Amendment 1

Fire Safety Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 2:33 pm on 29th October 2020.

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Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

Moved by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—“(1C) Where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises, the things to which this order applies include electrical appliances.(1D) The reference to electrical appliances means any appliances specified by regulations made by the relevant authority.(1E) Schedule (Electrical Appliances) to the Fire Safety Act 2020 applies to paragraphs (1C) and (1D).”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would clarify that the Fire Safety Order applies to electrical appliances where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Conservative

My Lords, this amendment is also in the names of my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty. I am delighted that Peers of such distinguished service and experience are able to support these amendments and I look forward to their contributions. I thank the Minister for his engagement and commitment on this issue. I know that he has given a briefing on this; I have apologised to him that I was unable to attend that briefing as I was engaged in a debate in Grand Committee at the time.

I welcome the Bill, and these amendments are intended to be proactive and to help prevent fires caused by electrical ignition. Similar amendments were tabled in the Commons by my honourable friend Sir David Amess.

I thank Electrical Safety First, a charity that is dedicated to electrical safety and which has helped in the presentation of this case.

These amendments are intended to build upon the Government’s new regulation for the private rented sector, the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020, which as the date suggests are obviously of a very recent vintage and which provide for mandatory checks every five years. I commend those regulations and believe that this legislation presents an opportunity to build on them.

As I said, this is an attempt to be proactive and to prevent fires happening in the first place. I accept that the Government are giving some consideration to this issue and I am grateful for that. My amendments are designed to ensure that electrical appliances are registered with the responsible person for high-rise domestic dwellings and to introduce mandatory checks for all residents, whatever the tenure of their home.

One anomaly of the present position is that some flats—those that are privately let—will have mandatory five-year checks. Some currently will not: the social tenants and the owner-occupied. I do not believe that that difference can be easily justified. It could be that one flat is having checks while the one next door is not.

According to Electrical Safety First, electrical faults cause more than 14,000 fires a year—almost half of all accidental house fires. There are around 4,000 tower blocks in the country, containing over 480,000 individual flats. Unless every unit in a high-rise building is subject to the same safety regime, the whole building is at risk from a fire emanating from one single flat, as we have seen.

New analysis of government data by Electrical Safety First reveals that nearly a quarter of accidental electric fires that occurred in high-rise buildings over the last five years in England were the result of faulty appliances and leads, as well as faulty fuel supplies, which can include electrical wiring in a property. These amendments would see a responsible person record the presence of white goods to minimise the risk that faulty goods can pose in densely populated buildings. Keeping a record of the appliances in use would also mean that faulty recalled appliances could be removed or repaired. Mandatory five-yearly electrical safety checks in tower blocks, regardless of tenure, are included in the amendment.

As I said, current regulations that we passed recently mean that privately rented flats are required to have these electrical safety checks but other tenures are not, which has in effect created a tenure lottery in buildings, which often include owner-occupied, privately rented and social housing properties.

These provisions for checking electrical safety would be undertaken by competent registered electricians. I am aware of the concerns and interest of the Fire Brigades Union and I welcome its engagement. I assure the union that there is no intention through these amendments that fire officers would undertake this work. They have other, very important jobs to do, which they are doing very well.

More worrying analysis shows that over the past three years, accidental electrical fires in high-rise buildings have risen consistently year on year. High-profile tower block fires have been previously linked to electrical sources, including the Lakanal House fire, where an electrical fault with a television caused a fire that claimed the lives of six people, and Shepherd’s Court, where a faulty tumble dryer led to extensive damage to an 18-storey building. While other factors certainly accelerated the Grenfell Tower fire, it must be highlighted that its primary immediate cause was of course an electrical source of ignition, subsequently confirmed by the Grenfell inquiry phase 1 documentation.

It is important to note that some fires are caused not by appliances themselves but by misuse of them. That is why, despite these amendments, education is certainly important, and why the Home Office in conjunction with Electrical Safety First runs a week of educational awareness-raising with the public through the Fire Kills campaign on the proper use of electricity and electrical appliances. I certainly welcome that, and it is a necessary thing to do, but it is not in itself sufficient.

Recent tragic events have demonstrated the fatal risk that electrical accidents and incidents pose to people in their homes, particularly in high-density housing such as tower blocks. The work of Electrical Safety First and others has helped ensure that tenants living in the private rented sector are now protected by mandatory five-yearly electrical safety checks in their properties. That law was recently brought into effect. Such measures are crucial in bringing down the number of electrical accidents and incidents, and saving lives. We believe that the time is right to include individual dwellings in tower blocks in this regime, regardless of their tenure.

