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Building Safety Bill

Volume 820: debated on Monday 4 April 2022

Third Reading

Relevant documents: 20th and 21st Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Building Safety Bill, have consented to place their interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

My Lords, a significant number of the provisions in the Building Safety Bill apply to England and Wales and a number also apply to Scotland and/or Northern Ireland. Throughout the preparation and passage of the Bill we have been working closely with each of the devolved Administrations, and I pay tribute to officials and Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for their constructive engagement and support.

There are provisions in the Bill which engage the legislative consent process in the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru and the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am pleased to report that the Senedd and the Scottish Parliament have granted legislative consent. However, the Northern Ireland Executive have not brought forward a legislative consent memorandum and the Assembly has therefore not voted on legislative consent. I reassure noble Lords that the Government will continue to engage with the Northern Ireland Executive.

Schedule 8: Remediation costs under qualifying leases etc

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Schedule 8, page 232, line 16, leave out sub-paragraphs (4) to (6) and insert—

“(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the determination of the value of a qualifying lease for the purposes of paragraph 4.”Member’s explanatory statement

This tidying-up amendment is consequential on Amendment 155 at Report Stage which set the “permitted maximum” to zero.

My Lords, through every stage of the proceedings I have supported the aims of the Bill, and I am sure the whole House will welcome any steps taken to make homes safer and more secure. While we may have differences of opinion on the most effective and fair way of achieving this, I do recognise the genuine desire of the Minister to address historic cladding and non-cladding defects. This Bill should represent a turning point for innocent home owners, and I hope that in the final stages of the Bill we can resolve the remaining issues of contention to ensure that the Bill properly gives leaseholders the protections in law that have long been promised by the Government.

I briefly draw to noble Lords’ attention the fact that I have tabled a short amendment. It has been tabled as a consequential to Amendment 155 on Report, following advice from the Public Bill Office. I hope that the Minister will accept that the amendment is purely technical.

Finally, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Khan of Burnley and me, I take this opportunity briefly to thank the Minister and the departmental team for their approach to the Bill. I look forward to working with them in future on any further legislation brought forward to address building safety. I beg to move.

Amendment 1 agreed.


Moved by

My Lords, the Grenfell Tower tragedy resulted in the largest loss of life in a residential fire since the Second World War. On 14 June 2017, 72 people died and 70 more were injured. This was the deadliest structural fire in the United Kingdom since Piper Alpha in 1988. The Government are determined to ensure that a tragedy such as this never happens again. The Building Safety Bill is the landmark Bill that delivers on that mission.

These are the biggest changes to building safety legislation in our history. The Bill not only addresses the total building safety regulatory system failure head-on but also protects leaseholders who are the victims in a building safety crisis. This Bill helps to ensure that there is a more proportionate approach to building safety risk, introduces a cap on the historic building safety costs that leaseholders will have to pay and, finally, provides an extensive set of tools in law that will ensure that the polluter pays.

Fifteen of the 37 disabled residents living in Grenfell Tower died in the fire. That is more than 40% of the disabled residents. The Government are committed to supporting the fire safety of disabled and vulnerable residents. We are acutely aware of the need to ensure the safety of residents with mobility concerns. The Government ran a consultation on the issue of personal emergency evacuation plans—PEEPs—in July 2021. The consultation has made clear the substantial difficulties of mandating PEEPs in high-rise residential buildings around practicality, proportionality and safety. On practicality, how can you evacuate a mobility-impaired person from a tall building before the professionals from the fire and rescue service arrive? On proportionality, how much is it reasonable to spend to do this at the same time as we seek to protect residents and taxpayers from excessive costs? On safety, how can you ensure that an evacuation of mobility-impaired people is carried out in a way that does not hinder others in evacuating or the fire and service in fighting the fire?

Given these difficulties, the Government are committing to undertake a new consultation. While our response is still being finalised, this will include a proposal called “emergency evacuation information-sharing” or EEIS. The Government will publish our response to the PEEPs consultation and our new consultation on EEIS and commence the Fire Safety Act 2021 on the same day next month, which is as soon as practical after the pre-election period. I have discussed this at some length with the noble Baronesses, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Brinton. I confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that the consultation will look to ensure as best we can that the golden thread exists between planning for the safe evacuation of a mobility-impaired person when needed and the response of fire and rescue services in the event that a building needs to be evacuated.

