Amendment 5

Fire Safety Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 29th October 2020.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark:

Moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark

5: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—“Duties of owner or managerThe relevant authority must by regulations amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (SI 2005/1541) to require an owner or a manager of any building which contains two or more sets of domestic premises to—(a) share information with their local Fire and Rescue Service in respect of each building for which an owner or manager is responsible about the design of its external walls and details of the materials of which those external walls are constructed;(b) in respect of any building for which an owner or manager is responsible which contains separate flats, undertake annual inspections of individual flat entrance doors;(c) in respect of any building for which an owner or manager is responsible which contains separate flats, undertake monthly inspections of lifts and report the results to their local Fire and Rescue Service if the results include a fault; and(d) share evacuation and fire safety instructions with residents of the building.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause would place various requirements on building owners or managers of buildings containing two or more sets of domestic premises, and would implement recommendations made in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report.

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, we come to a substantial group containing Amendments 5, 6, 7 and 9 in my name, and Amendments 15, 16 and 17 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock.

Amendment 5 seeks to make progress in respect of the recommendations of the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry. It is disappointing that progress has been so slow, frankly, on all these matters following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017, some 40 months ago. We have on record pledges from Ministers to implement in full the recommendations in the report of the first phase of the inquiry, but the Bill before us today does not include any of the provisions or measures called for in the inquiry to be implemented. When the Bill was before the other place, the Government did not take the opportunity afforded to them to correct this. They opposed moving forward and instead said that they would launch a consultation. The consultation was launched in July and ends this month, a full year after they pledged to implement the recommendations of the inquiry.

I hope the Minister can set out for the House the timescale the Government are working to, as people have waited far too long for legislative action. Will he say why the Government are not even prepared to include the simplest of the recommendations the inquiry called for in this Bill—recommendations such as the inspection of fire doors and the testing of lifts? There is an urgent need for these recommendations to be implemented and the Government need to act with much more speed.

Amendment 6 returns to points I made previously today and at Second Reading. The fire safety Order requires regular fire risk assessments in buildings, but there is no legal requirement for those conducting these assessments to have any form of training or accreditation for this work. Although this service can be commissioned from council-run building control services, numerous private providers compete for the work and their numbers have rapidly expanded since the fire at Grenfell Tower. Numerous experts have criticised the poor quality of the work in building control and fire safety. As I have said before, we do not want a race to the bottom, where anybody can set up and say they are an inspector with very little training to do the work.

I want to hear from the Minister today that we will ensure that when fire assessments are done, we will have people who are properly accredited and able to do the work. Although I accept that there are some voluntary accreditation schemes, it is sadly the case that the use of unregistered fire inspectors is commonplace. The lack of training and accreditation in this important area of work is, frankly, unacceptable. The Government should be using this Bill to legislate for higher standards and greater public accountability in fire inspections.

Amendment 7 requires the schedule for inspecting buildings containing two or more sets of domestic premises to be based on a prioritisation of risk. At present, there is no guarantee that the schedule for inspections will be based on any sort of risk analysis rather than an arbitrary distinction between types of buildings. This was raised in the Commons by my honourable friend the Member for Croydon Central, who said that many experts and stakeholders have “significant concerns” over how the Bill would be implemented. She drew attention to reference by the Minister in Committee to:

“The building risk review programme, which will … ensure that local resources are targeted at those buildings most at risk”.—[Official Report, Commons, Fire Safety Bill Committee, 25/6/20; col. 62.]

I agree, but it should also be pointed out that local fire and rescue services know their area well, and know the buildings where there is greatest risk. It should be they who decide the priority list.

Amendment 9 would require the UK Government, for England, and the Welsh Government, for Wales, to specify when a waking watch must be in place for buildings that contain two or more sets of domestic premises and have fire safety failures. There are still major issues around removal of flammable ACM cladding from tower blocks. A significant number of buildings remain covered, more than three years after the Grenfell Tower fire, and other types of dangerous cladding have also been identified and not yet removed from buildings.