I appreciate that this is a short Bill to amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which focuses on non-domestic measures, to cover domestic homes. This means that homes within high-rise blocks are affected by the proposed legislation. This offers an excellent and straightforward opportunity to ensure that all who live in such buildings are brought under the same safety regime. Given this, the newly created role of a “responsible person” for any high-rise building should be given the task of compiling a register of every white good in the building. This ensures that when a recall occurs, anyone with an affected appliance can be quickly alerted and the safety risk resolved. Relying on consumers to register and respond to recalls in those buildings, when the potential risk is so high, must be considered wholly inadequate.

The Government can therefore improve the Bill through a number of measures that seek to improve electrical safety in homes. Amending the Bill provides an opportunity to make immediate differences to the safety of people who live in multi-occupied high-rise buildings. Electricity causes fires and the Government need to consider seriously the electrical sources of ignition. I am pleased that these amendments enjoy broad-based support. This is a time for all of us to come together to provide a safer environment for high-rise buildings by the introduction of mandatory safety checks. I hope that the Committee will support these amendments. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, I will speak in favour of the amendment in the name of my noble friend, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, to which I have added my name, as have the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty. I should have also added my name to my noble friend’s Amendment 24, which I fully support.

As I mentioned at Second Reading, the issue of electrical appliances and their safety, especially as a potential cause of household fires, should be a major concern. We should do whatever we can to try to reduce those fires caused by electrical faults. The two amendments, introduced so eloquently by my noble friend, would be a valuable tool in trying to achieve that.

Hand in hand with measures for mandatory checks, we should also do what we can to educate the public on electrical safety. My noble friend mentioned that. I pay tribute to a scheme that used to run—I am not sure that it still does—in the London Borough of Hillingdon when I was the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge. Primary school children went into a series of locations or rooms, perhaps a kitchen or bathroom, to identify potential hazards and dangers. I remember saying at the time that the scheme should be not just for primary school children but for adults, too. Sometimes people are not aware of the problems that can be caused by all sorts of household appliances. We should all be aware that the labour-saving devices that we take for granted can also be potentially dangerous. We should therefore do whatever we can to try to eliminate the possibility of electrical fires because we know the devastation that they can cause.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 2:45 pm, 29th October 2020

My Lords, I strongly support these amendments and the requirement for a regular mandatory check on electrical appliances, broadly for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, explained to the Committee. I pay tribute to the campaign group Electrical Safety First, which has given me some information on the issue. As the noble Lord has said, the fires at Lakanal House in Camberwell, Shepherd’s Court and Grenfell were all triggered by faulty electrical appliances. Whether it was dangerous cladding, compromised firewalling or poor evacuation procedures that led to multiple deaths, electrical appliances triggered the fires in the first place. Indeed, more than half of the fires in dwellings in this country are related to electrical appliances.

These amendments would require regular checking of the standards and appropriate use of white goods in all multi-occupied properties. There are already mandatory gas checks on most such buildings for gas supply and the correct use of gas appliances. That is largely because people and regulators have long recognised that gas is dangerous. Yet, these days, electricity is the greater hazard. In multi-occupied multi-storey buildings, if there is a problem in one flat or unit, that is a potentially lethal problem for everyone in that structure.

We should explain that the amendment to regulations would in no way reduce the central responsibility and liability of the manufacturers to ensure the safety of their products; nor should any responsibility be taken away from users to follow instructions and not use equipment irresponsibly or inappropriately. However, the continued use of recalled products, dangerous wiring arrangements, damaged circuits and inappropriate placement of white goods requires regular inspection. There is also a requirement on landlords, tenants and leaseholders to have knowledge of that inspection to help reduce hazards. Failure on their part to facilitate inspection or to take action in the light of that inspection will rest primarily with the owner and manager of the building. That is how it should be. I strongly support these amendments.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, first, I remind the Committee that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I support both amendments in this group. My noble friend Lord Tope, who is a signatory to Amendment 1, is unable to take part today but I know that he is looking forward to debating the issues raised in both amendments when we reach Report.