The Building Safety Bill leaves your Lordships’ House in a far better state than it arrived in. I welcome the clear cross-party support for the Bill. Both Opposition Benches have played hard but fair. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for using his considerable professional expertise and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jolly and Lady Finlay of Llandaff, for their redoubtable efforts with the Safer Stairs campaign. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, for ensuring that the new regime is as proportionate as possible. Finally, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for helping improve the Bill in the interests of leaseholders.

On the Government Benches, I thank my noble friend Lord Naseby for representing the interests of pensioners with pensions tied up in buy-to-let leasehold properties, my noble friend Lady Sanderson for ensuring that the voice of the Grenfell community is heard loud and clear, and last but by no means least, the dynamic duo of my noble friends Lord Young and Lord Blencathra, who have brought decades of parliamentary experience to ensure that leaseholders are protected. I also thank my long-suffering Whip, my noble friend Lady Scott, and her understudy briefly on Report, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield. My heartfelt thanks also go to Hannah Ellis in the Whips’ Office.

Finally, I thank the army of officials in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Home Office and across government for their support and hard work over the last few months. I will name four who deserve special mention: the former Bill manager, Amy Payne, the current Bill manager, Catherine Canning, and the superb DHLUC government lawyers, Joanna Stewart and Catherine Brydges.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Fire Safety and Rescue, as well as a user of personal emergency evacuation plans, or PEEPs, as I am a wheelchair user.

I am very grateful to the Minister and his officials for the two meetings and our email exchange since Report. I particularly thank him for what he has just said this afternoon. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and I have repeatedly debated the problem that residents in high-rise blocks face in the event of an emergency, because disabled people are not currently covered by the PEEP rules.

Disabled people were encouraged by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and the Judith Hackitt report, both of which highlighted the necessity of the golden thread of planning, notification and practical support needed for vulnerable residents, whether disabled or with a mobility impairment. Last week’s evidence from civil servants and Ministers at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry exposed a real concern that, in the past, there was no real heart to make PEEPs work, as they were deemed too expensive and complicated. The department’s announcement of a third consultation on how to get disabled residents out of a high-rise building in an emergency is welcome, but we need a final answer.

The Minister rightly focused on emergency evacuation information-sharing, because it sits within the scope of this Building Safety Bill. He has argued publicly and privately that PEEPs are for the Fire Safety Bill, but it is vital that they are developed, planned and reviewed together. Otherwise, there will be disabled residents who believe that they will be looked after and removed from their flat in the event of a fire or another emergency only to discover—as the Grenfell disabled residents did—that sitting tight and waiting can result in injury or death.

I am really grateful for what the Minister has said. We in the disabled community will watch with great interest and hope to see that golden thread come into practice in just over a month’s time.

I thank my noble friend for his very kind words, and, in return, I commend him for the progress which he has made with the Bill, with his statement on 10 January, the amendments he tabled on 14 February and the further amendments he tabled last week on Report. I also commend him for his engagement with those who have sought to improve the Bill; he engaged with patience and humour despite, from time to time, considerable provocation from two former Chief Whips.

I will make two very brief points. First, I hope the amendments that were carried last week will not be overturned in the other place: amendments protecting those in buildings under 11 metres; amendments protecting leaseholders from making any contribution; and amendments that seek to protect the position of enfranchised leaseholders and put them on a par with unenfranchised leaseholders.

Secondly, there is still some unfinished business. We need to make progress on so-called orphaned buildings. I know my noble friend recognises the problem, which he believes, I think, can be dealt with administratively, and in an exchange on Report he pointed to the funds available, but it remains to be seen whether those funds will be sufficient and who will take on the responsibility of remediating these buildings given that the leaseholders —at the bottom of the waterfall—will not have the resources to do this, particularly if they are expected to litigate first.

I hope that, in the other place, some thought might be given to this and, in what is entirely a matter for the other place, I hope they recognise that they have never seen these clauses at all and therefore allow adequate time for consideration of Lords amendments.

My Lords, your Lordships will of course know that I have one principal abiding fear about this Bill, which is exactly the point that has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Young—who I regard, along with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, as my co-conspirator on this Bill.

To put a little more flesh on that bone, in a case where the original developer or builder cannot be identified or is identified but has gone bust, the question is about getting the remediation cost from these defunct individuals. Given that we have effectively removed the liability of leaseholders for remediation costs—and rightly so, in my view—what then happens when those freeholders and leaseholders are faced with no other option going forward? That is my abiding fear about the overwhelming financial odds that might face these occupiers.