I accept that coronavirus caused many contractors to stop work on cladding sites, while others have not even begun work because of legal disputes, including, as I mentioned in a previous debate, disputes over guarantees and insurance payments. These delays mean that residents are in buildings that are unsafe, which cannot be right, or face extortionate fees for removal. Guidance from the National Fire Chiefs Council suggests waking watches should be a temporary measure, yet some residents have been forced to pay for waking watches for years, with some put in place immediately after the fire at Grenfell Tower, more than 40 months ago. They can cost up to £10,000 a week.

Amendments 15, 16 and 17 have considerable merit. I am happy to offer my support to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and will listen carefully to her when she speaks to them. I hope the Minister will give a full response to all the amendments and I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 15, 16 and 17, variously in the names of myself and my noble friends Lady Pinnock and Lord Shipley. Again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his helpful remarks and support: as his amendments show, we have similar views.

Our debate on Amendment 3 prefigured many of the matters covered by our three amendments here. Our intention in tabling them is to get into the Bill some of what I expect we will be told by the Minister are the good intentions of the Government in the first place, and to make them real and concrete. This is a new policy area for the Government, and a new direction of travel—more regulation not less. It is both very necessary and very welcome, and we on the Lib Dem Benches are not just willing but eager and keen to help the Government produce the best Bill possible.

Amendment 15 would mandate a national, published fire risk assessment register. The picture which emerges with devastating force from the evidence given to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry is that when those with power and authority find out bad things—about high risks that are there yet do not affect them, but put the vulnerable and weak at risk—their natural reaction is to keep the news to themselves, to avoid trouble and expense and to hope for the best. When it comes to fire safety, we have to end decisively that hoarding of bad news by the informed and powerful, and empower the vulnerable who carry the risks and sometimes pay the ultimate price: of life itself.

Those assessments must therefore be in the public domain and at least as public and accessible as an energy performance certificate is for every home in the country—and I hope it would give a rather more realistic picture than the average EPC does. It is quite unacceptable for landlords and building owners to hoard assessments to the detriment of those to whom they rent and lease their property, and whose lives are in their hands. Grenfell Tower residents’ legitimate and specific fears about weaknesses they could see with their own eyes were swept away by those in authority. No one knew whether any assessments had been made, what they said or what should be done about it, or who should rectify the faults disclosed. Only an open public register can safeguard residents. I hope to hear from the Minister that he fully accepts that case and will give us an assurance on that crucial point.

Amendment 16 would mandate an open register of fire risk assessors. We have already heard some cautionary words from noble Lords in the previous debate. Here, the risk is linked to the likely shortage of fully competent professional assessors, and the very big risk that people would be attracted to pass themselves off as suitable and qualified when actually they are not. More positively, when landlords are recruiting assessors a public register will make that task a much simpler prospect. We should remember that there are many semi-professional landlords with a modest property portfolio, perhaps only one or two properties, and with no great professional competence themselves. They will be dependent on word-of-mouth recruitment, possibly via small ads or a local website. Making sure they have a safe route to recruiting a qualified and competent assessor is vital to the integrity of the new regime. Again, I hope to hear from the Minister that he entirely agrees, and will take on board the need to ensure there will be an open register of fire risk assessors.

Amendment 17 is on an entirely different point: who pays for the work that is going to be needed? This subject has already raised its head in the debate and I heard something from the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, in response. I am hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, may be able to improve on his offer. Amendment 17 could hardly be simpler or clearer: the innocent occupiers—the renters and leaseholders of millions of homes across the country—should not be held to ransom by building owners and forced to pay for making their home safe, when it should have been safe from the start. I know that the Government have begun to face up to the excessive costs facing leaseholders but I think the Minister, along with me, believes that far more remains to be done. I will not rehearse some of the hard luck stories that we are all familiar with. Instead, I will make a simple case that may appeal to Treasury bean-counters.

