences in construction—we all have, to a greater or lesser extent. Anyone who has undertaken any kind of construction project knows that the margins are squeezed and the people you value, the tradesmen who are on the job, are often simply not paid. It is shocking.
But there are also two other reasons why that tragedy happened. The first was a regulatory system that is essentially broken, which is why we have the Bill to establish the new building safety regulator, which will then take on responsibility for building regulations. Secondly, there was an inadequate response on the night by fire and rescue services. The Home Secretary will shortly launch, and I will support her, a White Paper on fundamental reform of fire and rescue services.
A considerable amount of money has been invested in fire and rescue services in the past three years while I have been Fire Minister, particularly on fire protection. There had been a loss of skills in those people who were very capable of assessing the built environment in fire and rescue services, so we introduced a £30 million uplift to try to repair that. It is not just about numbers and investment; it is about ensuring that we have the right skilled people in our fire and rescue services. We will continue with further investments on fire protection because we recognise that we have to prevent fires from happening in the first place, but we also have to ensure that we build in a way that is safe both from a fire perspective and in every other sense of the word.
All the amendments ask the building safety regulator to do a little bit more, so I think that we should return and understand that we are asking it to implement a new and more stringent regulatory regime for high-risk buildings. Because of Grenfell, we recognise that we need such a new regime. We are asking it to oversee the safety and performance of all buildings—the entire built environment. Also, we know that there is a huge challenge, which we have talked about in this group of amendments, in the competence of the built environment industry and registered building inspectors—those people who sign off buildings. We need to raise the competence of those approved inspectors and to see competence improve in the built environment, with a more systematic approach to carrying out projects. I want us to have that in the back of our minds as we turn to each amendment.
Amendments 1 and 16 are from the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath. I thank him for raising this important matter but, as set out in Committee, the Government will not be able to accept the amendments. Amendment 1 would add an additional objective for the building safety regulator around property protection. I am concerned that adding additional objectives for it at this early stage in its life could distract it and hinder its success. Instead, we should include this issue in the first statutory review of how well the regulator is working. That is an undertaking.
I turn to the detail. I am sure that noble Lords agree that the regulator should focus on exercising its functions in line with its first objective:
“securing the safety of people in or about buildings”.
The regulator’s second objective is:
“improving the standard of buildings”.
Crucially, this already gives the regulator the remit to address issues relating to property protection by improving regulatory standards relating to security, resilience and fire safety. Adding a specific objective around property protection has two further downsides. First, it would put property protection on a par with resident safety as a priority of the regulator. The Government believe that the regulator should prioritise resident safety. Secondly, it risks skewing the building safety regulator’s oversight function. The Government want the regulator to be able to use evidence to identify the most pressing issues with the safety and performance of buildings and to make recommendations to Ministers on improvements where needed. The pre-legislative scrutiny committee considered property protection but found that the regulator’s existing objectives were a sensible starting point and suggested that the Government keep this under review. We are committed to doing that through the provision in Clause 152 for a regular independent review of the effectiveness of the regulator and the wider regulatory system.
I turn to Amendment 16. There are already powers for building regulations to cover specific aspects of building resilience. We believe that it is better that building regulations are targeted on specific issues rather than having open-ended requirements. The building regulations already make provision to ensure reasonable standards of health and safety for people in and around buildings. When followed, they also provide benefits for the protection of buildings from fire spread. However, we recognise that further research into property protection is warranted for residential buildings. The impact of the loss of a home is significant, so we are taking that forward as part of the technical review of approved document B. Directly in response to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, I say that this a really complex research project. I would love to be able to deliver the response and give updates, but it takes time. It is driven by professionals—building engineers, fire safety engineers, facade engineers, all the technical people who advise the Government—and the Government themselves doing research in a proper, planned way.
I thank the noble Lord for suggesting the amendments and I hope I have reassured the House that the building safety regulator’s objectives and functions enable it to identify building safety and standards issues relevant to property protection. I believe that this achieves the aims of his amendments without diluting the focus of the regulator.
I turn to Amendment 2 by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who has assembled an array of support from the Cross Benches, my own Benches and the Opposition Benches. As someone who is the son of a surgeon who worked all his life in the NHS, I say that the noble Lord is about the only chief executive that I remember by name, so when he tables an amendment I listen to it very carefully. I am not the lead Minister for levelling up but I have been in a lot of the Cabinet committees, and it is an issue that I feel interested in and strongly about. I undertake to meet him and other interested parties, including my noble friend Lord Bethell, and to work on the agenda about how to bring health and well-being into the built environment.
There was a very helpful intervention from my noble friend Lord Young. Of course there is a link between housing and health; the question is where to focus within the planning system and where you focus within building regulations. There is a strong opportunity to think about health and well-being in the same way that in public safety we think about “secure by design”. That is a job of work to be done and a definition is a starting point. I am happy to engage on that as a personal priority with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. I hope that on that basis he will consider not pressing his amendment.
I have grown to have a fond attachment to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. He raises an important issue around cash retentions; they are pernicious, and we need to address that very carefully. I point out that on the specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, I have undertaken to meet him to proselytise this point with the Department for Education and to use my own personal heft—and considerable weight—in pushing the department in the right direction. The noble Lord is right: the Construction Playbook is a way for the public sector to set the standards and culture for how we approach building projects, whether it is for schools, hospitals or public housing. I am happy that he has raised this issue repeatedly through the stages of the Bill and I am happy to make that undertaking. I also point out that my noble friend Lord Callanan, the BEIS Minister, is set to meet my noble friend Lady Barran at the Department for Education to take that even further. Let us make it a triumvirate to get this over the line.
There is an important equality agenda. I have done my best to point the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, towards the Housing Quality Network, which embraces the reform of cash retentions, and to put him in touch with Amanda Long from Building A Safer Future, who is a tremendous advocate for the change in culture that he seeks.
I turn to Amendment 8 from the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, about publishing an assessment of benefits and costs. I am afraid the Government will not be accepting this amendment. I hope to reassure noble Lords that, as I have mentioned, the Bill already places an existing duty on the regulator to keep safety and standards under review. Clause 5 places a broad horizon-scanning duty on the building safety regulator to keep the safety and standards of all buildings under continuous review. That will include keeping under review issues such as fire suppression systems, the safety of stairways and ramps, the certification of electrical equipment and systems and provision for people with disabilities.
The regulator will work with the construction industry and technical experts, commission research, conduct consultations and make recommendations to the Government for improving regulations and guidance where required. The building safety regulator will be required to report annually on the performance of its building functions, under changes that the Bill makes to the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
The Bill also ensures that crucial aspects of the new system are included in the regulator’s annual reporting—notably engagement with residents, under Clause 19, and mandatory occurrence reports, which can help industry to track safety issues, under Clause 20. Clause 3 further requires the regulator to have regard to the principles of transparency and accountability. The Government intend that the regulator’s published strategic plan, required by Clause 17, will set out in further detail what it must report on. In the light of the regulator’s duty under Clause 5 to keep the safety and standards of all buildings under continuous review, along with the strong reporting requirements already contained in the Bill, I believe that this amendment is not needed.
I have some statistics on investment in fire and rescue services. I do not think that it is helpful to start trading statistics on budgets, but there is a real commitment on all sides of this House to ensure that we improve the built environment, whether for fire protection purposes or building safety purposes, and recognise its close bond with health and well-being.
I hope I have provided a degree of reassurance that the issues raised are really important and that the Government are addressing the concerns raised in this debate. I hope that noble Lords will be content to withdraw or not press their amendments.
My Lords, there is a wide range of amendments in this first group relating to the role and scope of the new building safety regulator, which will oversee the new safety regime not least for—but not exclusively for, as the amendments suggest—high-risk buildings. For instance, there is my amendment to further the protection of property through the introduction of measures such as sprinklers and compartmentation. There is also the important amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, to widen the definition of “safety” to include health and well-being because, as we have heard, a building can have a profound effect on a person’s physical and mental health. There is the important measure in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, related to addressing the safety risks that can—and do—arise from contractual arrangements. Then there is my noble friend Lord Stunell’s amendment, which aims to get the new regulator to look at and report on a range of issues of concern, from fire suppression systems to stairways, ramps, electrical equipment and measures to support people with disabilities.
The Minister’s response was to say that he welcomes these proposals and that they will be looked at over time but, of course, he does not want to burden the new regulator with additional responsibilities at this stage—notwithstanding the fact that he said that noble Lords were merely asking the regulator to do “a little bit more”. None the less, I am sure that those who have spoken to their own amendments will make a decision on what they wish to do at later stages of this Bill.
I was disturbed by the Minister suggesting that acceptance of my Amendments 1 and 16 would put the safety of the building on a par with the safety of its occupants. I must tell him that this absolutely misunderstands the importance of property protection measures. Often, the introduction of sprinklers and compartmentation, for example, gives the occupants of a building a longer period of time in which to escape and improves safety. Clearly the Minister has accepted that in terms of, for instance, reducing the height of tall buildings when it is expected, at least under guidance, that sprinklers will be introduced.
I acknowledge that the Minister has offered to have a further meeting with my noble friend and provide his not inconsiderable weight, as he described it, to move some measures forward. I hope that he will use his considerable weight to move the measures I have proposed forward in, as he suggested, the first statutory review of the work of the new regulator. Given that rather modest assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
Clause 4: Duty to facilitate building safety: higher-risk buildings
3: Clause 4, page 3, line 5, at end insert—
“(1A) The assistance and encouragement that must be provided under subsection (1) includes, in particular, assistance and encouragement with a view to facilitating securing the safety of disabled people in or about higher-risk buildings in relation to building safety risks as regards those buildings.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the regulator must in particular provide assistance and encouragement to relevant persons with a view to facilitating their securing the safety of disabled people in or about higher-risk buildings.
My Lords, I open this group by introducing a set of amendments that respond to many of the issues raised during previous debates on this Bill. I hope that these changes will be welcomed.
I start with a change that I trust will be welcomed across the House: the removal of the building safety manager. Following feedback from leaseholders and persuasive interventions from noble Lords during Committee, we are scrapping the legal requirement to appoint a building safety manager. I thank noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Fox of Buckley, Lady Pinnock and Lady Hayman of Ullock, the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for their thoughtful contributions on this important matter.
The Government are clear that accountable persons are responsible for ensuring that their buildings are safe and must not pass on unnecessary costs to leaseholders. We must restore common sense on building safety. There are more effective ways of discharging the responsibilities set out in the Bill than recruiting managers on high salaries for individual buildings.
Accountable persons should reflect on their current management arrangements. If they are confident that they deliver safe outcomes, there is no reason for change. We are committed to driving up standards of safety management and maintenance in high-rise buildings and the competence of those who deliver it. In the first instance, this should be done by supporting the development and upskilling of those already managing buildings. The Government will continue to work towards raising professionalism and standards among property agents and are considering the recommendations of the working group of the noble Lord, Lord Best, on regulating the market. We will continue to work with industry on improving best practice.
I turn now to our amendments to the building safety charge. I have listened to the feedback that we have received from stakeholders and in the other place and I thank my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham for raising this matter during Committee on the Bill. I recognise the concerns raised—that the building safety charge as previously envisaged could have created additional bureaucracy for landlords and leaseholders alike—and I have listened to those concerns.
The amendment simplifies how the costs are managed by removing the building safety charge as a separate charging mechanism. We will do this by changing the modifications that we are making to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Building safety costs will now be accounted for as part of the service charge, as my noble friend recommended. The costs will be clearly identifiable and part of a system that is familiar to both landlords and leaseholders, thereby ensuring transparency of the costs. As the building safety charge will be incorporated into the service charge, the legislative protections against forfeiture will already be in place, so I am removing the amendments related to forfeiture that were laid in the other place.
I move on to how we can strengthen the voice of disabled residents. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for tabling amendments in Committee to highlight this important matter. The Government and the Health and Safety Executive are committed to providing residents with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences—including, in particular, disabled residents—with a strong voice in the new regulatory system. We have therefore brought forward amendments to ensure that the building safety regulator will have to pay particular attention to the safety of disabled people in high-rise residential buildings and engage with them.
Amendment 3 ensures that the building safety regulator must particularly focus on the safety of disabled persons when undertaking its broad Clause 4 functions around safety in higher-risk buildings. Amendments 5 and 6 are consequential amendments. Amendment 9 provides that the building safety regulator must take all reasonable steps to ensure that its residents panel contains representation from individual disabled residents of high-rise residential buildings or groups that represent or support disabled residents. Groups may be represented corporately or by an individual member expected to be sponsored by the organisation. Amendment 12 requires the building safety regulator to report publicly about its engagement with disabled residents of high-rise residential buildings in its wider annual statement on resident engagement. Amendment 14 defines “disabled”, using the widely used definition from the Equality Act 2010.
I thank those noble Lords who made important points about resident engagement in Committee, particularly the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. We have listened carefully to them and are making appropriate amendments to the Bill. The Bill puts residents at the heart of the building safety regime and gives them a clear voice in building safety matters. These amendments take this even further and oblige the principal accountable person to consult residents at prescribed times on the residents’ engagement strategy. This means that residents have the opportunity to comment on the form of the strategy and that those responsible for the safety of the building must listen to such comments.
To avoid any doubt, we have also made it clear that the principal accountable person will be obliged to act in accordance with the strategy. This means that residents and the building safety regulator will be able to hold principal accountable persons to account for their commitments made in the residents’ engagement strategy.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for raising the important matter of resident management companies assuming accountable person duties under the new regime. I have sought to address this issue through collaboration with the noble Lord and will accept his technical, non-government Amendment 86 to my Amendment 85. This will ensure that all resident management companies that are an accountable person have the option to appoint a professional director to support them with their Part 4 building safety duties.
These amendments give a power to the Secretary of State to set out in regulations the detail of provision that will be implied into articles of association of resident management companies to enable this. They imply terms into leases so that costs of the appointment can be recoverable as a service charge under the lease. The amendments apply retrospectively. Through secondary legislation, we will apply leaseholder consultation requirements to protect leaseholders from paying unnecessarily large sums as a result of appointing a professional director and ensure that, where professional directors are appointed, they can also be easily removed when required.
Amendment 263 provides that, where a paid professional director is appointed to support building safety, all unpaid directors of the resident management company will be relieved of their personal criminal liability under Part 4. Resident management companies will continue to be liable for any contraventions that may occur, maintaining the principles embodied throughout the Bill of clear responsibilities and accountability. All the elements of this amendment enable resident management companies to remain in control and responsible for their buildings, while enabling them to obtain the professional support that they may need to meet the duties of our new building safety regime.
I am grateful to noble Lords and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for their careful scrutiny of the delegated power in Clause 12. Noble Lords will be aware that we have responded to the committee’s report in detail. The provision in Clause 12 to repeal statutory committees was included in the Bill on the expert advice of the Health and Safety Executive that this power is needed to enable the committee structure to adapt and improve over time. I understand that the House has concerns that this power might be used by Ministers for other reasons.
I am grateful to the chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee in another place for suggesting a potential safeguard, which the Government propose to accept, through Amendments 10 and 11. These amendments ensure that the power to repeal provision for a statutory committee may be used only following a proposal by the building safety regulator. A statutory committee could not be repealed merely on the initiative of Ministers. Proposals for regulations would come to Ministers only after the regulator had consulted on them and regulations under this clause would continue to be subject to the affirmative procedure.