Whether is it possible for the Minister to clarify that, I do not know. However, I add my voice to those of others who have expressed their appreciation for what the Minister has done: he has tackled this with a real sense of purpose, with an open-door policy to talking with those who have concerns, and I appreciate that very much. Behind him is the Bill team, to which I pay tribute as well.

I pay tribute to my co-conspirators, and also all those across the House, on all sides, who have supported me in Divisions—I appreciate that very much indeed. I particularly pay tribute to fellow Cross-Bench Peers, the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Grey-Thompson, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, who, on individual aspects, have campaigned tremendously effectively to have this Bill altered, very much for the better.

Beyond this House, I pay tribute to the efforts of organisations such as the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, which has been very helpful in many respects. Most of all, I thank the perpetrator pays team, Steve Day and Daniel Greenberg; as far as I am concerned, their input has been absolutely fantastic and totally indispensable.

My last point has to be for all those who wrote to me: the couples who had put off having a family, or even getting married; the distraught pensioners; the families with their hopes and finances on hold, whose children have had their education disrupted and who have been unable to move because their properties were unsaleable for work or for any other purpose; and those facing bankruptcy and repossession. They have been my driving force. In all my years of experience as a chartered surveyor, I do not think I have had so many people write to me, and I hope that I have been able to give a voice to the voiceless in that respect and some glimmer of hope that, at the end of a really long dark period for them, there might be a little bit of light. I remain committed to the principles that I have held to throughout the course of the Bill.

My Lords, I do not want to delay the House for too long, but I also add my word of thanks to the Minister. I share the concerns of other noble Lords: I hope that this is going to be given enough time for proper scrutiny and debate in the other place and that the really key amendments will not be overturned.

Many positive changes have been made, particularly reducing the cost for non-cladding remedial work to zero and the extension of this support to all buildings, not just those over 11 metres. But I remain concerned by the definition of a qualifying lease and its failure to protect those receiving a state pension who rely on rental income from a lease to sustain themselves. I am not entirely certain how these pensioners who do not qualify will pay for non-cladding remedial costs, but that is a hurdle that the Government may face in the near future.

Furthermore, I continue to think that the Government have taken a rather London-centric view when defining a qualifying lease. I personally find it odd that someone with three leases worth, say, a total of £2.7 million, or £900,000 per dwelling, would qualify to pay nothing as per the latest amendments, but an individual with, say, five leases totalling £500,000, or £100,000 per lease, would be liable for the entirety of their non-cladding remedial costs on four of those leases. Again, I can only speculate as to how this might play out once the Bill passes.

I hope that the Minister shares these concerns and might perhaps look at a fairer way to define qualifying leases in respect of buy-to-let landlords, but I do not want this sticking point to hold up what has been a very positive debate around this Bill. I reiterate my thanks to the Minister for his co-operation and willingness to listen to and work with us.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments. I am glad to be associated with proportionality, especially in relation to safety and the unintended consequences of a zero-risk approach to any policy, actually. I thank everyone who has been involved—the Minister, the government team and all the people across the House far more experienced than I am—for making the discussions around this have a certain sense of a collegiate endeavour, trying to solve a problem that we all knew was there. I thank your Lordships for your encouragement and, often, your patience with my own inability to quite understand the process.

I particularly thank leaseholders. I got involved with this issue because I was lobbied, not by big business but by ordinary, grass-roots leaseholders. As a leaseholder myself, I found that there was a whole community out there. While we have done a huge amount to benefit their situation, going from where they were to where they are, we are not quite there yet. As much as I would like it to be the case that they are grateful for our endeavours, many of them still feel frustrated, fearful and nervous—and you cannot blame them, because they are just not sure what is going to happen; there are too many question marks. I do not think we should be disparaging of them or think that they are lacking in gratitude for what has happened.

I encourage the Government not only to give time in the other place to consider the amendments but not to wash their hands of the Bill, as it were, once it eventually fully goes through. I think we have all noted that there will be unintended consequences: hidden costs and service charges. While there might be a formal review, this will be an ongoing issue for many years to come. Therefore, I hope the Government will be open to those lobbying for leaseholders, even when we are not discussing a Bill in Parliament. I would like the department to still keep listening to them, as I certainly will. I will raise issues whenever I get the chance. Generally, this is far better than when we started, but I always want more.