As we have heard, evidence from Electrical Safety First tells us that electrical faults cause more than 14,000 home fires a year. That is almost half of all accidental house fires. Logically, therefore, the more electrical appliances are checked, the lower the risk will be of a fire breaking out and then spreading to other people’s properties. This is not just a matter of building safety but about preventing fires breaking out in the first place.

I suggest that the general public have a right to expect that Governments of all persuasions should be willing to legislate to ensure high standards of regulation to improve public safety. Those who live in blocks of flats have a right to expect that they are living in a safe environment and that the owner of their block has undertaken the necessary safety checks within it, in this case to electrical appliances within that block.

The proposal in this group of amendments is for checks at least every five years. That is justified. If I drive a car that is over three years old, I have to prove every year that it is roadworthy by having an MOT check. This is to protect other road users, not just me and my vehicle. The same principle should apply in shared buildings where electrical appliances that are a fire risk could cause damage to other properties and to their occupants in that shared building.

I therefore conclude that the fire safety order should apply to electrical appliances where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises. That seems reasonable. For high-rise residential buildings, in particular, it is important that a responsible person should keep a register of white goods in the building for which they are responsible, that they ensure that white goods are registered with the manufacturer for recall, should that be necessary, and that safety checks are conducted at least every five years.

Any privately rented home in a block of flats of mixed tenure will now be subject to electrical safety checks. It seems odd that in a high-rise block of mixed tenure, only the privately rented properties will be subject to the 2020 regulations. I would be grateful for the Minister’s explanation as to why that is, and to know whether the Government will act now to address that anomaly.

Photo of Baroness Eaton Baroness Eaton Conservative

My Lords, I, too, declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. We all share the object of improving the safety of residents and protecting them from the hazards of fire. The Bill is a most welcome contribution to this aim, and provides much-needed clarity about the responsibilities and duties of building owners.

My noble friend’s amendment has been tabled with the best of intentions. On Second Reading I mentioned my concern about the potential for fire hazards from white goods, as did others. I therefore looked with great interest at my noble friend’s amendment. Although I share the concern behind the two amendments regarding fire hazard posed by faulty electrical appliances, this amendment would transfer the responsibility for that issue away from the manufacturers and owners of such appliances, to the responsible person and the fire and rescue service.

The requirement for the responsible person to keep a register of electrical appliances and to check whether they are subject to a recall notice would be completely impractical, particularly in social housing, where the responsibility of the local authority or housing association has significant implications, especially in relation to keeping a register of all electrical appliances.

Surely the responsibility for the safety of electrical goods should sit with the manufacturers. Recent legislation created a national regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, to lead and co-ordinate the product safety system, and respond to safety incidents and recalls. The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016 place strict legal obligations on manufacturers to ensure that electrical equipment is safe before it enters the marketplace. An added concern was gaining the co-operation of occupiers and to private properties. There are potential problems of access rights, and ECHR issues.

Clause 86 of the draft building safety Bill imposes duties on residents regarding maintenance of electrical equipment, and I feel it would be better if the aims of the amendment were seen in relation to general electrical safety checks, and were part of that Bill’s safety case provision.

Fire statistics show that 34% of accidental dwelling fires in 2019-20 were caused by misuse of equipment or appliances, with a further 15% due to faulty leads. However, faulty electrical goods, although unacceptable, are not the primary source of fire fatalities: 23% of fire fatalities are linked to smokers. However, even if it were possible to fulfil all the obligations created by my noble friend’s amendment, we would always need to recognise that fires often start in kitchens—and Amendments 1 and 24 will not negate fire danger in kitchens.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench

My Lords, this important Bill commands extensive cross-party support. The amendment, with leadership from the noble lord, Lord Bourne, also has backing from all parties, and I can now add support from the Cross Benches. I think we have all been helped by input from the Electrical Safety First charity, from whose excellent briefing I note that the failure of electrical appliances is the underlying cause of some 57% of the fires in homes, as with the Grenfell Tower tragedy, in which a fridge-freezer caused the fire.

Although electrical product companies endeavour to alert customers when they need to recall appliances—as with the more than 500,000 white goods subject to recalls from Hotpoint and Indesit alone—there are many reasons why the message does not get through: people move and take appliances with them; recall notices get lost; people buy second-hand goods, and so on. There are a lot of electrical products out there with the potential to start new fires at any time.

Amendment 1, in combination with the proposed new schedule, provides two levels of assurance, both of which seem eminently suitable and practical for high-rise buildings in particular. These involve, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, keeping a register of electrical appliances and having a five-yearly electrical safety inspection of all flats, not just those that are privately rented.