I hope that the House will welcome these changes and additional safeguards and that it will support these amendments.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue and as a disabled person. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, is unable to be in her place this morning as she is attending the memorial service for the Duke of Edinburgh in her role as chair of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme.
In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and I both spoke of our experience of the use of personal emergency evacuation plans, or PEEPs—good practice, and less good practice. I will not repeat that today but one thing is clear: the responsibility for getting safely out of a building should not be on the shoulders of a disabled resident alone. That is why I have laid Amendments 13, 20 and 35, and I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Hayman of Ullock, for signing them. The amendments set out a clear link between the duties under the Equality Act 2010 for those providing services for disabled people—in this case, housing and safety in buildings.
Amendment 13 would put into law that a statement must have been laid by the regulator that they have engaged with their residents in relation to the accountable person’s duty to avoid disability discrimination. Amendment 20 would amend Section 31 of the Equality Act by adding a specific reference to a person exercising functions in relation to public housing. Amendment 35 would create a duty on the accountable person to include developing PEEPs for people with a disability in order to avoid disability discrimination.
I believe that the amendments are necessary because I want to see clarification that Part 3 of the Equality Act 2010 applies to social landlords and that, as a result of Part 3, there is an anticipatory duty on social landlords to prepare PEEPs for disabled residents. There is a limited time for the relevant government body to prepare statutory guidance and a code of practice in relation to this.
I thank the Minister for his amendments, starting with Amendment 3, which talks about the “assistance and encouragement” that must be provided. Unfortunately, that is a long way from the current requirement for the responsible people in offices and other public buildings, including hotels, to make formal arrangements that ensure that a disabled person can leave a building that is dangerous whether due to suspected fire, chemical escape—such as at the Olympic Park swimming pool last week—or anything else that puts people at risk. The other amendments tabled by the Minister, and indeed his letter to signatories of my amendments that arrived at 10 am this morning, for which I thank him, talk about the government consultation, but the Government have been consulting on this specific matter since the early days of the Grenfell inquiry.
Why do we believe that there needs to be stronger reference to the Equality Act and to PEEPs? Week 68 of the Grenfell Tower inquiry took substantial evidence from witnesses in relation to the provision of communication and engagement with disabled residents and how they were—or were not—able to leave Grenfell Tower safely. They were not. Over 40% of disabled residents died in the fire, a far higher percentage than any other category of resident. There were no PEEPs. Not only was there no guidance but, as I will refer to, any arrangements for disabled people were actively discouraged by the government adviser and government officials.
Inside Housing has reported on week 68 of the Grenfell Tower inquiry last week, saying:
“Government-endorsed guidance in use at the time said the provision of such plans was ‘usually unrealistic’, and staff at the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation … which managed the tower, previously cited this guidance in explaining why they did not provide any.”
As I said in Committee, Colin Todd of CS Todd & Associates, the consultants who wrote the guidance document for the Government, said:
“The consensus opinion of the project group was that it should be acknowledged in the guide that PEEPs were impracticable.”
However, the inquiry heard that Louise Upton, the former head of the fire safety policy team at DCLG, thought it was not a
“deliberate decision to exclude representatives”
of the disabled community.
The inquiry notes that the failure to provide escape plans resulted from that guidance being used by the KCTMO, but the Chief Fire Officers Association had raised concerns and warned that to
“ignore and eliminate advice on disabled access and evacuation is a fundamental error of the document”
“is recommended that it must be included”.
Elspeth Grant, a fire safety consultant with TripleAconsult, wrote to Sir Merrick Cockell, then chair of the LGA and leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council, when the guidance was published to say that it was unlawful and discriminated against disabled people, calling for it to be withdrawn
“before this guidance leads to an unnecessary tragedy because plans were not in force”.
Just yesterday at the inquiry, Brian Martin, another official, said that the Government ignored the warnings about PEEPs for disabled people as they were “too expensive” to put into practice. The first phase of the inquiry recommended the provision of PEEPs for residents of high-rise blocks, but that is not what we are seeing now. Instead, the Government are still consulting.
In an email enclosing a letter that arrived this morning, the Minister said that the mandating of PEEPs via the Building Safety Bill “is not the answer” and that his approach using the EEIS has now been shared with the National Fire Chiefs Council, which is
“supportive of this way forward”.
However, the letter from the National Fire Chiefs Council that he attached reads somewhat differently. Yes, the fire chiefs are happy to be part of any consultation, as they should be, but their letter goes on to say:
“We would like to take this opportunity to highlight the benefits, within the independent research and any further consultation, of engaging with relevant stakeholders in informing any further work on PEEPs. Such stakeholders are far reaching, and we suggest they should include the EHRC, disability representative groups, leaseholder representative groups and representatives from the Grenfell community groups.”
They do not say that mandating PEEPs is not the answer. They say that the Government need to listen to key stakeholders, who must be involved in the discussions.
Attached to the letter that the Minister circulated is an unidentified PDF; I think that it comes from the department but I cannot see that. It highlights the “substantial difficulties” of mandating PEEPs in high-rise buildings—those of practicality, proportionality and safety. The very fact that government guidance believes that providing safe egress for disabled people is too difficult and too expensive is what led to the appalling 2011 guidance. Not mandating responsibility for the safety of disabled people to the accountable or responsible officers for the building will continue to put disabled people in high-rise blocks at risk.
It is only when a fire alarm goes off that a disabled person, stuck in a building and waiting for help to leave safely, begins to understand how vital PEEPs are. Let me say this again: 40% of the disabled residents in Grenfell Tower died because there were no systems in place via PEEPs to get them out safely. If the Government will not support disabled people living in high-rise buildings by ensuring that those responsible for the building must have plans to help them leave, the only alternative is for the Government to provide housing for them that is safe.
I am grateful to the Minister because, in the last hour, his office has proposed a meeting for tomorrow. I thank him for that but, if progress is not made at that meeting, I plan to bring back amendments at Third Reading. This is truly a matter of life and death.
I rise to comment on the disabled amendments that the Government have laid, including the one that was just moved. I will also comment briefly on Amendments 46 and 47, which have not yet been spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and speak to Amendments 39 and 40 on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, since he is unable to be with us at this time of the morning.
I commend the Government for listening to my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson in Committee and on all the amendments that they have brought forward today. Having been bored on the train when I was heading up north last week, I counted on the Order Paper more than 220 government amendments and 50 proposed new clauses. That is an extraordinary achievement and shows the extent to which my noble friend the Minister has been listening, as well as what he has been able to drive forward—principally because the Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Michael Gove, gets it and understands what needs to be done. So, although my noble friends and I may move a few amendments today, and perhaps force them to a vote, I do not want the Minister to think that we are being churlish. We appreciate the huge distance that the Government have travelled; we just think that there may be one or two more gaps that we need to fill.
I would be grateful if the Minister could reassure me as to why the disabled amendments that we have just heard noble Lords speak to may not be necessary or why there may still be an essential gap there. I thought that the government amendments were adequate but I am keen to hear his explanation.
I will speak briefly to Amendments 46 and 47 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. In Committee, I tried to make the point that the burdens on leaseholders are much heavier than those on building safety managers and others, who seem to have unlimited rights to impose fines and penalties and invade homes to check on things without good reason. I am keen to hear what the noble Baroness has to say about her amendments, which state that such persons should be able to access leasehold flats only when it is essential to do so.
My main purpose this morning is to speak to Amendments 39 and 40 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, which I was pleased to sign up to as second fiddle. The good news is that I shall not need to make my own speech and bore the House. The bad news is that my speaking on behalf of a right reverend Prelate may do irreparable damage to the Church of England, so I hope that does not occur. He says:
“First off, I would like to express gratitude to the Minister for tabling his Amendment 38 and the overall listening approach he has taken to the concerns of the House throughout the passage of this Bill. I hope that this is at least some indication on the Government’s part that they are still working through the imperfections of this Bill, and that they might respond with amendments at Third Reading in response to problems noble Lords and Baronesses”
have raised and will raise today. He continues:
“I will be frank and say that although I am pleased the Government did respond to the concerns I raised at Committee stage by tabling Amendment 38, the content of it is admittedly limited. The reality is that the principal accountable person could take representations from or hold consultations with the relevant tenants or leaseholders on matters”
relating to building safety
“without necessarily integrating their concerns into the Residents Engagement Strategy. It appears entirely discretionary on the accountable person as to what enters into this strategy. In fact, because Amendment 38 also requires the accountable person to act in accordance with the strategy”
that, from conversations he has had with others,
“would seem to imply that a failure to act in accordance with the strategy could be flagged up to the Building Safety Regulator. The question then is simple: why would an accountable person commit to include something in an engagement strategy that could later be used against them?”
However, the right reverend Prelate says:
“I do not want to hastily dismiss what the Government are trying to do here as the foundations contained”
within the amendment require only
“an ever so slight tweaking to better ensure that the accountable person acts in accordance with a strategy that actually reflects the views of residents, rather than the current vague requirement to just ‘take any representations … on the consultation into account when next reviewing the strategy’”.
Personally, I think that he has made a very good point there. He continues:
“Amendment 39 would mildly alter Amendment 38 to ensure that the accountable person takes any representations made on the consultation into account”
and then changes
“‘the strategy to reflect the balance of representations made’. This remains imperfect but it does at least in part remove the discretionary basis for deciding the content of the strategy by adding a protection to ensure that the strategy reflects”
that balance. He then says:
“Even with this change, the accountable person will hold immense discretionary power since it is … incumbent on them to interpret the balance of representations made”
so that the accountable person still has the whip hand.
“However, it would alter the relationship when formulating the strategy from the accountable person as its absolute sovereign to the accountable person as the interpreter of the general will. The accountable person will ultimately be the individual who determines the content that enters into the residents engagement strategy. Amendment 39 provides just an inch of breathing room to better guarantee that it does reflect the views of tenants and residents”.
Amendment 40, says the right reverend Prelate,
“admittedly is far more wide ranging and acts as a direct extension”
of his previous amendment in Committee,
“which would have mandated recognised residents associations for the purpose of consultations on building safety issues. I did recognise the Government’s discomfort at the prospect of mandating anything, particularly where there exists an amicable relationship between the freeholder and the leaseholders or tenants. For this reason, I have tried to create a conditional avenue by which a freeholder must set up a residents association. The condition being that as part of consultations on the residents engagement strategy, the accountable person must consult with residents on whether to create a recognised tenants association, and create one, for the purpose of consultations on building safety decisions, where it turns out there is a simple majority demand from residents”
to so have one. He continues:
“I believe a conditional requirement for recognised residents’ associations would help mitigate some of the abuses that do exist within the system. In Committee, I referenced the case of a freeholder who charged residents a 100% markup on window repairs and also spent £74,000 in a court battle to prevent residents from forming a recognised tenants’ association. I cannot speculate on how many other leaseholders have suffered similar abuses at the hands of their freeholder. However, I know the Minister is as appalled by these abuses as I am.”
I share that point of view. He continues:
“The Government do recognise the need to reform the leasehold system”—
something we all look forward to in, we hope, the next Queen’s Speech on 10 May.
“For this reason, I do not want to press the Government on Amendment 40 other than to ask the Minister to look seriously at how recognised tenants’ associations can be more widely promoted and more easily set up, as well as perhaps to expand their remit to encompass matters relating to building safety issues so that there is actual accountability and scrutiny when it comes to the charges they incur.
However, I would still impress to the Government the need to strengthen Amendment 38 so that there are greater safeguards to guarantee that residents’ engagement strategies better reflect the views of residents. I believe Amendment 39 presents a sensible compromise to solve this problem. The authority to decide on what is contained within the residents’ engagement strategy remains with the accountable person but in a manner that is more conducive to capturing the balance of residents’ views.
Finally, I would just like to note a few other amendments in this group. I welcome the sentiment of Amendment 36 within this group and the duty it places on the accountable person to achieve best value. I welcome the Government’s decision to remove the building safety manager”—
I think we all welcome that—
“and I would congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, on making the strong case for its removal in Committee. Of course, some of the costs previously contained within the building safety manager will naturally be rebadged and passed on, it is inevitable. Nevertheless, since it is now discretionary on the accountable person to decide how to meet their obligations under this Act, and since any costs incurred for meeting this obligation will be met by the tenants or leaseholders, there is no incentive for the accountable person not to reimpose the costly building safety manager. Therefore, I do believe that some duty to achieve best value would represent a sort of financial safeguard for leaseholders and possibly encourage freeholders to take a more considered approach to meeting their obligations rather than taking the path of least resistance in hiring a building safety manager.
I would also quickly offer my support to Amendments 13, 20, and 35, and the protections they afford to those living with disabilities, which I welcome.”
It has been a privilege to deliver this speech on behalf of the right reverend Prelate. I say to my noble friend that this was not Blencathra talking; I was speaking from a much higher authority today and expect him to pay particular attention to Amendment 39.
My Lords, I will intervene very briefly to welcome the Government’s amendments, particularly Amendment 100, which removes Schedule 8 and abolishes the building safety charges as separate charges. As my noble friend the Minister mentioned in his opening remarks, I spoke to an amendment in Committee which did exactly that, pointing out the extra costs and potential confusion that two separate charges could result in. I recommended that the building safety charge be incorporated into the service charge but shown separately. I welcome this simplification, as will leaseholders. I am grateful to my noble friend for listening and responding.
I will very briefly support Amendments 39 and 40 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, and so ably spoken to by my noble friend Lord Blencathra, who may find himself invited to deputise at pulpits in and around St Albans as a result of his performance. If there is no provision in the Bill to ensure that residents have a collective voice, the accountable person—normally the landlord—will have a huge interest in ensuring that residents are not organised and enabled to resist any costs that the landlord wishes to impose on them. The current government proposal just says that the accountable person should design an engagement strategy, whereas the amendments rightly go further, requiring a tenants’ association to be set up where that is what the majority want.
The amendment goes entirely with the grain of successive Governments’ policy to even up the terms of trade between leaseholders and tenants on the one hand and landlords on the other. I hope that the Minister can look benevolently on these proposals and perhaps at a later stage consider strengthening them further in the direction proposed by my noble friend.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 36 and 46. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, be so kind about my previous comments, but then I remembered that it was not him speaking. I thank whoever said something nice about the points that I was making.
I feel slightly awkward because, in some ways, I should be saying that I had a win in Committee, but here I am again. Amendment 36 seeks to insert a clause that would mean that
“an accountable person must take … steps to achieve best financial value”
for leaseholders. It would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance to ensure that this duty is taken seriously. This is to focus the mind on the danger that we have seen throughout this Bill where, in the name of safety in a Bill taking on the grave injustice suffered by leaseholders of having to pay for building safety remediations, sometimes the solution inadvertently creates even more layers of disproportionate, overly cautious and risk-averse regulation and bureaucracy, which result in spiralling and never-ending sets of additional costs for leaseholders.
After Committee, when announcing the changes that the Government were making to the Bill, the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, said that they had listened to leaseholders’ concerns and were
“removing the requirement for a separate building safety charge and scrapping compulsory building safety managers, to help avoid unnecessary costs.”