The longer this issue of payment hangs in the air, the more risk there is that yet another terrible tragedy will occur; the costs of that would quickly overwhelm any budget it may cost to help lubricate the repair and restoration process. The Bill, as we have discussed, extends the reach of the assessment regime much more widely, so the likelihood of problems similar to those we have heard about—of leaseholders and renters being stuck with huge bills—is likely to grow, not shrink, with its passage. Again, I hope that the Minister can give us, and millions of leaseholders, some words of comfort and support.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 4:30 pm, 29th October 2020

My Lords, I have added my name to most of the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy. He has explained the objectives of the proposed new clauses extremely well, so I will not add much to that. I particularly emphasise the need for the accreditation and professionalisation of fire assessors to instil some degree of confidence in the advice which owners, tenants and leaseholders receive. On the definition of responsible persons, this takes us some way forward to adopting my noble friend’s amendment. It is also important that the Government ensure that the terminology used here is the same as that in the draft building safety Bill, and in existing regulations, so that we avoid any confusion or ambiguity over who is responsible for what.

I did not sign up to Amendment 9 in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy. That is not because I disagree with the wording on the Marshalled List. I support that but it could be misinterpreted. My noble friend has already referred to the concerns in this respect, and the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, referred to them in an earlier debate. This amendment deals with waking watch and the whole concept is that if a building has been designated as a fire risk, we need constant checking on the safety of that building. But many tenants and leaseholders find that the waking watch arrangements are used as a reason to delay improving the basic physical safety of the building. Moreover, they are faced with substantial costs on the operation of a waking watch. I do not intend to undermine my noble friend’s Amendment 9. However, it needs to be put in a context where the cost does not fall on the tenants and leaseholders but on those who are genuinely responsible for the lack of safety in the building. Waking watch is not an alternative to the amelioration of that physical condition.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I strongly support all the amendments in this group because they would help improve standards immensely. My name is attached to Amendments 15 and 17.

The purpose of Amendment 15, which is also in the name of my noble friend Lady Pinnock, is to secure an up-to-date public register of fire risk assessments, to be kept and made available on request. I see this proposal as a matter of significant public interest and of vital concern to those who live in a shared accommodation block, particularly one which is high-rise. As my noble friend Lord Stunell pointed out, they have a right to know that their building is safe. I raised this problem previously when I discovered that such publication can be excluded under freedom of information legislation. Surely all those who live in tower blocks have a right to know about the fire safety of their block, so I wonder what further assessment the Government may have made of the rights of those who live in such blocks to further information.

On Amendment 17, there is a clear case for a prohibition on freeholders of a building passing remediation costs for their building on to leaseholders or tenants. We know that following Grenfell, as we have heard, so many leaseholders have found themselves being asked to meet huge remediation costs. In addition, many owners cannot sell their homes because they have not got—and cannot get—the right certification on the construction of their building. Preventing the provisions of the Bill, when it becomes an Act, leading to further costs for leaseholders or tenants must be an absolute priority for government.

Photo of Baroness Eaton Baroness Eaton Conservative

My Lords, I wish to speak against Amendment 17. The purpose of this clause is to prevent freeholders passing on remediation costs to leaseholders and tenants through demands for one-off payments or increasing service or other charges. This issue is of understandable concern to leaseholders, who are not to blame for the situation. The problems arise from the behaviour of product suppliers, the building industry and the failure of the regulatory system over many years.

The Building Safety Bill, which has already been referred to this afternoon, makes provision for a building safety charge. That Bill will need to make provision for leaseholders to be protected from unaffordable costs, as the Minister recognised in his evidence to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill.

Amendment 17 does not make provision for freeholders to recoup the cost of work, so it will not help leaseholders who collectively own the freehold of their block—nor will it help councils, housing associations or other freeholders who, equally, are not to blame for the failings of the construction industry and successive Governments of all political colours. I cannot support this amendment.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We can see the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, but unfortunately we cannot hear him. I am going to call one more time, then move on. Lord Bhatia? No. Clearly there are difficulties there. I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I look forward to the Minister’s response to these amendments, which all seek to add detail carefully so that the positive purpose of this Bill is not marred by the inadequacy of its implementation.