We need to consider possible criticisms, and I shall take up one or two of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton. Would these measures, however necessary, be expensive to administer? Would they be costly for residents? Would they be intrusive into people’s private space? Adding the task of maintaining a register of residents’ appliances would increase the workload of the responsible person with fire safety duties, but the increased workload should be modest, and a tiny supplement to service charges should cover this.

I stress that the amendment would not add to the duties or responsibilities of the fire and rescue service; rather, it would assist the service by reducing fires. Local authorities would have oversight of the requirement for inspections, but they already have enforcement duties in respect of privately rented flats. Moreover, the work involved should not be onerous, as the apartment block’s managers, and the responsible person, in particular, will want to retain oversight of the building’s electrical safety.

As for the quinquennial inspection, I gather from managing agents in the private rented sector, who are already dealing with electrical safety inspections, that costs can be much lower than the £200 we have heard about for a five-year certification. There will be economies of scale in covering flats in a tower block, compared with costs for a check-up and certificate for a one-off private property. The inspection requires a qualified electrician but not a fully fledged surveyor or electrical engineer. I think £50 per unit, equivalent to £10 per annum, could be achieved in due course. Such a payment may be more than helpful in alerting the occupier to any potential hazards and providing peace of mind derived from the knowledge that one’s neighbours are much less likely, unwittingly, to cause a disastrous fire.

Some have argued that applying this obligation to home owners is a step too far. There is little objection to social landlords being required to meet standards demanded of private landlords, and the Regulator of Social Housing will not only insist on comparable standards but will ensure they are enforced. But there are sensitivities about placing the same obligations on home owners—leaseholders and shared owners—in these apartment blocks. However, this represents a free checking service for the resident to ensure that they are not harbouring an unsafe appliance that was the subject of a recall. The key point is that the actions of each resident, whether a tenant or an owner, affect all the other occupiers in the same building. While I am a firm supporter of mixed tenure development, as I know the Minister also is—it seems essential that these safety measures cover all apartments in a mixed block, irrespective of the tenure of the residents therein.

In conclusion, I strongly support the amendment—and I am delighted that we have a Minister responsible for the Bill who has the knowledge and the skills to take this forward, noting its support from all parts of your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Baroness Couttie Baroness Couttie Conservative

My Lords, I want to speak against this amendment. I remind the House of my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I know that everyone in this Chamber is concerned about fire safety and united in their desire to ensure that tenants are safe in their homes. As other noble Lords have said, the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower and other significant fires in multi-occupied blocks were caused by faults with electrical devices. Naturally, we all want to make sure that such disasters can never happen again.

As the ex-leader of Westminster City Council, I know at first hand that local authorities and the housing associations they work with are entirely at one with us on this goal. However, I also know at first hand what practical and financial challenges the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Bourne would have. I agree with the comments made by my noble friend Lady Eaton.

Westminster City Council is responsible for more than 22,000 properties on its estates and we are far from the largest local authority landowner. Under this amendment, local authorities and housing associations would regularly need to visit and certify multiple electrical devices in each dwelling they own, thus requiring tens of thousands of home visits in each local authority area annually. The financial burden of this is prohibitive and, given the measures that have already been introduced by government, will not improve the fire safety of domestic dwellings.

A further concern is that this amendment would have the effect of transferring responsibility for this issue from manufacturers to the responsible person, which includes local authorities and housing associations. Furthermore, local authorities and housing associations will need to keep a register of the hundreds of thousands of electrical appliances in the homes they let and check if they are subject to recall notices. This would be impractical and create a significant enforcement challenge. It is far better for manufacturers to take more responsibility for the products they sell.

Current legislation introduced in recent years already deals with the issues that this amendment seeks to solve. In 2018, a new national regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, was created to lead and co-ordinate the product safety system, including responding to safety incidents and recalls. The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016 place strict legal obligations on manufacturers to ensure that electrical equipment is safe before it is placed on the market. The combination of these existing regulations ensures fire safety for tenants. The amendment proposed by my noble friend does not, in my view, add significantly to fire safety and just will not be practical to implement. I therefore will not be supporting it.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 3:00 pm, 29th October 2020

My Lords, I remind the House of my interests, as recorded in the register, as a councillor in Kirklees and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for tabling these amendments to include provision for improving the safety of electrical appliances in the Bill. I thank my noble friend Lord Tope, who has campaigned on this issue for many years and, unfortunately, is unable to speak in this debate. Electrical Safety First has provided an excellent briefing, with important evidence on the need to include this issue in the Bill.