Brilliant, I thought. When the Minister then told me that there would now be no building safety managers, I must confess that I was delighted. My amendment to abolish the building safety manager role was the first amendment that I had ever tabled and I had had a win. However, before I got the bunting out and allowed myself to indulge in any backslapping, I was brought to a pause by leaseholders, who noted:
“Small gains towards fairness, decency & common sense do not equal an overall ‘win’, the battle is v much ongoing!”
It is important that the Government have listened. A little like the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, I should say that any caveats that I raise now are not intended to be churlish. However, it is precisely because I accept the assurances of the Minister and Michael Gove that they want to ensure that there are no unintended outcomes from the Bill in terms of avoidable unnecessary costs that I have tabled this amendment, which gives guidance a chance to push home the point that value for money for leaseholders is a very important thing.
This is not just about my fears around what might happen or leaseholders being paranoid. At a sector conference—Leasehold London 2022—Shaun Lundy, a chartered health and safety practitioner and a supporter of building safety managers, reflected on what removing that role would mean. He said that what worries him a bit is that some of the onerous duties are still there so, even if you get rid of the role, it still leaves a void over who will do the work. He worried out loud about the danger of creating “a disproportionate industry” and “another layer of bureaucracy”, especially in relation to the new duty to create safety case reports. He noted that, although some reports he had seen were sensible, others were completely over the top; he gave the example of a 50-page report costing £50,000 but with no tangible benefit. The building safety manager may therefore be dead but, for some, it is “Long live the building safety manager and their duties”. Dame Judith Hackitt’s call soon after Grenfell that it was not good enough to wait for a change in the law and that freeholders had to act has led to something of a panic reaction and has often been taken literally.
Just to give you an example, I will tell you the story of Aviva leaseholder Sarah from the Quadrant in Salford. With no law passed, her managing agent, Contour Property Services, has charged her and her fellow leaseholders for a building safety manager. What is more, it has appointed an additional building safety co-ordinator. In correspondence with the lease-holders, Contour writes of balancing “value for money” against taking
“appropriate measures to meet new safety requirements”.
Then the killer line tells them, almost casually as an afterthought:
“As a result of these appointments, there will be an increase in your service charges.”
There they are, in the small print, for the forthcoming year from April 2022 to March 2023. If you look at the small print in the bill, as I have, the building safety manager is there at £21,249.50. The cost of the part-time safety co-ordinator is £11,702.56 and this is charged to the leaseholders.
This might be blatant but, even if there is no direct mention of the building safety manager, it seems that they are lurking in the shadows, rebadged or slightly in disguise, but ever present none the less. The heavily administrative substance of the duties that they were meant to take part in remains in the Bill. Many of these duties are based on the precautionary principle, sadly interpreted through the prism of zero risk and often disproportionately focused on myriad possible risks rather than clearly defined dangers. In Sarah’s case, one of the listed duties is writing and maintaining the building safety case for the building, which shows that all the potential risks have been considered and mitigated. Never mind the cost of the building safety case itself, who will pay to resolve all the potential risks?
The question is whether the removal of the legal requirement to appoint building safety managers is strong enough to, in effect, stop them being imposed. This amendment asks the Government to note that the genie is out of the bottle, but the Secretary of State has the opportunity to ensure, in guidance, that the sector should not just rush to risk-averse costly solutions because they have once been suggested, but should instead focus on whether costs are proportionate to real risks and ensure that value for money is a barrier to costs just being dumped on leaseholders via service charges or other nefarious routes.
Of course, it is not all about money. We have to consider human costs, too. There is no point in knowing the cost of everything but ignoring the non-monetary value of homes for people, discussed so eloquently in the group beginning with Amendment 1.
Amendment 46 focuses on tightening the ability of freeholders, landlords and managing agents to force entry into leaseholders’ homes. When I raised this in Committee, there was understandable concern. People wanted to say, “What if there is an emergency? You need to be able to enter.” We can all think of such instances. I know that that happened with a burst pipe in a flat above mine, with water pouring into the flat below. You need to be able to get in to turn the water off, but this should be a last resort. This modest amendment simply aims to reinforce that point and to give leaseholders some power in that decision.
At present, despite limited rights for leaseholders, which have become increasingly clear since building safety issues came into the public realm, landlords have been under an implied obligation—as the ideal—to give the tenant or leaseholder “quiet enjoyment” of the property and they should not interfere with that. If you read the literature around building safety, you will discover an increasing clamour to challenge the idea that leaseholders have any rights to stop entry into their homes, presenting leaseholders as obstacles to safety.
For example, in the Safer People, Safer Homes: Building Safety Management report of a couple of years ago, there are complaints of
“Leasehold … units … purchased by their owners, who are not culturally accustomed to the notion that the owner … has any jurisdiction over their home.”
The landlords complain that access for owners and their agents is just too difficult. Extraordinarily and insultingly, the assumption is that, behind leaseholders’ front doors, they all behaving as fire hazards, irresponsibly ignorant of risks. Leaseholders are painted as ill-informed problems:
“Most will have no comprehension as to fire (or other safety) principles and their place in the matter.”
The report demands:
“Timely intervention on a statutory basis is needed to enable prompt access”
in order to
“monitor or assess risk and condition.”
My concern is that all these checks, monitoring and assessment will mean demands for entry beyond any reasonable bounds of common sense. Leaseholders themselves are anxious that the Government press home that this is not encouraged, and that the Government ask key questions of landlords.
Amendments 46 and 47 would restrict the power to enter people’s homes unless it was essential and would make it clear that the court must be satisfied that it was necessary to grant entry only in extreme circumstances, not just because an accountable person had sent a notice demanding entry for building safety purposes so vaguely defined that they could include anything from the overuse of scented candles to fridge inspections. I am just waiting for smoking in one’s home to become a listed fire risk, although I do not want to give that idea to the Government.
I make a final plea that leaseholders’ property rights are not just to be shooed away and a final reminder—one that I will return to later—that we should avoid pushing a narrative that assumes that all blocks of flats are inherently dangerous and at high risk of fires, creating a climate of fear that then justifies the surveillance and monitoring of leaseholders in their homes and the reorganisation of everyone’s lives around hypersafety and zero risk at great cost, both financially and in the human sense of civil liberties and privacy rights, to those homeowners who are unfortunate enough to be leaseholders as well.
My Lords, I shall say a few words on behalf of my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson in respect of Amendments 13, 20 and 35, to which her name is attached. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, explained, my noble friend sends her apologies; she is attending the thanksgiving service for His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh in her capacity as chair of the wonderful Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme. I think we all agree that that event should take priority.
She wanted her thanks to the Minister and his officials to be recorded for the new amendment, which will require the regulator to report regularly on engagement with residents who are disabled. She has greatly welcomed constructive talks outside the Chamber and is keen to keep working with the Minister on personal emergency evacuation plans to meet the needs of people with disabilities so that they have correct and useful information and can feel safe where they live.
Amendment 86 in this group is in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. I will also comment on government Amendments 73, 85 and 263. In Committee, I raised the issue of leaseholders managing their own blocks of flats who would be given onerous new responsibilities for safety issues by this Bill. These new duties and liabilities could deter many from acting as the voluntary unpaid directors of their resident management companies and right-to-manage companies. These self-managed blocks depend on their volunteer directors to give up their time—and, indeed, risk falling out with their neighbours since not all their decisions will be popular with everyone—but who wants to risk a criminal prosecution and a criminal record for failing to carry out all the correct safety actions required of an accountable person by the Bill? Recruiting and retaining volunteers to be directors of resident-run companies is already difficult yet there is widespread agreement that more, not less, leaseholder control should be strongly encouraged.
The Minister has recognised the issue and brought forward government Amendment 73 to enable lease-holder-controlled companies to take on board a paid expert building safety director to provide this service to the company if, and only if, the leaseholders wish to delegate the job. Amendment 85 means that the cost of engaging that professional as the person responsible for building safety can be included in the service charges for all residents. These government amendments are very welcome; I thank the Minister very much for listening to the arguments and acting accordingly.
However, the Institute of Residential Property Management and the Association of Residential Managing Agents—they are now becoming a single entity, to be known as the Property Institute—noticed one obstacle to the Government’s otherwise excellent solution: quite a few resident-controlled companies prohibit the appointment of any director who is not themselves a leaseholder in the block. My amendment would address that point and enable an external expert safety director to be appointed in such circumstances, with necessary protections on costs and the ability to get rid of the building safety director if the arrangement does not work out.
In the not-too-distant future, we discuss leasehold reform and improvements to the commonhold system whereby the occupiers of blocks of flats or groups of homes both own and manage them directly. These amendments pave the way for those discussions. They send out a signal for future developments that resident control will be supported and facilitated, not overburdened and undermined by extra regulatory requirements on their volunteer directors.
Following helpful discussions, the Minister has explained that our Amendment 86 is acceptable to the Government. I am delighted to move it as a technical but necessary addition to the provisions of the Bill, with repeated thanks to the Minister, who has listened to the arguments and acted accordingly.
My Lords, first, we very much welcome the way the Government have moved on this. We appreciate that the Minister has aimed to build consensus for the changes and amendments that he has now brought forward. Several points have been made by noble Lords, in particular my noble friend Lady Brinton, about gaps that remain and uncertainties about implementation. We look forward to hearing how the Government feel they can respond to those, if not by accepting specific amendments then at least by setting out a clear way of engaging with those who have legitimate concerns to find out how they can be best resolved.
On my own behalf, I thank the Government for government Amendments 10 and 11, which safeguard the building safety regulator’s committees from interference by the Secretary of State unless a request is made by the regulator to change the internal structures of the body. That is a necessary and very welcome change. Our overall view is that these government amendments earn our support—we certainly support their rapid implementation—but the loose ends that have been discussed by noble Lords and drawn to the Minister’s attention need attention. We very much look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to them.
My Lords, I start by thanking the Minister for his introduction to a large number of government amendments. Like other noble Lords, I think it is really important that the Government listened to a lot of our debate in Committee and have brought forward these amendments, as well as others that we will discuss later, in response. It is good that we are making such excellent progress in some areas. I also thank the officials in the department, who have been incredibly supportive and helpful in spending time with me to help me understand the huge number of amendments we had to consider at quite short notice; I very much appreciate that work.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said, there are still a few areas where people feel there is a bit more to be done; they are addressed by the amendments we have been looking at. I start with the three amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I was pleased to add my name to them, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. There was a lot of discussion in Committee about the need for disabled people to be more supported. I am pleased that the Government brought in amendments to strengthen the voice of disabled residents; that is extremely important.
Starting with Amendment 13, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, mentioned that 41% of the disabled people at Grenfell Tower were killed in the disaster, which is an appalling figure. Anything that can be done to ensure that something like that does not happen again in a fire is terribly important.
The noble Baroness also talked about the Equality Act on her Amendment 20. It is really important that we consider how building safety can affect different groups listed with protected characteristics under that Act. This could also include pregnant people, who may need more support in getting out of a building. As a protected characteristic, it is important that that is taken into account, as someone who is very elderly and vulnerable should be.
I am pleased that the Minister has offered the noble Baroness a meeting on her Amendment 35, on personal emergency evacuation plans, because this is really important. I was quite concerned that none of the Grenfell Tower residents had been offered a personal emergency evacuation plan. Again, we need to ensure that in future these things are better managed, so I thank the noble Lord for his time on that.
I turn to the amendments in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for introducing these amendments and look forward to his first sermon in the not-too-distant future, we hope. Again, these two important amendments draw attention to areas that need to be looked at further. Government Amendments 37, 38 and 41 to 45 look specifically at tenants’ associations and principal accountable persons. This was also much discussed in Committee, where it needed further work. I would like to talk a bit about the resident tenants’ associations because, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said, they need to be more widely promoted. This is a really important part of managing safety going forward.
Recognised tenants’ associations give owners of leasehold flats important rights. To become recognised, an association must have agreement from more than 50% of qualifying leaseholders. They then have the right to request information from the freeholder of their block, such as about the service charge account, which again was discussed a great deal in Committee. It is really important that resident tenants’ associations are properly recognised and more widely promoted. Again, when looking at consultation, they are a vital part of understanding better what residents’ needs and concerns are.
I turn briefly to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. Her Amendment 36 raises the important issue that leaseholders need value for money. On her other amendments regarding entering buildings, it is important that tenants are properly protected in this way. Only when something essential is happening safety-wise can flats be entered, and it is really important to say that. I also welcome the fact that the government amendments remove the building safety manager. As the noble Baroness said, it was important that the Government listened to her clearly laid out concerns in Committee.
Along with the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, we very much welcome the amendments to the building safety charge, and the fact that the Government have accepted the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Best, which will make a very sensible and practical change going forward, as he said. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I start with Amendments 13, 20 and 35, which relate to disability discrimination. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for tabling these amendments, but I am afraid the Government will not be able to accept them. However, we were all struck by the statistic that more than 40% of the disabled residents of Grenfell Tower died in that tragedy, and the Government are committed to supporting the fire safety of the vulnerable. We are particularly aware of the need to improve the safety of those with mobility concerns. As the noble Baroness mentioned, I have committed to meet with her and I have met with the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, on a number of occasions.
As noble Lords are aware, we ran a consultation on personal emergency evacuation plans last year. This highlighted the substantial difficulties in mandating PEEPs in high-rise residential buildings, especially around practicality, proportionality and safety. I shared some of our thinking, admittedly quite late before this debate, with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, because it is important to recognise that this thorny policy issue requires a considerable amount of work and collaboration with the fire and rescue service.
We will publish the Government’s response as soon as possible and explain these concerns in more detail. Our response will include a commitment to undertake a new consultation on this proposal for emergency evacuation and information-sharing—an EEIS. One of the things we learned about from the Grenfell Tower tragedy is the ability to locate people who are vulnerable and have mobility concerns, so that we can provide them with the support they need to safely evacuate those buildings where the “stay put” policy has been suspended. It is clear that information is critical. As are visits from the fire and rescue service to help advise them on how to make their properties that much safer. This is fundamental to ensure that we can provide the support that disabled residents require, so this EEIS proposal will give the fire and rescue service the information it needs on where people are located within higher-risk buildings that have a simultaneous evacuation strategy in place.
I completely agree—there is absolute unanimity on this—that accountable people must take all the appropriate steps to ensure that they comply with the law, not least in respect to protected characteristics. However, it is not clear what this amendment will achieve beyond the requirements that already appear in the Equality Act, which I will describe shortly.
Furthermore, an accountable person’s duty to manage building safety risks under the Bill extends to limiting their impact, should an incident involving the relevant building safety risks occur. This means accountable persons are already required by the Bill to consider how people might evacuate safely, if relevant to the building safety risk in question.
Amendment 13 would require the building safety regulator, in its statements of its engagement with residents, to outline the extent to which accountable persons have engaged with residents in relation to a duty to avoid disability discrimination by virtue of Amendment 35.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that disabled residents must be listened to and have their needs met. That is why we have tabled Amendments 3, 9 and 12, which require the building safety regulator to pay particular attention to the safety of disabled people in high-rise residential buildings. This includes seeking out disabled representation on its residents’ panel and publicly reporting on its engagement with the disabled residents of high-rise residential buildings. In relation to principal accountable persons’ proper engagement with disabled residents, it is clear that their responsibility to measure and review the effectiveness of their residents’ engagement strategy will apply to all residents, including those with disabilities.