The biggest investment people make in their lives is in a home. All sorts of checks are currently required or advised prior to purchase and a mortgage offer. One of these is not readily available. It should, and will, be; the question is whether it will come via a legislative requirement or pressure from home buyers. As my noble friend Lord Stunell said, it is much better for the Government to demonstrate their commitment to fire safety by enabling a public register of the fire status of buildings for accuracy and ease of access.

When the Government’s own Minister in the Commons has decried the existence of unqualified fire risk assessors, why is there an apparent reluctance by the Government to address the issue face on? I do not understand why the issue that was acknowledged by the Government during the Commons debate has not been addressed. I hope that the amendment in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and myself will provide the Government with the way forward. I hope that the Minister will agree to a meeting prior to Report to discuss these important practical concerns about a Bill that has our wholehearted support.

The third of these amendments, regarding costs—I have signed it alongside my noble friend Lord Shipley—may not have been in the purview of the Bill when first constructed, but where, if not here, will the issue of who pays for fire risk remediation work be settled? Leaseholders in newly constructed blocks of high-rise flats in Leeds and across the country in despair. They currently pay significant sums of several hundred pounds each month toward the cost of a waking watch, while the costs of remediation—the removal of flammable cladding materials—will run into tens of thousands of pounds per householder. Meanwhile, their homes are worthless. They are not able to move and are in despair. This is through no fault of their own. Where the fault lies is for the Government and, no doubt, the courts to determine. However, the Government have some responsibility in seeking a fair and just remedy that will not bankrupt innocent leaseholders and will assess the responsibility of construction companies.

The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, pointed to some potential deficiencies in our Amendment 17. Nevertheless, the basic issue is right. We cannot expect leaseholders to bear the enormous costs of remediation work, which is from no fault of their own; they did the right checks before they purchased, a mortgage was granted to them on that basis, and now they find themselves, potentially, in a bankruptcy situation. That cannot be right. There have been excellent contributions to this debate and many questions asked; I trust that the Minister will be able to answer them.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department 4:45 pm, 29th October 2020

First, I draw attention to my commercial and residential property interests as set out in the register. I should have done that some time ago, so I apologise to noble Lords.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his amendment on the duties of an owner. However, before turning to the points made, I want to put a few comments on the record. The Grenfell Tower fire was a national tragedy. For nearly six years, I was the leader of the neighbouring borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, so I was affected personally by it. In fact, our town hall served to help people in the community and give them shelter on the night of that event. I point out that it was the greatest loss of life in a residential fire since the Second World War. From the outset, I want to make it clear to this House, as I did in my all-Peers letter, that the Government are, and have always been, committed to implementing and, where appropriate, legislating for the inquiry’s recommendations. An unequivocal commitment to doing that was set out in our manifesto.

In some areas, we are going further than the inquiry’s recommendations, for instance on the information about cladding, building plans, lift checks and smoke control systems. In other areas, we are seeking to implement the recommendations in the most proportionate, pragmatic and effective way. The vote in the other place in no way signals that this Government have altered this commitment in any way. I will set out our approach on this issue.

It is right that we consult before we act with legislation on the Grenfell recommendations. This is not just because we have a statutory duty to do so. It reflects Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s own view on the need to ensure broad support for his recommendations and an understanding of the practical issues associated with implementing them. In his report, Sir Martin noted that it was important that his recommendations

“command the support of those who have experience of the matters to which they relate.”

Our 12-week consultation did just that. It gave all those affected—residents, responsible persons, including building owners and managers, the fire sector and enforcing authorities—the opportunity to make their voices heard. I am pleased to say that they responded, with more than 250 responses received.

This amendment is not necessary and will not speed up the legislative process; it would simply require us to make regulations on the specified areas in the amendment relating to the sharing of information, flat entrance doors, lifts and personal and emergency evacuation plans. We already plan to lay regulations on these areas; we do not need further primary legislation to do that. Subject to the outcomes of the consultation, we intend, where possible, to use secondary legislation under Article 24 of the fire safety order to implement the recommendations. Our intention is to introduce these regulations as soon as possible after the Bill has commenced.