To those of us who are not familiar with all the facts, it came as something of a surprise that over half of all accidental fires are caused by faulty electrical appliances. As we now know, the tragic fire at Grenfell was caused by a faulty appliance. Of course, there are stringent requirements for manufacturers to build in safety features and for landlords in the private rented sector to do safety checks. However, many people are obliged to buy second-hand refurbished appliances, which may be safe at the time of purchase but have a greater probability of failing within the five years specified for checks.

My noble friend Lord Shipley, speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lord Tope, explained that checks on appliances will, logically, reduce the number of fires caused in this way. He used a good analogy: cars need MoTs to ensure the safety of their owners and other road users, and therefore so should white goods. The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, made a strong argument for putting the onus for the safety of electrical appliances on manufacturers, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, further pointed out the risks in manufacturers’ recall of faulty appliances. All this shows that this is a complicated matter, but complexity should not be used to prevent the problem being addressed. The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, would extend and clarify the existing safety check requirements. I urge the Government to consider accepting them.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of the Heart of Medway Housing Association and a non-executive director of mhs homes. Amendment 1, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, with cross-party support, and Amendment 24, also in the name of the noble Lord, seeks to put improvements and protections for people living in high-rise residential buildings in the Bill.

As we have heard in this short debate, electricity causes more than 14,000 fires each year—almost half all accidental house fires. The amendments seek to provide practical protection for residents living in high-rise buildings, which total more than 1 million people. We are all sadly aware of the tragic and sometimes fatal consequences of people caught in fires in their own homes. As we have heard, these amendments would build on the regulations that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, worked so hard to introduce. It took some time for them to come into effect; the noble Lord was always committed to them and I always pushed him to bring them in sooner, but we are grateful to him for this work. I also join him in paying tribute to Electrical Safety First, which is a great charity that highlights the problems we have with electrical fires and how we need to ensure that electricity is made as safe as possible for us all.

These regulations go further and extend the protections in the regulations introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, so that tenants living in high-rise buildings will benefit from mandatory electrical safety checks every five years, with records kept by the responsible person and made available to the fire services, local authorities and, importantly, the residents association if one is in place.

In introducing the amendment, the noble Lord made a powerful point, in that those who live in a high-rise block of flats include social tenants and owner-occupiers, neither of whom need electrical safety tenants, but private tenants would now need checks. If you are not checking the whole building, it is not safe at all. That is an important and powerful point, so I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, addresses it in his response.

Secondly, these amendments would require the responsible person to keep a register of white goods in the high-rise buildings for which they are responsible. I am supportive of these proposals, as we need high standards to keep people safe from the risk of fire started by electrical ignition. We have already mentioned the tragic incidents in recent years—not only Grenfell but Lakanal House and Shepherd’s Court—but equally I accept that there can be issues with getting access to flats and keeping the register of these goods up to date, which can provide a logistical challenge for people. There is also the question of new and second-hand goods.

I entirely accept that the product recall system is not working well. The London Fire Brigade had its Total Recalls campaign, which highlighted the problems with the recall system. We need something better than we have now because, as I said, keeping track of white goods is a huge challenge. Whether we accept these amendments or not, what we have at present cannot continue. We have to do something else.

I hope that, when the Minister responds to the debate, he sets us on that path. I suggest that he facilitates a meeting between Electrical Safety First, his officials and Members of this House who want to discuss how we can find a practical solution to the serious point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. I also suggest that the London Fire Brigade in particular is involved in those discussions because of its campaigning work. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this debate and his delivery of that meeting.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I would say first that we do need to look at the effective Berlin Wall between social housing and private housing, and in mixed sustainable communities where there are different tenures, we need to look at how we can ensure consistency and thus the safety of all residents. I am of course prepared to meet the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, Electrical Safety First and other groups as soon as possible.

I thank my noble friends Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty, for the amendment. This is clearly an important issue. Faulty electrical appliances are often the causes of fires in high-rise residential buildings, a point that has been made clear. However, before turning to the amendment, I would like to explain the work being done across government to improve electrical safety in residential buildings.