On Amendment 20, activities relating to the exercise of a public function in the provision or management of public housing in relation to building safety will, depending on their nature and context, already be covered by specific parts of the Equality Act 2010. They may be within Part 3, “Services and public functions”, or Part 4, “Premises”. In other words, protection from discrimination, harassment and victimisation already exists for the users and residents of premises, irrespective of whether they are in public or private sectors, and subject to certain exceptions. A reasonable adjustments duty also arises in this field of activity.
Which part of the 2010 Act provides this protection will be case specific. The preliminary text of Part 3 provides that, if an act of discrimination, harassment or victimisation is made unlawful by other parts of the Act, including Part 4, which relates to premises, those provisions rather than those covering services and public functions apply. The depth or reach of protection between these two parts is broadly equivalent. Therefore, our conclusion is that Amendment 20 is unnecessary.
I now turn to Amendment 264A tabled by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. Unfortunately, the Government again cannot accept this amendment, which would require a review of the impact of the Act. I reassure my noble friend that a review is already required by Clause 152, which provides that the Secretary of State must—
I am referring to Amendment 264A tabled by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, not the amendment of the noble Baroness. If it has been degrouped, I apologise; my speaking notes have not kept pace with the regroupings of particular amendments, which have been prolific and frequent until the very last minute. In any case, we are not accepting my noble friend’s amendment; we may turn to it once again, in which case I will not repeat myself.
I turn to Amendment 36 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, which would require the accountable person to take all reasonable steps to achieve best financial value. We believe these protections are already in place. The Bill requires all accountable persons to take reasonable steps to manage building safety risks.
As part of this duty, accountable persons will be required to act in accordance with principles that will be prescribed in regulations. We have published these in draft to provide an indication of our intent. They include a requirement that, where reasonable to do so, accountable persons consider the impacts on residents within the higher-risk building and carry out engagement with them. There will be a full consultation on these regulations in due course.
Accountable persons need to be clear about the charges they pass on. This Government believe very strongly that service charges should show this. The law is already clear that service charges must be reasonable. Under the residents’ engagement strategy, residents will be able to participate in building safety decisions and can raise cost as an issue.
I turn to Amendments 46 and 47 on powers of entry, also tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. The Government recognise the importance of safeguarding against the misuse of requests for access to residents’ premises by accountable persons. I reassure her that those intentions have already been met in the Bill.
Amendment 46 aims explicitly to require that a request for access must be essential to achieve a building safety purpose. I assure the noble Baroness that Clause 101 already does this. To be an enforceable access request under the existing drafting, it must be made for the purpose of fulfilling the accountable person’s building safety duties or establishing whether a resident has breached their building safety duties. Therefore, by its nature, the request will be essential to achieving a building safety purpose.
It is not clear how Amendment 46 would change the current requirement that an access request must be necessary for one of the purposes I just mentioned. It is important that we do not set the bar so high as to make access requests difficult to implement where necessary; accountable persons have important building safety responsibilities and must have the appropriate tools available to ensure the safety of all residents.
Amendment 47 would require that, when making an order to allow access to a resident’s premises, the county court must be satisfied that access is essential to achieve the requested purpose. I reassure the noble Baroness that the county court is already required to be satisfied that the granting of an order must be necessary, under Clause 101(4), and will consider what is appropriate when considering a request. Therefore, the intended effect of the amendment has already been met.
I turn to Amendments 39 and 40 tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, but so ably delivered by my noble friend Lord Blencathra, on residents’ engagement. I thank my noble friend for addressing these amendments, but unfortunately the Government cannot accept them. Amendment 39 would oblige principal accountable persons to change the residents’ engagement strategy to reflect representations made by residents. The amendment is too restrictive, as there will be a number of factors that principal accountable persons must consider when updating the strategy.
The views of residents must also be weighed against other factors, such as the principal accountable person’s ability to deliver what residents want and the cost of doing so, which would of course be passed on to residents. It is right that we allow principal accountable persons the flexibility to determine how best to ensure the views of residents are represented and balanced alongside other building safety considerations.
In any case, government Amendment 38 already requires meaningful consultation with residents. If the principal accountable person fails to take residents’ representations into account when updating the strategy, residents will be able to raise a complaint, and escalate if needed to the building safety regulator.
Amendment 40 would oblige principal accountable persons to establish a tenants’ association where a majority of residents participating in the strategy consultation are in favour of one being established. The Government agree that tenants’ associations can be and are powerful tools for resident representation. However, they work best when established by residents rather than when mandated by landlords or managing agents. Residents already have the right to establish a tenants’ association under existing legislation and any proposed change to the arrangements for establishment of tenants’ associations is not a building safety matter.
I will touch finally on the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best. I thank him for his constructive engagement with me over the last week, and confirm, as I said in my opening speech to this group, that I am happy to accept his amendment.
I think that we have covered most matters raised during the debate. I am really sorry to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, that my speaking notes did not keep up with the groupings. She is the Oliver Twist of the House—I have noticed that she wins, and then asks for more. I thank all noble Lords who participated in the debate. I hope that, with the explanations and reassurances that I have given, they will be content not to press their amendments and to support the government amendments.
Amendment 3 agreed.
Amendments 4 to 6
4: Clause 4, page 3, line 9, leave out “or building safety managers”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendments in the name of the Minister leaving out Clauses 82 to 86 (which remove provision about building safety managers).
5: Clause 4, page 3, line 13, leave out “subsection (1)” and insert “subsections (1) and (1A)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the first amendment to this Clause in the name of the Minister.
6: Clause 4, page 3, line 14, at end insert—
““disabled”: see section 29;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the first amendment to this Clause in the name of the Minister.
Amendments 4 to 6 agreed.
Clause 5: Duty to keep safety and standard of buildings under review
Amendment 7 not moved.
8: Clause 5, page 3, line 26, at end insert—
“(2) The regulator must within two years of this section coming into force carry out and publish an assessment of the benefits and costs of measures on improving the safety of people in or about buildings relating to—(a) fire suppression systems;(b) safety of stairways and ramps;(c) certification of electrical equipment and systems;(d) provision for people with disabilities.(3) The regulator’s assessment may—(a) make proposals in accordance with section 7(2) for regulations in respect of any of these matters, and(b) identify and give notice of such other matters relating to safety of people in or about buildings that they determine require further examination.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to ensure that major issues of public concern about safety in buildings are addressed in a timely way.
Clause 11: Residents’ panel
9: Clause 11, page 5, line 18, at end insert—
“(2A) The regulator must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the committee includes—(a) one or more residents of a higher-risk building who are disabled,(b) a body that represents, supports or promotes the interests of any description of disabled people that includes residents of higher-risk buildings, or(c) a member of a body within paragraph (b).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the regulator must take all reasonable steps to ensure that a residents’ panel includes one or more disabled residents or a body that represents, supports or promotes the interests of disabled residents of higher-risk buildings.
Amendment 9 agreed.
Clause 12: Committees: power to amend or repeal
Amendments 10 and 11
10: Clause 12, page 6, line 15, at end insert—
“(1A) But regulations repealing section 9, 10 or 11 may be made only if the regulator has made a proposal to the Secretary of State for the making of such regulations (as to which see section 7(2)).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the power to repeal a Clause about committees may be exercised only pursuant to a proposal by the regulator.
11: Clause 12, page 6, line 16, leave out “The regulations” and insert “Regulations under this section”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the other amendment of this Clause in the name of the Minister.
Amendments 10 and 11 agreed.
Clause 20: Statement of regulator’s engagement with residents etc
12: Clause 20, page 10, line 36, at end insert—
“(1A) A statement under subsection (1) must, in particular, include information about the regulator’s engagement with residents of higher-risk buildings who are disabled.” Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that a statement of the regulator’s engagement with residents etc must include information about the regulator’s engagement with disabled residents.
Amendment 12 agreed.
Amendment 13 not moved.
Clause 29: Interpretation of Part 2
14: Clause 29, page 17, line 6, at end insert—
““disabled”: a person is disabled if the person has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment defines “disabled” for the purposes of Part 2.
Amendment 14 agreed.
15: After Clause 31, insert the following new Clause—
“Building safety and local authorities
The Secretary of State may amend the Building Act 1984 so that the duties imposed on the regulator by virtue of section 31 in respect of higher-risk buildings are imposed on local authorities that exercise building control functions in the area in which the building is located, in respect of buildings which are—(a) under 18 metres in height, and(b) comprise more than one dwelling.”
My Lords, Amendment 15 is about building regulations and safety measures. It would insert a new clause that states:
“The Secretary of State may amend the Building Act 1984 so that the duties imposed on the regulator by virtue of section 31 in respect of higher-risk buildings are imposed on local authorities that exercise building control functions in the area in which the building is located, in respect of buildings which are …under 18 metres in height, and … comprise more than one dwelling.”
I will give an overview of the amendment; we discussed this issue in detail in Committee so I will be fairly brief.
These two points will ensure that the more stringent building safety framework applies not just to buildings over 18 metres but to buildings under 18 metres where they are multi-occupancy dwellings. We believe that the Bill, in its original draft and as amended in Committee, fails to confirm robustly whether the gateway system will apply to buildings under 18 metres where they are multi-occupancy dwellings. The purpose of this amendment is to get that covered. If it is already covered, I would appreciate clarification from the Minister because we do not want to see a two-tier system where buildings under 18 metres have less rigorous safety regulations than those over 18 metres.
If the Government accepted this amendment then, to avoid issues with capacity that could arise for the building safety regulator—the Minister has discussed his concerns about this in previous debates—it would make the local authority the building control authority, not the building safety regulator. Local authority building control would then cover the operation of the gateway system at all heights below 18 metres.
The amendment also, importantly, removes developers’ ability to pick their own regulator for multi-occupancy buildings under 18 metres, because the local authority building control will then be the sole regulator, again preventing a two-tier system developing. It would also remove concerns raised by local authorities and others that the Government may fail, or take a long time, to expand the high-risk regime to include more buildings.
To sum up, the Hackitt report identified the ability of duty-holders to choose their building control body as a major weakness of the current regulatory regime. The Bill restricts the building control duties to the regulator for buildings within scope. The Local Government Association supports this amendment, which would address these issues. Prohibiting duty-holders of any residential building choosing their building control body would help to ensure a consistent standard, right across the board, and prevent conflicts of interest and a two-tier system. I urge the Minister seriously to consider the proposals in this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 254, laid by my noble friend Lord Foster, but shall do so very briefly to say that there needs to be consistency in preventing the sale of faulty electrical goods online, or those that do not meet the appropriate safety standards and may therefore be defective. My noble friend’s amendment would by regulation ensure that operators of online marketplaces take the appropriate steps to remove items that do not comply with safety legislation.
I remember some years ago discussing with an independent retailer of baby goods, including electrical goods, how vigilant he had to be when goods arrived that they met the safety standards needed. He and his staff knew what to look for: sometimes a fake EU safety logo had printing faults, but there were other warning signs too. He felt he had a particular responsibility to ensure that his customers always bought safe and regulated items.
The difficulty is that online marketplace operators do not feel that responsibility to check that items meet safety regulations. Many of the fires in high-rise blocks that have been referred to during the passage of the Bill and other debates in Parliament over the years were started by faulty or defective electrical goods. There is a particular worry with an ever-increasing percentage of electrical goods now being bought online. My noble friend’s amendment attempts to level the playing field to make sure that customers and consumers can rely on the safety of their products when they buy them.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Brinton for summarising Amendment 254, which is in my name and supported by her. I shall speak to that and to Amendment 261. As my noble friend just said, there is a real concern about fires, particularly in high-rise buildings. Sadly, the statistics show that the number of fires in such buildings is rising year on year, with more than 350 having taken place in the last year for which figures are available.
We also know more generally that more than 50% of fires in such buildings and others are caused by electricity. In some cases, it is as a result of faulty electrical installations—which is why, earlier this morning, I moved an amendment to ensure that all such installations should have a safety check every five years—but sometimes they are caused by faulty electrical appliances. The Grenfell Tower fire, the great tragedy which led so much to the Bill before us, was caused by a faulty fridge-freezer; the Shepherds Court fire was caused by a faulty tumble-dryer and the Lakanal House fire by a faulty TV. It is vital that when customers purchase an electrical appliance, they know that it is safe.
However, as my noble friend pointed out, when an electrical appliance is purchased in a shop, the shopkeeper has the responsibility to ensure its safety but, bizarrely, there is currently no similar requirement for online marketplaces to take responsibility for the safety of appliances sold on them. That is leading to a worrying situation. Research by Electrical Safety First and by the Office for Product Safety and Standards has found a worrying number of non-compliant electrical appliances available for purchase in online marketplaces. Electrical Safety First has repeatedly found available on such sites appliances, such as tumble dryers and washing machines, that have already been recalled by the manufacturer due to concerns about the risk of overheating and fire.
This is not a small problem—indeed, with the growth in online shopping, it is a growing one—so there is an urgent need to bring the protections that already apply to purchases of electrical appliances made in shops to those purchased online, and that is what Amendment 254 seeks to achieve. It echoes concerns pf the National Audit Office, which has talked of gaps in regulators’ power to regulate online marketplaces, and concerns by the Public Accounts Committee, which has pointed out that
“under current legislation, online marketplaces are not responsible for the safety of products sold by third parties on their platforms.”
The Government also appear to agree that action is needed. In an answer to a House of Commons Written Parliamentary Question, the Minister there said:
“The Government is committed to ensuring that only safe products can be sold in the UK.”
The Minister here wrote to me regarding this matter following the debate in Committee, and I thank him for his letter. He stated that it is
“the Government’s intention to bring forward proposals for consultation later this year”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, who I am pleased to see in her place, wrote to the chief executive of Electrical Safety First setting out a similar timetable and saying that the Government
“recognises that unsafe electrical appliances may have effects beyond their immediate location, including properties and inhabitants.”
That of course applies especially to high-rise buildings.
There lies the nub of the matter. Why are we delaying until a consultation later this year and then waiting for the responses to that consultation? A great deal of time will pass before any decision, and I fear that when we eventually get around to plugging the loophole the dangers may already have occurred.
I am not the only one who is pressing for more immediate action from the Government. Last November, numerous organisations wrote to the Secretary of State. They included the National Fire Chiefs Council, Which?, individual fire brigades, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances, Electrical Safety First, the British Toy and Hobby Association and the Child Accident Prevention Trust. All those organisations wrote to the Business Secretary saying:
“It is critical that reforms are delivered at pace to prevent further lives being put at risk from dangerous products sold online. Consumers deserve equal protections regardless of whether they are shopping on an online marketplace or on the high street.”
I hope the noble Baroness will tell us that not only are we going to have a consultation but we are going to do it as swiftly as possible—or, better still, that she is prepared to accept the amendment.
As the Minister knows, Amendment 261 is a hobby-horse of mine that I have been raising in your Lordships’ Chamber for the past five years. I believe passionately that there is an urgent need to improve the amount of home insulation in the country. On every occasion I have spoken, I have acknowledged that this and previous Governments have done a great deal in this area, so I hope the response to this debate from the Minister will not merely reiterate all the things that are currently taking place, because I acknowledge and welcome them. We know there is real benefit in doing this because, by improving home energy insulation, we will cut the demand for gas, reduce energy bills, slash emissions and so on. As the Government’s own document, the Heat and Buildings Strategy, says, low-carbon buildings are clearly beneficial to consumers. They are smarter and better-performing, with reduced energy bills in a healthier, more comfortable environment.