I hope that this explanation of the Government’s plan to implement the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s phase 1 report has gone some way to satisfying honourable Members in the other place and noble Lords. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.

On the other amendments in this group, I agree there is a clear need for reform in relation to fire risk assessors. Other amendments focus more on capacity issues, whereas these rightly shine a light on competence. As was set out in the other place, a lot of work is already in hand, and industry has largely been leading the way. The industry-led Competence Steering Group is looking at ways to increase competence and capacity in the sector. I am very pleased that the group recently published its final report, which includes proposals on creating a register of fire risk assessors, third-party accreditation and a competence framework for fire risk assessors. The Government are carefully considering the detail of this report and its recommendations.

The Government are also working with the National Fire Chiefs Council and the wider fire sector to take forward plans for addressing both the short-term and long-term capability issues within the sector.

I want to share the Government’s views on this amendment. First, it is important we establish a basic principle of competence so that everyone carrying out an assessment should be appropriately qualified. This is regardless of whether they are a fire risk assessor or other fire safety professional, such as an engineer. We put forward a proposal on this in the fire safety consultation, which closed on 12 October. Considering the merits of accreditation will be a more detailed process. For example, assessing external wall systems with cladding will sometimes require significantly greater expertise than is likely to be that of a specialist fire engineer. It is our view that we should implement a competence requirement first and then look at the best way to increase professionalism across the sector.

Secondly, this amendment, understandably, would have the effect of applying an accreditation requirement to individuals undertaking fire risk assessments only in buildings with

“two or more sets of domestic premises”— for example, in multi-occupied residential buildings. It would not cover all other premises within scope of the fire safety order, including, for example, care homes and hospitals. The risk is that if this amendment is passed, it will create a two-tier system whereby such premises would require an assessment from an accredited fire risk assessor but all other premises covered under the fire safety order would not. This would mean we would have to legislate further to ensure parity. I do not believe that that was the noble Lord’s intention in tabling this amendment. I can assure the House that work is already in hand to address competency issues, and we will take forward our proposal in the consultation to strengthen the competence requirements within the fire safety order.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for raising the important issue of prioritising enforcement action in respect of the risk of buildings and targeting of resources, which I also covered earlier in the debate on amendments relating to commencement. The task and finish group has told us to start in one go and then use a risk-based system, so I hope that will reassure the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I note that this amendment was raised in the other place; our position on this, which I will set out in a moment, remains unchanged.

The amendment is unnecessary in the context of established operational practice, which ensures that enforcement authorities target their resources appropriately and according to risk. The fire and rescue national framework for England requires fire and rescue authorities to have

“a locally determined risk-based inspection programme in place for enforcing compliance with the” fire safety order. The framework also sets out the expectation that fire and rescue authorities will target their resources on individuals or households who are at greatest risk from fire in the home and on non-domestic premises where the life safety risk is greatest. The national framework for Wales includes similar provisions.

Enforcers are obliged to have regard to similar requirements in the Regulators’ Code, which states that all regulators should base their regulatory activities on risk and use an evidence-based approach when determining the priority risks in their area of responsibility. In addition, the building risk review programme, which will see all high-rise residential buildings reviewed or inspected by fire and rescue authorities by the end of 2021, is a key part of this work. The programme will enable building fire risks to be reviewed and data to be collected to ensure that local resources are targeted at buildings most at risk.

The Government have provided £10 million in funding to support fire and rescue services to deliver the Government’s commitment to review all high-rise residential buildings over 18 metres—or six floors and above—by the end of December 2021. This funding will also strengthen the NFCC’s central strategic function to drive improvements in fire protection and is in addition to a further £10 million grant to bolster fire protection capacity and capability within local fire and rescue services.

I reiterate that we are aware of the capacity issues. Our approach to commencement has been informed, as I said, by the recommendations of the task and finish group, co-chaired by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Fire Sector Federation, which brought together fire safety experts, building managers and representatives of the wider fire sector, who considered capacity and risk in the context of commencement of the Bill.