As my noble friend Lady Eaton pointed out, in 2018 a new national regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, was created to lead and co-ordinate the product safety system including responding to safety incidents and recalls. The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016 place strict legal obligations on manufacturers to ensure that electrical equipment is safe before it is placed on the market and to ensure that manufacturers monitor products already on the market where appropriate and undertake sample testing of equipment. There are criminal sanctions for those who do not comply. Importantly, the draft building safety Bill proposes an obligation on residents to keep electrical installations and appliances that they are responsible for in their property in working order. There is also a provision for the accountable person for a building to take action where they or a competent person have reasonable grounds for believing that a resident or their landlord is failing to meet this obligation. In addition to this, the Home Office’s “Fire Kills” campaign plays an incredibly important part in promoting electrical fire safety messages, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Bourne.

The new Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 are now in force for new tenancies and will apply to existing tenancies from 1April 2021. These regulations require that electrical installations must be inspected and tested by a qualified and competent person at least every five years, as highlighted by noble Lords, and that an electrical installation condition report be provided to tenants and local housing authorities on request.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, on why mandatory checks apply only to private housing and not to public housing, the situation is that social landlords are expected to comply with the Decent Homes standard from the Regulator of Social Housing. This includes homes being free of hazards, including electrical hazards, as set out under the housing health and safety rating system. In the social housing Green Paper, we asked if new safety measures in the private rented sector should be extended to the social sector, including electrical safety checks. We will bring forward a social housing White Paper soon. I will however take the issue away for further consideration, I have already offered to hold a meeting, and I will provide an update on Report.

My noble friend Lady Couttie raised the practicalities of the implementation of such a system by registered social landlords and local councils with a large amount of council stock. I want to reassure your Lordships that we will continue to work across government to identify any further gaps in the electrical safety regime.

I now want to explain some of my concerns with this amendment. In particular, it does not achieve its intended effect. For example, there is doubt that the amendment would result in electrical appliances in private dwellings being brought within scope of the fire safety order. I suspect that this was not the intention. In any case, my noble friend will be aware that domestic premises are specifically excluded under the fire safety order, so this amendment intends to significantly broaden the scope of the legislation. I am also concerned that it proposes to require occupiers to provide access to the responsible person to enter the private dwellings. This would result in a significant level of intrusion and the implications of this need to be carefully thought through before any decision is made to legislate on the issue.

The proposed new schedule also intends for the responsible person to keep a register of electrical appliances for their building. This proposed duty will have a significant impact on the responsible person. For local authorities, and indeed all responsible persons, I do not want to create this additional burden. It is unrealistic to expect responsible persons to have an up-to-date register of electrical appliances for their building. This will also have a significant impact on fire and rescue services, who will need to check whether the electrical appliances register is accurate, which could involve inspecting all homes in a block of flats.

Given the assurances that I have provided, coupled with my commitment to provide an update on the next steps with regard to the social housing White Paper, along with my commitment to the meeting requested by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, I would ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Conservative 3:15 pm, 29th October 2020

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the discussion of these two amendments in the first group. I think that there is a genuine desire across the Committee, even in those who have raised difficulties in doing something. Unless I am wrong, there is a recognition that we should be doing something to reduce fire deaths and to provide for safety with regard to electrical goods.

Some very clear facts have come across. High-rise blocks of flats are increasing, notwithstanding the presence of the person overseeing the safety of goods. Legislation has been introduced to help to protect private tenants—it does not extend to social tenants—and owner-occupiers. I do not believe that we should be in a position where we are protecting private tenants and owner-occupiers but not social tenants. I note the points made by my noble friend about social tenants, but if there is a genuine desire to do something, this legislation will provide that opportunity.

Let us take a look at the legitimate concerns that have been brought forward, which I recognise, and see how we can overcome them. That, to me, is the right way of moving. I do not think that there is a real threat of intrusion because this is about providing safety for everyone in our country, which is very desirable. I welcome my noble friend’s acceptance of the suggestion of a meeting and I would be pleased to take part in it. We can look at doing something genuinely to ensure that we do not face the horrific fire incidents that we have seen in the past. We can find a way of providing some safety and security.

I listened particularly to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who certainly knows what he is talking about; as is commonly known throughout the House, he really does understand this area. At this stage, I will withdraw the amendment, but I will certainly come back to it on Report to look for some movement on how we can provide genuine security from electrical fires for all those living in high-rise blocks.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed.

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.

Clause 2: Power to change premises to which the Fire Safety Order applies