So a lot is being done, but more is needed. Interestingly, the Government have a set of targets to achieve more. The purpose of this amendment is merely to enshrine the Government’s targets in legislation, for reasons that I will come to.
Currently, 13 million households in this country do not achieve what is considered the acceptable standard of EPC band C. The Government have set themselves the clear target in their energy White Paper, and in many ministerial Answers, of getting all homes to EPC band C by 2035. That is vital.
The Government also recognise that, in some cases—the more than 3 million homes that are considered to be in fuel poverty—the work should be done even more quickly and have set themselves the target of achieving band C for those homes by 2030. That is important because, as we know from all the figures, too many people are dying in this country because they live in homes that are too cold and they have had to choose between heating and eating. We now know that that situation will get far worse because of the steep rise in energy bills. The latest estimates suggest that 8,500 lives were lost in one winter just because of homes being too cold.
I passionately believe that we will do everything we can to ensure the Government achieve their targets. The best way of doing that is by placing those targets in legislation, in exactly the same way the Government believe it is important to put their climate change targets in legislation: it will help ensure the work is carried out.
There are two other reasons why these targets are important: first, they will ensure that it is harder for a subsequent Government to kick those targets into the long grass; and secondly, we have to understand that it is not the Government that will be doing the work. It will be done by the energy-efficiency industry, which is desperately keen to have those targets put into the legislation. Over 100 businesses, including Mitsubishi, Vaillant, Worcester Bosch and many others have written to the Secretary of State saying that they want these statutory targets placed in the legislation. On previous occasions, warm home schemes of one sort of another have been ditched and the industry has been let down. They therefore need the confidence of these targets in legislation, so that they are prepared to invest in the equipment, training and skills uplift that are necessary to get the work done.
In responding, I hope the Minister does not just give us a list of all the wonderful things the Government are doing, but acknowledges that the industry wants this to happen, above all. I can see no earthly reason why the Government cannot put their own targets into legislation. It would be no difficulty for them whatsoever, because I assume they genuinely want to achieve these targets, so I hope they accept this Amendment 261.
I have two amendments in this group. The first relates to the safety of electrical appliances purchased online, where there is currently no security for the purchaser. The second is a simple amendment to put the Government’s own targets into legislation.
My Lords, I begin by declaring my interest as the president of RoSPA. I will speak to Amendment 262.
In Committee, I felt that the Minister understood the issue; I thank him for his co-operation and his time yesterday afternoon. He had received correspondence from the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, which confirmed that the appropriate route to achieve safe staircases in all new-build homes was through building regulations and associated statutory guidance rather than primary regulation.
Part K of the building regulations covers protection from falling, collision and impact. Requirement K1 specifically addresses the usability of stairs, ladders and ramps, including handrails. That last part is important because there is a need to have properly built stairs, but a considerable number of accidents are prevented by having handrails. British Standard 5395-1 was fully updated in 2010, is reviewed every five years and remains current.
Staircase injuries are an underestimated threat to the health and safety of people in this country, with 43,000 people admitted to hospital every year following an accident on the stairs. Many of these people will lose their mobility and, with that, their independence; tragically, about 700 people lose their lives every single year. The risk is so common that it gets taken for granted but it does not need to be this way.
The most up-to-date British Standard for stair design, BS 5395-1, is associated with a 60% reduction in falls on stairs. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, agreed to bring forward a meeting of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee to discuss enshrining this standard in building regulations. I understand that it was a positive meeting, on which I feel sure he can give an update—I hope that he comes back soon.
Throughout the Safer Stairs campaign, we have prioritised the importance of making this proposal a reality as soon as possible. I want to ask the Minister for his assurances that any consultation on enshrining BS 5395-1 is completed promptly, at least within a year. The longer we delay, and the more time we spend getting this change through building regulations, the more homes will be built across the country with stairs that are simply not safe enough. The quicker we get this done, the larger the cumulative benefit to future generations will be.
In Committee, several others joined me in telling the House the facts. Enshrining stair safety into law is genuinely low-hanging fruit. It is cost effective and proven to save lives. I call on the Minister to give us his assurance that the process to make BS 5395-1 legally mandatory via building regulations will progress as quickly as possible and that, within 12 months at the very latest, it will be enshrined into law.
Given that the Government’s preferred route of directly updating the building regulations’ Approved Document K to enshrine British Standard 5395-1 achieves the same aim as our amendment to the Building Safety Bill, we should be in a position to withdraw our amendment. However, we can do so only if the Minister confirms on the Floor of the House that the consultation to enshrine BS 5395-1 in Approved Document K is under way and will be completed within a year.
The Government’s commitment to a 12-month period would provide reassurance that our issue will not be left at the bottom of the new building regulator’s priority list. I trust that the Minister will be able to reassure us. We will be watching and waiting.
My Lords, in supporting the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on Amendment 262, I have to tell the House that when RoSPA campaigned for the introduction of car seat belts, it said that would save lives—and it did, spectacularly. Now we are campaigning for safer stairs in new-build houses and saying again that it will save lives, which it will. More than that, it will significantly reduce the appalling number of serious, life-damaging injuries that result in needless pain and suffering. It will in turn lift some of the colossal burden on the NHS, a burden that absorbs so much of its money and resources in doctors’, technicians’ and nurses’ time.
The Minister has shown in his dialogue with RoSPA’s chief executive, and in the things he said in this Chamber, that he truly understands the enormous benefit that enshrining BS 5395-1 in building regulations will bring. I hope he is equally convinced of the urgency of this vital reform and that, today, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, said, he assures your Lordships that he will not let it be bogged down in the labyrinthine legislative process and that he gives us a timescale and a plan by which this reform will become a reality.
My Lords, briefly, I too support Amendment 262 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, to which I have put my name. I will not go through all the reasons why it makes common sense but we have had the British Standard for well over 10 years and it is more observed in the omission than the commission. We really must make progress at this stage.
The Minister gave valuable assurances in Committee; the reason that we need to press him today is to get some clarity about the timetable for this. I feel that, if we cannot get a guarantee that it will be not only consulted upon but implemented within a 12-month period, we will have to regard that as unsatisfactory and press this amendment. Can he tell us whether he can meet that 12-month deadline for consultation and implementation and, if not, what the problem is and what the timetable will be? The standard has been around for a decade and it seems that this is a “just get the finger out” moment. I am sure that he is a “just get the finger out” sort of Minister.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for meeting me and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, yesterday, and for sharing the correspondence that he had had over the Building Regulations Advisory Committee. He explained why it would be easier to update a statutory approved document than primary legislation, and the need for such statutory regulation to be reviewed rapidly and changed as things go on.
I endorse what has been said by others who have spoken, in that there is an urgency to this. Around many parts of the UK at the moment, we see what is almost an explosion of housebuilding and of other building sites. It would be really tragic if the Bill went through but those buildings do not have staircases in them which are fit for the population who are going to use them, and if we do not see a real drop in accidents in these new buildings. The old housing stock is obviously really difficult and much of it has inappropriate staircases, but we are talking here about new build. Because of that, there is an urgency and I hope that, when the Minister responds, he gives us a really good and tight timetable.
My Lords, as a former retailer, I have a good deal of sympathy with Amendment 254 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foster. I agree with him that there is a gap here with online material posing a risk to safety, which is not the case with normal retail sales. In summing up, can my noble friend the Minister give us a bit more confidence as to when that gap will be filled? The Government are often too slow.
In that vein, I very much welcome the progress made by my noble friend the Minister on staircases, which are the subject of Amendment 262. I agree that the approach outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, seems to make sense and allow us the opportunity to get on with this consumer issue as well.
I share the concerns underlying Amendment 264 from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. There is a real problem of shortages in the built environment workforce, as highlighted in the Built Environment Committee’s report on demand for housing—a committee on which several Members of this House sit and which I have the honour to chair. However, to be honest, the amendment is overcomplicated. The direction of travel is right but I am doubtful that we should accept an amendment in this form.
On Amendment 261, of course we need improved homes; cold homes are very bad for health, as has been shown by many studies. However, this is an uncosted proposal. It will have huge compliance costs for homeowners—admittedly, over a reasonably long period—and I really do not think that we are in a position to add it to this Bill today.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 264 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Pinnock, which would require a report on the built environment industry workforce that takes into account various factors. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, that this is very much a probing amendment; we certainly do not intend to press it today.
However, we need to give this issue an airing. The whole pyramid on which this Bill is constructed depends on that bottom level: the workforce who will deliver it. We know that there is a grievous shortage of fire risk assessors, not least because the fire risk assessor who assessed Grenfell Tower was an unqualified, off-duty firefighter who made up the qualification letters that he put after his name when he applied for the job with the tenant management organisation. That evidence was given in phase 1 of the Grenfell inquiry.
We know that the Government have made strenuous efforts to get fire assessment training going but there is every indication that there is not enough and that, when this regime comes into force—we all want to see this as soon as possible—there will be a shortage of fire risk assessors. Earlier today, wearing his fire responsibilities hat via the Home Office, the Minister made the point that one of the jobs in the fire and rescue service is to upskill staff to gain the competences they need to fulfil their functions of realistically assessing risks and remedies in the duties they undertake. We think that there needs to be a clear plan for developing training for and upskilling the people taking on the new roles in this Bill. There is a whole series of new posts, including accountable persons and responsible persons—not to mention the safety regulator staffing itself—and we need some assurance that the Government are clear on all of them and have a laser-like focus on producing the answers that are needed. This is against the background of an industry that employs 2 million people, has 90,000 sole traders operating on the ground and in many ways, as we have discussed, has a dysfunctional contracting model. It certainly has low productivity and very poor standards of delivery of outcome.
The amendment may or may not be over-elaborate. I hope that it would be a work plan that someone is working on, even if it should not be in the Bill. I really want to hear the Minister give an account of how a work plan such as this is in fact going forward. If not, we will certainly be snapping at his heels over the coming months. Much more seriously than that, he will find that there will be the gravest difficulty in implementing the Bill, which is what we all want to see, on the shortest possible timescale.
I am the resident pointing at the hole in the road and saying to the contractor, “Please come and fill in this hole”. That is what this amendment is about.
My Lords, I want briefly, having just had a signal on those lines, to offer Green support for all the amendments. I will speak only to Amendment 261 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath. I commend him on his long work in this area.
I am perhaps a little less charitable to the Government than him about where things are now. Just this afternoon, while we were debating the second group of amendments, the Green Alliance put out a new report, Cutting the Cost of Living with a Green Economy. It has some figures that are interesting and helpful for this debate. It points out that the cuts to energy efficiency subsidies and the scrapping of the zero-carbon homes policy over the past decade saw the installation rate of home insulation and energy measures go from 2.3 million in 2012 to 230,000 in 2013—a rate that has continued since.
This addresses the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, just asked about what we can do and whether it is possible to step up again. We have done this in the past; we can do this in future. The noble Baroness expressed concern about a lack of costing for that. The Green Alliance report points out that, if we followed Amendment 261, through insulating 15.3 million homes, it would save them all £511 a year after the April price cap rise. For the country, that is £7.8 billion a year, mostly in fossil fuel.
Looking again at the costing, the Great Homes Upgrade plan, put together by the New Economics Foundation along with 28 organisations, shows that spending £11.7 billion over this Parliament could raise 7 million homes up to this standard by 2025. As the noble Lord, Lord Foster, said, this is very much a health and safety issue. We have set the standard of zero carbon by 2050. That is a target for the environment; this is a target for people’s health. Surely we can have both health and environment targets that so crucially fit together.
Debate on Amendment 15 adjourned.
Consideration on Report adjourned.
NHS: Pre-pandemic Facility Levels
My Lords, NHS services are open to patients and numbers of general practice appointments have returned, or are returning, to pre-pandemic levels. As before the pandemic, hospital visiting is currently at the discretion of NHS trusts. Hospitals are expected to accommodate at least one hour of visiting per day, and preferably more. The department is working closely with the NHS to tackle the Covid-19 backlog and restore pre-pandemic activity and performance as soon as possible.
I thank the Minister for that Answer, but in our local hospital there are very big signs saying that visiting is still not permitted, while it seems to be quite in order for staff who are unvaccinated to go in and out of the hospital at will. What steps are being taken to test unvaccinated staff to ensure that they are not carrying Covid, and can the Minister remind me whether we have repealed the bit of legislation that restricted the number of people who can be in a GP’s surgery?
I thank my noble friend for those questions and will try to answer as many of them as I can. We are aware that this idea of returning to normal is patchy in different parts of the country. Some people have told me that visiting their GP or a hospital is fine, while others have had real trouble. Therefore, when these issues come up, I hope that noble Lords and others make us aware, so that we can ask the NHS what is happening. It is clearly an issue of capacity, but also, some people are trying to get face-to-face appointments with their GPs, while some practices are trying to move towards a technology-based service offering. I am aware of that. GP appointments are up to 60% of what they were pre-pandemic, but we understand that there is progress to be made in other areas.
The noble Lord makes an important point, and I can see a lot of agreement, judging by noble Lords’ body language. However, we must always be careful about this issue because patients have had different experiences. I have been speaking to noble Lords about this. Some have told me that it is really good and has gone back to normal; others are having real trouble getting access to a GP or even getting someone to answer a phone in the first place. We must be careful, because if I say, “GPs should be doing more,” I will be criticised for being tough on GPs, but if I say that we must understand that GP practices are under a lot of pressure, I will then be criticised for not pushing hard enough to solve the problem. The pandemic accelerated pre-existing trends. We were already moving more towards the use of technology. Some people were quite happy to contact their GP by phone or online, and we will see some of that. We will never go back to 100% face-to-face, but certainly, patients should be able to have face-to-face appointments unless there are good clinical reasons why they cannot.
My Lords, is it not about time that the Government reformed GP services? Should we not have GP and diagnostic centres replacing traditional GP services? At the moment, many GPs are making thousands of pounds out of buildings that have been paid for by the NHS. When will the Government be getting value for money for taxpayers?
One of the advances we have seen with technology is the community diagnostic centre; these will no longer necessarily be at health centres or GP surgeries. We are looking at rolling them out in the community, in shopping centres and sports stadiums. About 80% of the people on the waiting lists are waiting for diagnostics, so we hope that will be a great way of tackling the waiting list.
My Lords, surveys of parent carers during the pandemic by the Disabled Children’s Partnership reveal that more than 70% of disabled children were unable to access their pre-pandemic levels of therapies and health services, and many of their conditions regressed during the pandemic. How do the Government plan to use wider NHS recovery funding to meet the acute health needs of disabled children and young people?
I thank the noble Baroness for making me aware of this issue. We are aware of a number of front-line services where there is a backlog as a result of the pandemic and not being able to have face-to-face appointments. However, I will have to write to her on the specific case that she raised.
My noble friend raises an important point. No matter how frustrating we might find trying to get an appointment with a GP, there is no room for abuse of our NHS staff—whether GPs, doctors, nurses or other health and care workers. I completely support the point he made.