I have set out the Government’s position on this issue and why we consider this amendment unnecessary. For the reasons set out above, I ask that the amendments in this group not be pressed.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for raising the issue of waking watches, which has a profound impact on the lives of many people. The amendment places a duty on the relevant authority to specify whether a waking watch is necessary in event of “fire safety failings”. It is unclear how this would work or what it would mean. One interpretation is that the relevant authority would have to try to specify a list in regulations of all the potential circumstances where there had been a fire safety failing and then establish whether each of those individual failings would require a waking watch to be put in place.

Such a duty on the relevant authority would be disproportionate and onerous without necessarily being effective. It would largely remove or reduce the ability of a responsible person to consider the specific circumstances of the premises and other fire protection measures in place, all of which can vary considerably from building to building. The other risk of this wording is that such a list could be prescriptive. What if there are specific individual circumstances, or a combination of various failings, that do not fall within the list? The common-sense view may be that a waking watch should be put in place but such a decision could be inhibited by legislation. Restricting the responsible person’s discretion to assess exactly what is required in each situation would not be right. A decision on the use of waking watch should be taken on the basis of the individual circumstances of each case.

I can provide reassurance that we are taking forward work on waking watches in conjunction with the National Fire Chiefs Council, which I will briefly outline. The National Fire Chiefs Council revised its guidance relating to waking watches, a copy of which I have here, on 1 October. It now provides very clear advice which supports the fire and rescue services and its implementation on the ground by the responsible persons. The updated guidance now advises responsible persons to explore cost-benefit options with leaseholders and residents. It also encourages the installation of common fire alarm systems, which means reducing the dependency on waking watch wherever possible. The guidance also emphasises that residents can carry out waking watch activities when fully trained, if necessary. However, we assume that in many cases a common fire alarm system will suffice.

On 16 October, we published data on the costs of waking watches which provides transparency on the range of costs, allowing comparisons to be clearly made. It also highlights the importance of identifying at what point waking watch costs exceed the cost of an alarm system, in an attempt to help reduce interim costs for leaseholders and residents. The calculations show that having a common alarm system pays back within seven weeks, compared with paying for the average cost of a waking watch.

Our aim must ultimately be to reduce the need for waking watches and the costs that they bring. A key plank of this is to progress remediation. It is the pace of remediation that matters, and despite having a global pandemic, I am pleased that, with the help of the mayors of our city regions and local authorities, we have seen the pace of remediation increase in removing the most dangerous type of cladding—aluminium composite material. The projection is that over 90% of buildings will be on site or will have remediated the cladding in question, which is great progress, with over 100 starts over the course of this year so far. As a Minister with joint responsibility for fire and building safety, obviously, I attach the highest priority to ensuring that all buildings with unsafe cladding are remediated.

On Amendments 15 and 16, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for raising important issues regarding establishing public registers of fire risk assessments and fire risk assessors. I will address fire risk assessments first. The fire safety order sets a self-compliance regime. There is currently no requirement for responsible persons to record their completed fire risk assessments, save for limited provision in respect of employers. If they fall within that category, they are required to record the significant findings of the assessment and any group of persons identified by the assessment as being especially at risk.

The creation of a fire risk assessment register will place upon responsible persons a new level of regulation that could be seen as going against the core principles of the order, notably its self-regulatory and non-prescriptive approach. There is also the question of ownership, maintenance and where the cost of a register such as this would lie. A delicate balance needs to be struck. There are improvements to be made here but we need to ensure that they are proportionate.

The Government acknowledge that work remains to be done to ensure that residents have access to vital fire safety information in order to be safe and feel safe in their homes. They need to be assured that a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment has been completed and that all appropriate general precautions have or will be taken. For potential buyers of leasehold flats, I should also say that any good conveyancing solicitor would ask for sight of the fire risk assessment from the responsible person—the freeholder—as part of their pre-contract enquiries. If it was not forthcoming, one would expect a solicitor to advise their clients accordingly and make all due inferences.