My Lords, simply look at the Bill that came from the other place, then take a look at what we are sending back. It has changed beyond all recognition. I pay tribute to my noble friend the Minister and his boss, my right honourable friend Michael Gove, for that extraordinary transformation. I also thank my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and noble Lords and noble Baronesses on all sides of the House, and the right reverend Prelate, for the many amendments they have made, many of which have been accepted by the Government. We are sending back some important amendments that the Government might not quite like as much as we would like them to. However, I appeal to the other place to accept them and not to remove them, especially the zero amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock.

The Government, apparently, have had legal advice on the dangers of breaking the ECHR if we changed the cap figures, but we heard, I submit, even better legal advice that that is not so. In any case, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, said, some developers will challenge the figure in court no matter what level the Government set.

We also need to do more on enfranchised leaseholders. They were encouraged to purchase their freeholds, and they must not be treated like rapacious landlords. Nevertheless, this Bill now gives leaseholders infinitely better protection. With a few further tweaks it could give them full protection. When I see the contribution my noble friends have made to the Bill, I am reminded of the words of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, or almost his words:

“Antonius! … Yond”

noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham,

“has a lean and hungry look … Let me have men about me that are fat”.

I commend this Bill and hope the other place will improve it further.

My Lords, as one who has been involved in housing policy for over 50 years, I pay tribute to my noble friend for his time, care and effort, and his listening qualities, which have not always been a feature of those on either Front Bench. I offer sincere thanks to my noble friend.

My Lords, I start by thanking the cladding and building safety campaigners who have been resolute and unremitting, since the Grenfell fire tragedy, in pursuing justice for leaseholders and tenants. Without them, this Bill would not be in the shape it is today. It has been transformed but not transformed enough, as we have heard from others. Across the House, people have worked together to make it a better Bill. I thank them for the way we have worked together to make improvements, but it is not yet enough.

I, too, urge the Government to accept the amendments that we accepted on Report. I, for one, am not giving way. I hope that the Government, at the other end, will say that the argument has been made for a nil cost to all leaseholders. That is where I shall firmly stand to the bitter end. Leaseholders are the innocent victims; they must not pay a penny.

I pass on my thanks to the Minister for being so free with his time, discussing the various amendments, and to the officials from various parts of the Government for explaining the detailed changes that had been proposed. Particularly, I thank Sarah Pughe in the Liberal Democrat Whips’ Office, and my noble friend Lord Stunell. Without their expertise, knowledge and experience, we would not have been able to do the job that, between us, we have done. I look forward to the Bill coming back, having been accepted by the Commons.

My Lords, I beg the indulgence of noble Lords: as my noble friend Lord Young and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, asked pretty much the same question, I thought I would respond to that very briefly. They wanted to know what happens to orphan buildings, where there is no polluter to pay. I do not feel that this works in this setting, but I have this wonderful diagram that makes it pretty clear to me what happens. This is the so-called “non-cladding costs waterfall”, which I am going to try to have put on the Government’s website. Let us be very clear: we need to look at this in terms of cladding and non-cladding.

There is, of course, the £5.1 billion building safety fund for the remediation of cladding in high-rise residential buildings, which is open to orphan buildings. My department is seeking a further £4 billion voluntary contribution. In the first instance, it is a voluntary contribution from the developers for the remediation of unsafe cladding in medium-rise buildings, which is also open to orphan buildings. Then, we have this wonderful government waterfall for non-cladding costs: the developers must pay. In instances where the developer is not available to pay, the landlord must pay. The landlord or freeholders who pass the government test, which is a net worth of £2 million per building, become legally liable for all the costs. The landlords must comply with the law, as set out by Parliament. Freeholders or landlords must pursue those responsible, as well as any applicable grant schemes, before they can pass costs on.

Finally, as it says on this wonderful chart, which even I can read with my poor eyesight, costs are shared equitably between freeholders, lessees and leaseholders, subject to robust leaseholder protections detailed in the Bill—and sent back to the other place with some other parameters that perhaps the Government might not have wanted at this stage.

I want to make a final point about landlords. Sadly, some landlords are polluters. A number of large freeholders have appeared on the Government’s “name and shame” list for not remediating their buildings. Some freeholders or landlords have gone so far as to force leaseholders to take loans to remediate their buildings. As I said, we all agree that, in those instances, the polluter must pay.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.