My Lords, for many patients, the service before the pandemic was not nearly good enough, so our ambition ought to be much higher in the future. Why can we not reform the system by empowering patients with choice and competition? With modern IT services, why can GPs not be paid by appointment and why can patients who choose to not be able to ring round to find a GP who can treat them when and where they want, instead of being restricted to one practice?
The noble Lord makes some really good suggestions. On technology, one of the things we are looking at is why, in this day and age, when you can book appointments online for most other meetings, you cannot for GP practices. We want to make sure that people can book online, by telephone, and in advance—rather than having to phone at 8 am —and also let them choose between different places. We have to look at all these options, but, at the same time, technology is not enough: we also have to change the work processes to match the changes in technology.
My Lords, a problem that I have encountered in Lincolnshire is that when one tries to get a telephone appointment with the GP, one is offered a point in a spectrum of a number of hours. One simply cannot sit at one’s desk waiting for a call back within a spectrum of a number of hours.
That is exactly why, as technology has improved, you should be able to book a specific time. In fact, in some practices, it has gone backwards since the 1970s. When I was a child, my mother was able to phone up and ask, “Can my son have an appointment on Tuesday next week?” These days, you have to phone at 8 am hoping to get in the queue to book an appointment. Technology should improve that, and we hope that once we are able to recover, we will be able to use technology to book in advance.
My Lords, the BMA’s Rebuild General Practice campaign has warned that GPs’ lack of time with patients, workforce shortages, heavy workloads and administrative burdens mean that patients’ safety is being put at risk when they attend a surgery. Data shows that GPs are conducting nearly 50% more appointments, but staff vacancies continue to soar and GP numbers to decline. In the light of this, can the Minister explain to the House how the Government expect to achieve their target of an extra 6,000 GPs by 2024—just two years away?
I thank the noble Baroness for reminding us of the target. We have been quite clear that it is important that we have as many healthcare professionals as possible and fill the vacancies as soon as possible. We made £520 million available to improve access to GPs and expand general capacity during the pandemic. That is in addition to the £1.5 billion announced in 2020 to create an extra 50 million general practice appointments by 2024, by increasing and diversifying the workforce.
My noble friend is entirely right that the technology offers benefits, but the health infrastructure plan, promised some time ago, has not yet been published. That will outline the framework for investment in the technology he mentions. When will the update be published?
My noble friend will be aware from when he was a Minister that there were other priorities in tackling Covid, trying to get a vaccine and procuring much-needed equipment. This was therefore all delayed, but we are now working with stakeholders to ensure that the updated capital strategy sets a clear direction for the system, taking into account significant events since the first publication. The multiyear settlement confirmed for 2021 allows us to take the next step forward. We expect the paper to be published at some time in 2022.
My Lords, did not the noble Lord, Lord Austin, hit the nail on the head when he said, regarding GPs, to give the patients choice? Back in the days when we reduced the waiting list from 1.1 million to just under 400,000, we reduced waiting times in hospitals from over three years down to 18 weeks. We did that primarily by giving the patients the choice to go to another hospital if they were not getting the service they needed and making the money follow the patient’s choice. Is that not the way to solve the GP problem?
Foreign Languages: Economic Value
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the research by Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett and others The economic value to the UK of speaking other languages, published on 22 February; and in particular, the finding that the removal of language barriers with Arabic-, Chinese-, French- and Spanish-speaking countries could increase annual exports from the United Kingdom by around £19 billion.
My Lords, the Government believe in the importance of languages and welcome the report’s findings on removing language barriers to benefit the economy. We support language teaching through the recent modern foreign languages GCSE review, the MFL hub programme and the Mandarin Excellence Programme, among other initiatives. We are considering the report alongside other available research and exploring other ways in which we can expand the pipeline of fluent speakers to meet the country’s future needs.
My Lords, the Mandarin Excellence Programme has shown that high standards can be achieved in state schools without impinging on other priority subjects, so will the Government launch an equivalent programme in one or more of the other three languages which could result in economic benefits? Secondly, given the finding that in specific sectors such as energy, services and mining other languages matter at least as much as English in reducing trade barriers, will the Minister undertake to speak with colleagues in the Department for International Trade and the Treasury to identify how language skills can be improved and funded in these sectors?
The Government welcome the results of the report, which do indeed highlight the notable achievements of the programme to date. We continue to explore how we can provide greater support for the study of other languages. Regarding the Department for International Trade, the noble Baroness will be aware that we recently announced a refreshed export strategy, Made in the UK, Sold to the World, giving UK exporters support services to seize the opportunities secured through our trade agreements. This is focused on market barriers such as language. I am happy to talk to colleagues there and at the Treasury, as the noble Baroness suggests.
Has my noble friend seen the evidence given just a few days ago by a former British ambassador to Moscow to a Lords committee, in which he lamented the decline of foreign language skills in the Foreign Office, especially Russian? Does she agree that it is quite important that diplomats who represent the United Kingdom in and promote exports to foreign countries should be able to understand and speak a foreign language? Can she therefore tell the House what progress has been made to improve foreign language skills in the Foreign Office?
My Lords, speaking other languages is very good for warding off Alzheimer’s, as well as playing a significant part in international trade, which is the point of this Question, so it is a win-win. Are the Government still serious about ensuring that the UK can compete on a global stage post Brexit? If so, how will they measure the success of the measures they are taking to ensure that the woeful decline in modern language learning stops and is turned around?
I do not have time to answer the noble Baroness’s question in full, but I remind her that the uptake of French GSCE is slightly up between 2017 and 2021, Spanish is up very substantially from 85,000 students to 109,000, and 41,000 participants in the Turing scheme, 48% from disadvantaged backgrounds, have been allocated funding this year.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that a diplomat or business person trying to negotiate in a foreign language which they have not mastered can be dangerous, but nevertheless a basic knowledge of the language can ease the path to good negotiation?
My Lords, Willy Brandt put it best when he said “If I am selling to you, I will speak your language, but if you are selling to me dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.” Clearly, German manufacturers got the point because this century Germany has been one of the two most successful manufacturing exporting countries in the world. Why is this fundamental truth so elusive to British exporters?
My Lords, developing the point just raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, in the European Union two-thirds of adults of working age can speak more than one language, yet two-thirds of Britons cannot hold a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue, so I am sure the Minister will be as concerned as I was to see the latest figures on A-levels in modern languages decline by a further 5% between 2017 and 2021. Yesterday, the schools White Paper pledged a network, I think it was called, of modern language hubs with CPD for teachers of those languages, yet the numbers of those teachers are falling. Will the cuts made last year by the Government in bursaries for language students, from £26,000 to £10,000, be reversed to support the development of those modern language hubs?
We were very pleased to announce in the schools White Paper the network of modern foreign language hubs. We are also increasing the languages bursary to £15,000 for 2023 to incentivise candidates. In 2020-21, the number of postgraduate modern foreign language trainees increased by 300 to 1,687.
My noble friend’s reference to native languages stirs me to point out that, while I of course totally agree with the Question and with the Minister’s replies, there is far more to modern languages than simply improving the terms of trade. There is the question of deep cultural enrichment and, in these islands, understanding the culture of these islands more deeply. As someone who was brought up bilingually in Britain, I think that is important.
My Lords, the Minister cited a statistic for the success with French and Spanish, but they are languages of the EU, with whom our trade has fallen, according to the Dutch Government, by 14% in the three months to January compared with two years previously. I wonder whether the Minister can say something about our success in teaching the languages of those new markets in which we are going to succeed.
My Lords, the Erasmus programme was reciprocal, so tuition fees were not paid. In my noble friend’s experience, how many European universities have waived tuition fees under the Turing programme to enable UK students to apply without paying tuition fees?
Schools: Creative Subjects and the English Baccalaureate
My Lords, the Government remain committed to ensuring that all pupils receive a high-quality cultural education as part of a broad curriculum. This starts during the early years and continues in school, with art and design, design and technology and music all forming part of the national curriculum from age five to 14. The percentage of young people entering at least one arts GCSE between 2010 and 2021 has remained broadly stable.
The Minister will be aware that since the introduction of the EBacc in schools, there has been and is a creativity crisis—for example, in music there has been a 16.83% fall in A-levels—and there has been a 31.47% fall in students taking those subjects. Obviously, that has a pipeline into universities and only one university now has an English professor. I want to ask the Minister a direct question—no ands, ifs or buts. If it is not the English baccalaureate that is causing the crisis in creative subjects, what is the reason?
We simply do not accept that there is a crisis in creative subjects. The noble Lord rightly quoted some data, but I point out that the percentage of students taking art and design at GCSE is up from 26.5% to 30.4%. He is right that there have been declines in some other subjects, but he will also be aware that the numbers taking vocational and technical qualifications have gone up very substantially, particularly in media: since 2018 the figures for media have risen from 4,500 to 55,000 students.
My Lords, despite what the Minister says, the message clearly being sent out via EBacc to teachers, parents and children is that creative subjects are of lesser worth, a message independent schools are ignoring. Is the Minister aware that there is five times greater spend on music in independent schools than in state schools, including academies? Does the Minister agree that this is bad for levelling up, bad for education and bad for our future economy, a key aspect of which will be the creative industries, as independent schools know full well?
The department does not track the expenditure on these subjects in independent schools. What the department is committed to, and restated in the schools White Paper yesterday, is that every child should have a rich cultural education, and we will be publishing a new cultural education plan jointly with DCMS next year.
My Lords, the noble Baroness’s credentials regarding personal commitment to these issues are impeccable, both in this role and the role she held previously at the DCMS; however, the evidence is against her. As the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, has just said, there is an impact not only on students in schools but on the workforce both within education and in the creative industries more widely, as there is a decline in the numbers of people prepared to take forward qualifications in music, drama and other creative subjects, Does she worry at all that the much-vaunted creative industries, of which she and her colleagues frequently speak with pride, will be suffering over the coming years as a result of these policies?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question and her kind remarks but I just cannot accept what she suggests. As she points out, we have thriving cultural and creative industries in this country. We have enough teachers entering initial teacher training for art and design and drama, well above our recruitment targets. We are committing more funding in T-levels, in media, broadcast and production, and in craft and design, so I think we are building the platform for our creative industries and our children to thrive.
My Lords, are the Government not deeply concerned that their own official data shows that the number of hours of music taught in years 7 to 13 has fallen sharply in the last 12 years? In view of this and of comments of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and others, is it not all the more important that independent schools work closely with their maintained sector colleagues to increase still further the 655 music partnership schemes from which students in both sectors benefit so greatly?
We very much welcome the partnerships from the independent sector in music and many other areas, and my noble friend is right to highlight them. However, we also have a responsibility and an ambition to make sure that our children have a strong music education, which is why we will be publishing our updated national plan shortly.
Does the Minister agree that, if we are to create a world of resilient workers in the next generation, we need to look at how we create these people through a resilient education system? We are in a bigger crisis than we believe. We need to reinvent a holistic form of education, because that is how the world’s businesses are going.
The noble Lord raises a large, broad and important issue. Of course we need a resilient education system and resilient children, and in the announcements in our schools White Paper and the special educational needs and disability Green Paper published this morning, we have set out exactly how we plan to do that.
My Lords, I taught creative subjects for over 30 years and, as principal examiner for A-level theatre studies for much of that time, I saw a wealth of talent studying this subject across the UK. It is essential that we promote the creative arts in our schools. They nurture well-rounded students and bring a breadth and depth to their learning. In hard cash terms, according to DCMS analysis, the creative industries contribute almost £116 billion a year to the UK. If, for example, the current decline in A-level music that many noble Lords have mentioned continues, this subject could have zero entrants in 10 years’ time. What, if anything, are the Government doing to reverse this appalling decline?
At the risk of repeating myself, we have announced that we will publish a cultural education plan together with DCMS, working jointly across government, which is the right way to approach it. We will shortly announce our national plan for music education. We are doing a lot of work and continue to invest around £115 million per year in cultural education.
My Lords, the Minister has told us on numerous occasions that the Government like to listen to employers. When Netflix representatives came to speak to my group, I asked them what they wanted in trainees and whether they wanted people with more English and maths. They looked blankly at me and said, “No, that’s not what we are looking for. We want more rounded people.” Will the Government follow their own mantra and make sure they talk to the big employers, who do not seem to want what the Government are offering?
The Government work extremely closely with employers. Our T-level programme was developed with over 250 employers. I would ask the noble Lord why we are seeing such huge international investment in our film and creative industries if we are not providing the talented people they need.
My Lords, would my noble friend care to reflect on the importance of citizenship education in levelling up and creating a country at ease with itself? Will she join me in regretting that yesterday’s White Paper said nothing about citizenship education at all?
My Lords, first-hand experience of the arts can be life enhancing and life changing. Therefore, will the Minister encourage her department to do all it can to ensure that background and income levels are not a barrier to physically accessing the arts?
My Lords, last week, the Incorporated Society of Musicians published a report entitled Music: A Subject in Peril?, based on a survey of more than 500 music teachers. Some 93% of respondents said that the EBacc and/or Progress 8 had caused huge damage to music in schools, resulting in courses not running and music departments shrinking. What reassurance can the Minister give that the refreshed national plan for music education will address these issues and that teachers will be consulted on it before it is published?
The national plan has been developed with an expert panel, of which the noble Lord is aware, and that panel consulted extensively during its work—through forums, surveys and other mechanisms—with teachers, students, parents and other experts. We very much look forward to its publication.
Offshore Companies: Property
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they made towards ensuring the transparency of beneficial ownership of offshore companies holding properties in the United Kingdom in the recent discussions between the Minister for Asia and the Middle East at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the government of the British Virgin Islands.
My Lords, the 2022 economic crime Act creates a register of overseas entities that own properties in the UK. This will apply to legal entities from any overseas jurisdiction that own UK property, including those registered in the British Virgin Islands. The overseas territories already share confidential information on company beneficial ownership with UK law enforcement bodies, an arrangement that has enabled the UK’s first unexplained wealth order.
My Lords, it is four years since the passage of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act required the overseas territories to open up their company registers. My understanding is that the British Virgin Islands, which has one of the largest sets of companies owning property in the UK—more than 20,000 properties—has been reluctant to open up its registers fully. One has to ask individually and know what one is looking for. Can the Minister explain what the relationship between the sovereign United Kingdom and these overseas territories is in this respect? Do we require them to accept our instructions, or do we ask them if they would mind?
My Lords, we have a very constructive relationship with our British Overseas Territories. We regard them very much as part of the British family, and we have a co-operative partnership with the British OTs. That is the way it should be. In terms of recent engagement, my right honourable friend the Minister for the Overseas Territories, Amanda Milling MP, discussed the BVI’s newly announced consultation on a publicly accessible register, to which it is, along with all the other overseas territories, totally committed, ensuring that there will be working registers by the end of 2023.
Can we really wait that long? It was 2018 when we legislated on this, and we are now facing a crisis in which this country is seeking out illicit funds. Surely it is time to go back to places like the British Virgin Islands and say, “Open your register to us, the Government, so that we can have a clear view of what is going on.” The Government should not wait until 2023, when things are going on in Ukraine.