The fire safety consultation brought forward proposals in relation to the recording of the fire risk assessment and the provision of vital fire safety information to residents. Therefore, we are considering what information residents need to be safe and feel safe in their home, and how this information could be made available. We are also considering whether a requirement should be placed on all responsible persons to record their completed fire risk assessments, thereby providing a level of assurance that their duty to complete a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment has been fulfilled. The consultation closed on 12 October and responses are currently being considered. We will publish the response to this consultation at the earliest opportunity.

I now turn to Amendment 16, which seeks to create a public register of fire risk assessors. I agree that to improve standards there is a clear need for reform concerning fire risk assessors. I understand that this is a probing amendment and it may be helpful to outline ongoing work in the area of fire risk assessor capacity and capability. Some Members will be aware of the industry-led Competence Steering Group and its subgroup working on fire risk assessors. It published a report on 5 October, including proposals in relation to third-party accreditation, a competence framework for fire risk assessors and creating a register of fire risk assessors. The working group recommends that the register is compiled from the existing registers and would be easy to use, with open public access to records of individuals and organisations. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the HSE and the Home Office are considering the recommendations of the report in detail.

The Government have been working with the fire risk assessment sector to develop a clear plan to increase its capacity and capability. We are funding the British Standards Institution to develop technical guidance to support professionals to make an assessment of the fire risk posed by external wall systems. This guidance will support the industry to upskill more professionals to take on this work and will increase the quality and consistency of the assessments. Again, the responses to the consultation proposals will inform the approach on issues relating to competence.

To summarise, the right approach is for the Government to consider first the Competence Steering Group and its subgroup’s proposals in relation to a register of fire risk assessors. Our position is that this work should continue to be led and progressed by industry. I am happy to state on the record that we will work with the industry to develop this. I suggest that any future statutory requirements on fire risk assessors might be achieved through secondary legislation, which will offer greater flexibility to add to or amend in future.

I now turn to Amendment 17 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and thank the noble Baroness for tabling it. The proposed new clause would stop all remediation costs from being passed on to leaseholders, regardless of the terms in individual leases. The person responsible for funding remediation will vary from case to case, depending on what is set out in the lease. A freehold owner—who may have significant funds or none to meet these requirements—may be legally responsible for carrying out the remedial works, but leaseholders may also be responsible through a right to manage company or resident’s management company. It is important that the current flexibility is kept in place to ensure that the costs of remedial work fall on the most appropriate entities. However, I agree with the intent to reduce the financial burden on leaseholders. That is why this Government have already committed £1.6 billion to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings where the building owner has refused to pay or the work is not covered by warranties. That money includes the £600 million that we have made available to ensure the remediation of the highest risk and most dangerous aluminium composite material cladding of the type that was in place on Grenfell Tower. The £1 billion Building Safety Fund will support the remediation of unsafe non-aluminium composite material cladding, such as unsafe high-pressure laminate cladding, on high-rise residential buildings.

The funding does not absolve industry from taking responsibility for any failures that led to unsafe cladding materials being put on these buildings in the first place. We expect developers, investors and building owners —and the construction industry—who have the means to pay, to take responsibility and cover the costs of remediation themselves, without passing on the costs to leaseholders. The draft building safety Bill sets out a comprehensive list of enforcement measures that will be available to local authorities and the new regulator to enforce against building work that does not comply with building regulations for up to 10 years from completion. The new regime in this Bill is being introduced to prevent such safety defects occurring in the first place for new builds, and to address systematically the defects in existing buildings.

Moreover, as part of any funding agreement with Government, we expect building owners to pursue warranty claims and appropriate action against those responsible for putting unsafe cladding on these buildings. By doing this, we are not only ensuring that buildings are made safe and that residents feel and are safe, but we are also ensuring that the taxpayer is not paying for work that those responsible should be funding or can afford to fund.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, wanted to know about the vehicle by which we shall address this, in the event that it falls on leaseholders. I ask her to be patient—it will be addressed within the forthcoming building safety Bill which has just passed its pre-legislative scrutiny. I appreciate the intent of the noble Baroness’s amendment, which aims to protect those poor leaseholders who, through no fault of their own, are facing—in some cases—astronomically high remediation costs. The Secretary of State has asked Michael Wade, the former Crown insurer, and a senior adviser to MHCLG, to work with industry and our officials to come up with a solution to ensure that, in no instance, do the costs of historic remediation become unaffordable for leaseholders. He is working to find out what funding structures would be most appropriate to achieve this objective. Leaseholders should not have to face unmanageable and unaffordable costs. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has committed to updating our position when the building safety Bill comes before Parliament.