My Lords, on the issue of Ukraine, as the noble Lord is aware, all the overseas territories are absolutely committed. With each sanction that is passed, it becomes incorporated into their jurisdictions. There are two where Orders in Council are required, and they have also initiated those processes. These sanctions apply immediately. In terms of the overseas territories themselves, we have discussed this before. The noble Lord will be aware that, with the OTs that have these registrations, the register is open to both tax authorities and law agencies. As I explained in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, the first unexplained wealth order was in conjunction and in partnership with the BVI.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, will recall the briefings that he and I received when we both worked in the Foreign Office about the excellent information and intelligence gathering between ourselves, the NCA, other authorities and the different authorities in the overseas territories. Does the Minister share my concern that, while it is incredibly important to keep this information flowing on an ad-hoc, confidential basis, if these registers become completely open, the companies will simply move to places such as Panama and Delaware?
My Lords, I believe the overseas territories have been very constructive on their engagement when it comes to registers, but I also recognise the point the noble Lord, Lord Collins, made, about the need for accessibility of registers. We believe we are working constructively and in partnership with the overseas territories in a responsible way, including those within the financial services sector who recognise the importance of consultation. That is exactly what the OTs are doing.
My Lords, last Monday I met a delegation from the British Virgin Islands, including the speaker, deputy speaker and leader of the opposition. I asked them direct questions about beneficial ownership. They refused to answer any questions, saying it was not the responsibility of Parliament. Does that not sound very suspicious to the Minister? Could he take it up and raise with the British Virgin Islands Government parliamentary accountability and the concern that a territory which has 45% of all offshore companies registered on it really ought to come clean?
My Lords, I am surprised that the noble Lord let the speaker of the BVI leave without giving a straight answer to his question. Perhaps he should have been slightly more persuasive in his normal way. That said, I agree with the noble Lord that it is important. Of course, it is the responsibility of Parliaments and Governments to ensure that appropriate access is given. I have already indicated that there is a working, constructive relationship, particularly with those OTs which have financial services at their core. Equally, the commitment that the overseas territories have given, both in terms of response to the sanctions and their commitment to public registers, is something we welcome. We continue to work very practically and pragmatically with them.
My Lords, the scale of this challenge is enormous. Transparency International UK has found £250 billion worth of funds diverted by rigged procurement, bribery, embezzlement and unlawful acquisition of state assets from across 79 different countries sheltering in companies registered in the UK’s overseas territories. Why is there a reluctance to deal with this problem? Why has it taken so long—since 2018—to have the Order in Council enacted for this register? Is it because, for example, the British Virgin Islands, with a GDP of $1.027 billion is responsible for $24.3 billion of inward investment into the United Kingdom? Is that the real reason?
No, my Lords, the real reasons are that there is a practical working relationship with the overseas territories, and that the SAML Act which was brought forward, approved and became not just something we debated but an Act, guaranteed that the overseas territories would respond with public registers. As I have already explained, that is happening. There are existing arrangements in place. There is no reluctance, but it is right that we work constructively with the sectors, and of course there are issues, as the noble Lord points out, about corruption and criminality. It is right that we act, and act accordingly.
My Lords, if, as the Minister claims, the overseas territories are totally committed, surely speedier progress would have been made since 2018. What is the problem? Are, for example, the BVI asking for compensation for loss of revenue? If so, what is the government response?
My Lords, what was agreed with the overseas territories was that they would have public registers by the end of 2023. That is the timetable they are working with. However, in terms of immediate needs as, again, has been discussed regarding sanctions in response to Russia, we worked hand in glove with them to ensure that every sanction passed by your Lordships’ House and the other place—by Parliament—is immediately incorporated into our overseas territories.
There is no delay or dither on this; we are working practically and pragmatically with our overseas territories. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, we are working both in partnership and overseeing as part of our offering of global Britain. It is an important partnership, and we respect their rights to legislate locally on key issues, but at the same time they need to be held to account where there are issues of corruption and criminality.
My Lords, at the risk of repeating myself, they are working to a timetable. For example, Tristan de Cunha, the main export of which is lobsters, is still required under legislation to have a public register; in that particular instance, and for a range of other overseas territories, we are providing direct technical support, working through both the FCDO and the Treasury, and where assistance is needed we are providing it. The bigger territories, as I have said, are actively consulting with industry to ensure that they get their partnerships right and the registers are established in line with the timetable that I have already indicated.
My Lords, the UK has legal and moral responsibility for good governance of OTs and Crown dependencies. With that in mind, can the Minister assure the House that the register of beneficial ownership of companies in the BVI and in other territories will at least match the transparency standards applicable in the UK, and that they will all be publicly available?
That is exactly the standard we are working to with the overseas territories. We are also working to ensure that these are verifiable registers. As we see further legislation coming on increasing the robustness of the UK register, we will also apply the key principles. I agree with the noble Lord: we have a moral responsibility for good governance in the overseas territories and to ensure strong partnerships with our overseas territories’ Governments.
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 28 March.
“I know that the whole House has been left appalled and angered by the behaviour exhibited by P&O Ferries towards its workers over the last week. As a Government, we will not stand by and allow hard-working, dedicated British staff to be treated in such a manner.
This morning, my right honourable friend the Transport Secretary wrote to the chief executive of P&O asking him to pause and reconsider and to offer his workers their jobs back on their previous terms, conditions and wages, should they want them. That is because we will return to the House to announce a package of measures that will ensure that the outcomes that P&O Ferries is seeking to achieve through this disastrous move to pay less than the minimum wage cannot be seen through. As a result, it will have no reason left not to reconsider its move.
As I said to the Transport Committee and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee last week, as soon as the package of measures has been finalised, we intend to return to the House so that Members can rightly scrutinise it. In the meantime, we continue to review the contracts that P&O Ferries has with the Government, and the Insolvency Service continues to investigate the actions of Peter Hebblethwaite, who brazenly admitted to breaking the law before two committees of this House last week.
I am clear that P&O Ferries cannot and will not be allowed to get away with its actions. I hope the whole House will now support our efforts to ensure just that.”
A week ago, I asked the Government what had happened to the two commitments given on 25 June 2020 to
“consider other options in regard to these operations”—
that is, low-cost employment models on some ferry routes—and to
“consider whether further changes are required when the Equality Act regulations are reviewed towards the end of this year”,—[Official Report, 25/6/20; col. 431.]
that is, the end of 2020, in relation to nationality-based differential pay in the maritime sector, the only sector where this operates. Last week the Government conceded that the review had not been completed. In other words, the Government have known about the issues over differential pay levels, which are at the heart of this dispute, and have done nothing about them over the past year and three-quarters. As a result, we now have this unacceptable crisis situation with P&O Ferries and DP World: 800 people are losing their jobs and P&O Ferries is taking unacceptable profit-maximising or loss-reduction action that was wholly predictable, as the Government have known for at least one and three-quarter years. Why have the Government failed to act over that period?
My Lords, the Government share the outrage expressed by the noble Lord at the behaviour of DP World and P&O Ferries. When they are developed and ready, which I expect to be shortly, we will update the House on a package of measures to ensure that P&O Ferries cannot see through its plans. We will address the immediate challenges faced by those affected and include measures to strengthen legal protections, including coverage of the national minimum wage.
My Lords, in 2020, when the Government announced that UK seafarers would be entitled to the minimum wage, they made the exception of ships exercising innocent passage and transit passage through UK waters. P&O Ferries is not the only company doing that. Can the Minister explain why the exception was made? Can she tell us whether the Government are aware of any other ferry companies operating in that way which are seeking to exploit this loophole on pay? Can the Government confirm that they will not repeat the PR disaster that P&O Ferries has made by continuing to work with the company on its freeport programme or any other government-based project?
I can reassure the noble Baroness that we are looking at all relationships that the Government have with DP World and with P&O Ferries. We will develop our thinking on that as more information comes forward. We are in conversation with the unions and other operators as part of an ongoing, constructive dialogue about the package of measures which will be announced shortly. I reassure the noble Baroness that we are able to provide greater employment rights to seafarers operating in UK waters than to those operating on international services, where the rights are different and come under different law.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that, although the Government seemed to be a bit slow off the mark, the measures now taken are appreciated by the many trade unionists who have lost their jobs? I encourage the Government to maintain this pressure on P&O and to look at other ways in which this company can be made to realise that its behaviour is unacceptable and will have consequences.
I can reassure my noble friend that we are maintaining the pressure on P&O Ferries. The Secretary of State wrote to the chief executive of P&O Ferries yesterday, explicitly asking him to reconsider the actions that it is taking, to take the opportunity to do right by its workforce, and then to return to the table to have discussions with seafarers to ensure that we can find a way forward.
My Lords, now that Mr Hebblethwaite has apparently rejected the Government’s proposals which they made to him in writing yesterday, where they explained that they wanted him to re-engage the workforce, how will the Government ensure that he does it?
I too noticed that a letter from Mr Hebblethwaite had been published on Twitter earlier today. Unfortunately, I do not have an update following that letter. Obviously, we are considering his response and will have an update in due course, while of course working speedily on a package of measures. We note the response from Mr Hebblethwaite; we have views on that.
What are we going to do to put Mr Hebblethwaite on the spot and make sure that the 800 people who have been shamefully and appallingly treated get some recompense? What about the remark that he made about compensation? Has he explained what he means by that?
We are aware that Mr Hebblethwaite has made a number of remarks recently. We are trying to get to the bottom of them. We are also trying to get to the bottom of the explanations by P&O Ferries for some of the actions that it has taken recently. We are looking at them to establish whether they are legal. We are also aware of some suggestions that there have been breaches of the national minimum wage. Therefore, the Business Secretary has asked the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate to investigate that. Of course, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is inspecting every single ship that is due to sail on these routes. To date, two have failed their inspections and therefore further work is required.
The noble Baroness is to be congratulated that a package of measures is to be introduced, late thought it may be, but will that package include the preservation of the right to collective bargaining and consultation, which this company so clearly flouted?
When it comes to collective bargaining and negotiations with the unions, we need to get to the bottom of whether the existing law was disregarded in this case. Mr Hebblethwaite seemed to suggest that it might have been, which was unwise.
I can reassure my noble friend that the port state control inspections being undertaken on all affected vessels include a normal PSC inspection. They also look at crew employment contracts, crew qualifications, crew familiarisation and emergency preparedness.
My Lords, 40 years ago next month, a task force went to the south Atlantic. It had 73 merchant ships. The bulk of the people on board those were of course British merchant seamen, because when we fight a war with our merchant ships, we need British merchant seamen there. Part of the problem with all the complexity in this area is that it has driven British merchant seamen out of the business. Do the Government have any plans to ensure that we have sufficient merchant seamen for any strategic needs we might have in the future?
Yes, the Government are well aware of that issue. We started the work back in 2019 when we published Maritime 2050. We want to ensure that we have British people with the right skills to work on British ships in British-based operations.
My Lords, surely letters from Ministers will not be sufficient to solve this problem. The deadline for workers to accept the terms put forward by P&O is fast approaching. Legislation will be urgently needed to resolve the situation for workers who have been so cruelly abused by P&O.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not just P&O, appalling though its conduct has been? Will she answer the question from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench and tell us how many other shipping companies which ply British waters are not meeting the British minimum wage?
My Lords, a statement made in the other place said that the Government are continuing to review the contracts which P&O Ferries has with them. Does that include reviewing the contracts with DP World, the owner of P&O Ferries and, specifically, the freeports contracts?
My Lords, following on from the questions from my noble friend Lord Snape and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, can the Minister explain the difference in employment rights and arrangements between the various ships operating in UK waters? What are UK waters? Do they include Dover to Calais, Northern Ireland to Scotland or England, and—I think probably not—Dublin to Holyhead? How do these arrangements vary or differ from the contracts for ships which may be registered in the UK but are longer distance and still international, carrying containers or oil? There seems to be a lot of confusion, which I suspect P&O directors are trying to take advantage of by various devious means.
The noble Lord has highlighted the complexity of employment law in the maritime sector. The International Labour Organization has the Maritime Labour Convention, which sets out the minimum standards for some key employment and working conditions policy areas. However, it does not go nearly as far as we are able to go from a UK perspective for seafarers who are UK residents, work on a UK-registered vessel and are ordinarily working in the UK. We are able to offer them the same levels of protections as they would get if they were working onshore.
Building Safety Bill
Debate on Amendment 15 resumed.
No, we stopped before the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and I had had a chance to speak. That is what comes of stopping mid-flight, but here we go—if anybody can remember what we were doing an hour ago. Before I go on, I remind the House of my relevant interests, as a member of Kirklees Council and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
First, I speak to Amendment 15, which is in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and to which I put my name. I raised a number of concerns at Second Reading and in Committee about the consequences of the part-privatisation of building control inspectors some 20-odd years ago, whereby developers can and do appoint their own building control inspectors. As noble Lords will know who have been here throughout all these stages, I have referred before to my favourite: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Who will call these folk to account? At the moment, nobody does, and the result is what we are trying to deal with today.
If we had a band of building control inspectors who were like terriers in pursuit of bad practice and cutting corners, we would not be here today trying to put things right. So this is absolutely key to what we are doing—and, of course, I support the creation of the building safety regulator, and all the other parts of the Bill that the Government have introduced, but I recognise that it affects only buildings of 18 metres and above. Dame Judith Hackitt brought to our attention in her report her grave concern about developers who can choose their own inspector. Two things need to be dealt with: they should no longer be able to do so, and we should not create a two-tier inspection system. This amendment tries to put those two things right, and I am sure that the Government will accept it. It is, dare I say it, common sense. Why would you have such a stringent regulatory system for 18 metres and above, which I totally support, and then say, “Oh well, for the others it’ll be okay.” It will not be okay, and it has not been, so let us put it right.
The amendment proposes that local authority building inspectors take on that role. I support that idea not because they are local authority, but because they are based in an area and are therefore attached to the council and know who the builders are in that area. They know the particular problems of building in the Pennines, for example, where there is not much ground before you hit solid stone, or of building in London clay, where the problems are different. If we have building control inspectors who recognise the different problems across the country, we are more likely to get regulations that are adhered to. This is an important amendment, and I hope that the Government will treat it in that light.
My noble friend has already introduced Amendment 264, which is also in my name. It is also fundamental to building safety, because unless you have a workforce imbued with the knowledge and experience of building in a safe way, we will have the current corrosive construction industry culture that we and the Minister have spoken about. This is one way, one route, one of the tools in the toolbox—another phrase he loves—to try and put that right. Both those amendments are key. I think the Minister will say: “Yeah, that was really good. Why did we not think of it?” But I am an optimist.
I am going to just mention the other amendments, in the names of my noble friends Lady Brinton, Lord Foster and Lady Jolly and others, because they raise important issues. Here are just two statistics. First, according to my noble friend Lord Foster, there were 355 fires in high-rise buildings last year, and over 50% had electrical causes. Why would we not try and put that right? Here is an amendment that does that. Secondly, regarding my noble friend Lady Jolly’s amendment, 700 lives are lost because of falls on stairs. Why would we not put that right? Why would we not? They are sensible. Let us do them—in the interests of co-operation and collaboration.
Finally, Amendment 261, in the name of my noble friend Lord Foster, is one he feels very strongly about and rightly so. I am just going to mention that, 15 years ago or a bit more, Kirklees Council, of which I was then leader, had a scheme we called the “warm zone scheme” that introduced free loft insulation and cavity wall insulation to all 200,000 houses in the borough, regardless of tenure. We just did it for the reasons that my noble friend Lord Foster brought to our attention—because people were dying of hypothermia. That is not acceptable. Why did we do it? We did it 15 years ago, and the benefits have shown: fewer deaths, warmer homes, lower bills. The challenge to the Minister is to take that cry to the Government and say, “Look, it has been done once: 200,000 homes were offered it, and nearly 100,000 homes in a cold part of West Yorkshire took it up, and it worked.” We are being constructive and positive. There is no denying the force of our argument. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I must again thank those noble Lords who have participated in this interesting debate. It is a shame it has become a group of two halves, but I will address the points raised in turn.
Turning first to Amendment 15, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Pinnock, for raising this important matter, but as they have surmised, I am afraid the Government will not be able to accept this amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, will know that local authorities are already the statutory provider of building control services to the public under the Building Act 1984. This includes the duty to enforce the Act in their jurisdiction and they retain ultimate responsibility with regard to enforcement action, except where the building safety regulator is the building control authority.
In response to the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I can say we are introducing a system of oversight, registration and regulation, driving up standards across both public and private sector building control. The Bill introduces a new professional framework for which individual registration will be based on competence, subject to a code of conduct and sanctions where standards fall short. Registered building control approvers and building control authorities will need to obtain and consider the advice of a registered building inspector before carrying out certain building control functions and use a registered building inspector to undertake certain activities. This greater scrutiny and accountability will provide greater incentive to ensure all buildings, including non-higher-risk buildings, are safe. Our approach is proportionate to risk.
The new regulatory regime set out in the Bill and draft secondary legislation is proportionate to the level of risk potentially found in high-rise residential and other in-scope buildings. The Government have chosen to set the scope of the new more stringent regime at 18 metres or seven storeys, as we are committed to following this risk-based approach. Evidence from Dame Judith Hackitt has shown that, in general, the risk from fire increases with height. Through the Bill, the Fire Safety Act and further fire reform, we are working to protect all residents in buildings, regardless of height. Given these points, I hope your Lordships will agree that this amendment is not required.
Turning to Amendment 254, on sale of goods online, I reassure noble Lords that the Government fully recognise the importance of ensuring product safety, not only in relation to fire risk but also for the wider prevention of harm. As I set out in Grand Committee, existing product safety legislation applies to all products, whether sold online or offline. However, the Government also recognise that the rapid growth of e-commerce, particularly of third-party sales via online marketplaces, presents a significant challenge.
While I sympathise with the intention of the amendment, it represents only a partial response to the wider issue of unsafe products sold online. This illustrates that the Bill is not the best means of addressing the issue. The ongoing product safety review, which is examining the full range of consumer products and the role of online sales, is the more appropriate vehicle for meeting the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Foster. He mentioned the letter I wrote after Committee to electrical safety firms. As I said, we are planning a consultation on proposals for reform, which will be published not later this year, as previously stated, but later this spring. Once it is published, I will be happy to update the noble Lord and this House to ensure that concerns raised in this debate are fully reflected. I hope I have reassured the noble Lord.
Turning to Amendment 261, again I thank the noble Lord for raising this important matter and recognise his concerns about poor-quality homes. However, I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept this amendment, as it pre-empts and duplicates work already being undertaken across government. As the noble Lord reminded the House, in 2017, the Government committed in The Clean Growth Strategy to improve as many homes as possible to EPC band C by 2035. Where practical, affordable and cost-effective, we are seeking to bring as many private rental homes as possible in line with EPC band C by 2030. The Government have now consulted on raising the energy performance standard in the domestic private rented sector to EPC band C and will be publishing our response in due course. I hope the noble Lord will take some comfort from this.
In the energy White Paper, we announced our intention 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 with 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 pledged to review the statutory decent homes standard by 2024, to consider how it can better support decarbonisation and improve the energy efficiency of social homes.
We shall publish a White Paper in the spring to reform the private rented sector. Some £800 million was committed through the 2021 spending review for a social housing decarbonisation fund and, as further evidence of our intent, we also committed in the levelling up White Paper to explore proposals for new minimum standards in the social and private rented sectors. In the Net Zero Strategy, we reiterated our commitment to consulting on phasing in higher minimum performance standards to ensure all homes meet EPC band C by 2035 where practical, cost-effective and affordable. I can assure the noble Lord that the Government will deliver on all our commitments in this space, but I ask that he does not press this amendment.
Turning to Amendment 262, on staircase regulations, I thank the noble Baronesses for raising this important matter and other noble Lords for contributing to this debate, but I am afraid that the Government will not be able to accept this amendment.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, mentioned, my noble friend the Minister convened a meeting of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee on 16 March to seek its advice on this matter. I have the response from its chairman here. The Building Regulations Advisory Committee has advised that the Government should carry out a review of the statutory guidance, approved document K, focusing on section K1, which covers staircases. It also advised that it was more appropriate to deal with this issue through the building regulations and associated statutory guidance than in primary legislation. In his letter, Hywel Davies says that BRAC agrees that it is more appropriate to seek to address this problem through building regulations and associated statutory guidance than in primary legislation and recommends a focused review of ADK section 1. Further detail on the potential scope of the review of ADK is set out in annexe 1 of the letter.
The Government have accepted the advice of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee and will now put in motion a review of approved document K, focusing primarily on section K1. This review will run in parallel with the review already under way of approved document M, which looks at accessibility. This review will consult on raising the safety of staircases to that achieved by meeting the British Standard on staircases, BS 5395-1. I reassure noble Lords that this will be done as expeditiously as possible and certainly within the year. I assure the noble Baroness that this review will fully address her intention to consult on improving standards of staircase safety in England. I thank her for raising this important matter and assure her that it is being addressed by government.
Turning to Amendment 264, laid by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, I thank noble Lords for raising this important matter. As I assured them in Grand Committee, their intentions have been met in the Bill. Clause 10 requires the building safety regulator to establish the industry competence committee, which will oversee and monitor industry’s development of competence frameworks and training, undertake analysis to understand areas for improvement, and work with industry to drive gap-filling. The committee will provide reports of its work to the regulator periodically. The Health and Safety Executive has established an interim industry competence committee, which is developing its plan for supporting industry’s work, including understanding the current competence landscape. Training and certification of competent individuals is not a function of government or the regulator under this Bill. The industry needs to lead the work to improve competence, identify skills and capacity gaps, and provide appropriate training for its members, and has already started this work. The Government continue to monitor industry’s progress and will provide support where necessary.
Clause 152 legislates for the appointment, at least once every five years, of an independent person to carry out a review of the system of regulation for building safety and standards and the system of regulation for construction products. Importantly, the reviewer is not limited and may choose to review connected matters, which could include the built environment industry workforce. When defining “independent”, we have excluded those with a clear conflict of interest, without overreaching and excluding everyone with relevant experience. Given this explanation, I trust that noble Lords will agree that Amendment 264 duplicates many of the existing provisions in the Bill. With those reassurances, I respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her detailed response. I was very pleased to hear her response to the amendment on staircase safety from the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. It is good that the Government are going to review this. I am sure noble Lords will keep the pressure on to make sure that that is done expeditiously.
Coming to my Amendment 15, again, I thank the Minister for her response. I am still concerned about the potential for a two-tier system and potential conflicts of interest, so I ask the Minister whether she could encourage the Government to monitor these issues once this becomes law to ensure that we do not end up with a system that does not work for all people. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Amendment 16 not moved.
Clause 41: Regulation of building control profession
17: Clause 41, page 56, line 27, at end insert—
“Inspection of local authorities and registered building control approvers 58Z7A Inspections(1) The regulatory authority may carry out an inspection of a local authority, or a registered building control approver, in relation to their exercise of building control functions.(2) The purposes for which an inspection may be carried out include—(a) ascertaining the efficiency and effectiveness of the local authority or registered building control approver in exercising their building control functions;(b) verifying any information provided by the local authority or registered building control approver to the regulatory authority, in connection with their building control functions.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment confers a power on the regulatory authority to inspect local authorities and registered building control approvers, in relation to their building control functions.
My Lords, I open this group by introducing a number of technical amendments tabled to strengthen the Bill. Included within this group are amendments that simply update the drafting of the Bill. These include Amendments 72, 75, 79 and 274.
I will speak to government Amendments 17 to 19, which make changes to Clauses 41 and 47 and introduce a new clause relating to approved inspectors. Amendments 18 and 19 relate specifically to approved inspectors’ insurance, while Amendment 17 introduces a power for the regulatory authority to inspect local authorities and registered building control approvers. The Building Act 1984 currently requires approved inspectors to hold insurance through a government-approved scheme. These amendments remove this requirement. Instead, approved inspectors will need to identify adequate cover themselves, encouraging competition between insurance providers.
The Bill will give the new building safety regulator powers to set insurance requirements for approved inspectors—or registered building control approvers—via professional conduct rules, should it choose to do so. In line with other professions, approved inspectors will be required to make judgments on how best to cover their liabilities. Your Lordships will already be aware that the Bill provides the building safety regulator with the powers to sanction any approved inspector or registered building control approver who fails to meet standards set out by the professional conduct rules, which may include requirements on insurance. The measures which I am introducing will help ensure that the approved inspector sector’s liabilities continue to be adequately covered.
The amendments made to the special measures provisions are minor and technical in nature. They replace references to “relevant person” with “accountable person”, consequential to the removal of the BSM role, and provide more detail on when a contract is a “relevant contract”.
Government Amendments 238 to 242 make changes to Clause 139 to clarify the definitions of “new-build home” and “developer”. They make sure that extensions to residential buildings to create new homes would also fall under the new homes ombudsman’s remit; for example, where a new floor is added to an existing residential building to create new flats. They also make it clear that the ombudsman’s remit covers works which create new homes within an existing residential building, rather than only changes to buildings previously used for other purposes.
Finally, government Amendments 243, 244 and 265 address concerns raised in Committee on new-build warranties. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Kennedy—the latter is not in his place—for raising important concerns regarding inadequate new-build warranties and making the case for all new-build warranties to satisfy proper standards. We have also been in discussion for some time with warranty providers, developers and financial regulators on this issue and, in the absence of a proposal from the market, the Government have concluded that intervention is necessary.
I am therefore pleased to introduce amendments to mandate in law that a developer must provide a warranty to a purchaser of a new home. The minimum length of warranties on new-build homes is set at 15 years, in line with the prospective limitation period for action under the Defective Premises Act 1972, and we are taking a power to set out in regulations the minimum level of coverage provided by those warranties.
Amendment 243 also includes powers to set the period during which the developer itself remains responsible for fixing defects, aiming to keep those who caused the problem on the hook for longer. We will propose regulations setting out, for the first time, minimum levels of warranty coverage and standards of service to be provided, as well as setting out in law that the benefit of the policy would be transferable when a property is sold within the policy term.
Finally, this amendment will also provide for a further power to make regulations imposing a financial penalty of up to £10,000 or 10% of the sale value, whichever is greater, on any developer which fails to meet these new requirements without a reasonable excuse.
Together, these amendments will better support home owners, giving them greater protection and peace of mind when purchasing new-build homes and improving redress for when things go wrong. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have a couple of points that would perhaps have been better taken in Committee, but we did not have the amendments then, so I apologise for these rather Committee-related points. I refer to the government Amendments 18 and 19 about insurance requirements, which I am afraid are not very self-explanatory and, in the absence of explanatory text, rather impenetrable.
Amendment 18 rather boldly says, “Leave out Clause 47”. Clause 47 is one that requires there to be an insurance scheme for certain officials, as the Minister has just set out. That is in a context where, in Amendment 243, the Government have found the need to step in to provide a warranty scheme and make sure it really happens. In the building industry, many of those looking for professional indemnity insurance have found that in the first year after Grenfell their premiums went up by a factor of two, and in the most recent year their premiums have gone up by a factor of four.
Insurers are fleeing the market of providing professional indemnity insurance for anybody who has anything to do with the construction industry. So I wondered whether there was any evidence available, to the Minister or the department, that there was a functioning market in insurance products for those for whom this requirement is being changed. It was, as the Minister has just said, up to professionals in this new profession to seek out insurance, just as it was for professionals such as architects, surveyors or whoever it might be. In a situation where that insurance market is shrinking, and where the Government have found it necessary to talk about imposing a requirement in relation to housing warranties, how happy are they that such a market really exists, and that the abolition of Clause 47’s requirements actually make sense?
I am not proposing an amendment. I am simply seeking to establish that the Government do know exactly what they are doing, and also asking them to explain to this House and noble Lords what exactly they are intending to do.
My Lords, I welcome these technical amendments, tabled by the Minister. While I will not unnecessarily detain the House by discussing each amendment, I would appreciate clarification on a small number of issues.
First, Amendment 17 provides the building safety regulator with a power to conduct inspections of building control bodies, thereby giving further oversight of building control bodies provision. Can the Minister explain what guidance will be given on the conduct of such inspections?
Secondly, Amendments 243, 244 and 265 will together mandate a warranty of 15 years minimum as a standard, while enabling the making of regulations for warranties to set a minimum period of liability for developers, minimum standards for the warranty, and a penalty regime for any developers failing to comply. On the warranty, can the Minister explain the rationale for 15 years? Can she elaborate on the Government’s plans for the penalty regime?
As I stated earlier, I welcome these technical amendments and look forward to clarification from the Minister.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for this short debate on these amendments. I am very pleased that most of them, if not all of them, have been welcomed, because I think they will make a difference to the housing market.
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, brought up the issue of why the amendments have come so late. It is because we listened; the Minister listened, in Committee, to this issue, and therefore the Government have brought forward these amendments. I think the important thing about insurance requirements, as I said, is that the Government are expecting this to reinvigorate the insurance market. At the moment, that is not the case because it is all done through specific Government-procured insurance. This should reinvigorate the market that, as he quite rightly says, is not as vigorous as it should be at the moment. So that is one thing.
The insurance of approved inspectors was mentioned. It will be for the building safety regulator to decide how to set up insurance requirements for approved inspectors. This can be done by the regulator through its professional conduct rules.
The noble Lord, Lord Khan, asked who has oversight of this. It will be the building safety regulator. That is their job, and it is through their rules and regulations that they will make sure that these things are delivered.
Lastly, I am afraid I do not know how the 15 years came about, but I will find an answer for the noble Lord. It is in line with the prospective limitation period for action under the Defective Premises Act 1972—but I will find out how that came about in 1972 for the noble Lord.
Amendment 17 agreed.
Clause 47: Insurance
18: Clause 47, leave out Clause 47
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes provision about insurance cover relating to work to which an initial notice relates.
Amendment 18 agreed.
19: After Clause 47, insert the following new Clause—
“Insurance: removal of requirements
(1) The Building Act 1984 is amended as follows.(2) In section 47 (giving and acceptance of initial notice)—(a) in subsection (1) omit paragraph (c) (but not the “and” at the end of it);(b) omit subsections (6) and (7).(3) In section 51A(2) (variation of work to which initial notice relates) omit paragraph (c) (but not the “and” at the end of it).(4) In section 56 (recording and furnishing of information) omit subsection (2).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause removes requirements in Part 2 of the Building Act 1984 relating to insurance.
Amendment 19 agreed.
Schedule 5: Minor and consequential amendments in connection with Part 3
Amendment 20 not moved.