I ask Members to recognise the complexity of this policy area, which cannot be solved through this amendment. This new clause would make owners, who in some cases will include leaseholders, responsible for funding any and all remediation work. For example, service and maintenance charges would at present meet the cost of safety work required as a result of routine wear and tear, such as worn fire door closers. These costs would now fall to building owners. I hope that noble Lords agree that there are more effective ways of achieving this important policy. We have the same aim, but we have to find different ways of achieving it. For these reasons, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:00 pm, 29th October 2020

I have had a request to speak from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative

My Lords, I do not disagree that the amendment should be withdrawn. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, my noble friend Lady Eaton and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, have drawn attention to the problem that I raised earlier about leaseholders caught by the Government’s Grenfell-related changes being unable to afford repairs or waking watches and/or unable to sell their properties. In some cases, the leaseholders are joint owners, as my noble friend Minister has just said.

Will my noble friend agree to a meeting to map the way forward before Report? This could look at the options to see whether primary legislation—which I think he is reluctant to pursue—secondary legislation, fire brigade or health and safety guidance or changes to the regulatory codes would work. There has to be a risk assessment and we need to make sure that this is possible.

I have some experience of dealing with these fire difficulties. As noble Lords will recall, this used to be the responsibility of the fire brigade and then it was all changed. I oversaw that transition. I also know from experience in China how wrong you can get things, particularly if you do not consult. I remember that China did not consult on changes to fire safety laws. They were not aware that most modern premises had sprinklers. As someone has already said, sprinklers limit what you have to do with fire safety measures. It is a modern approach.

I should find a meeting helpful, perhaps to limit the number of amendments that it might otherwise be necessary for us to put forward on Report.

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

I thank my noble friend for making those points and representing the deep issues faced by consumers. Essentially, there are three. Thousands of leaseholders are facing the terrible situation that their property is valued at nothing. They have put in their life’s savings to buy a property, and they cannot remortgage or move. The pace of remediation has now slowed because of an inability to get assessments carried out by the relevant person or because they do not feel that they have insurance cover to do it. That is another issue. At the same time, because the pace of remediation has been affected, they face interim costs. I pointed out that they could be dramatically reduced, in most instances, by putting in an alarm system.

My noble friend is quite right—I have had these discussions with the insurance industry—that there are great measures, such as sprinklers, that reduce risk and ensure that a building is safer. That is why the Government legislated to put in sprinklers in all new builds above 11 metres. I am happy to meet my noble friend and any other noble Lords on these important issues, because we all share the objective of finding the right approach to deal with these great issues that face many hundreds of thousands of leaseholders in high-rise residential buildings up and down the country.

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, it was good to hear the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, in responding to this debate. I have no doubt of his sincerity in wanting to address the issues raised by the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry, but my view, held with equal sincerity, is that we have not moved as quickly as we should have. The Government have moved too slowly. They need more urgency in dealing with the issues that arose from the fire at Grenfell Tower, which took place on 14 June 2017—some 40 months ago.

Capacity to deliver the requirements is an issue, which has been raised in a number of groups of amendments, as is the qualification level of the people undertaking this work. We must have professionally qualified experts undertaking such important work. If unqualified people are approved to do work arising from the Bill, it would show me that the Government have not learned the lessons. This is a slippery slope to further failures in the future. If one more life is lost, it will be one life too many. It is really important to get this right.

The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, mentioned sprinklers; she is absolutely right. Sprinklers have been in new homes, flats and halls of residence in Wales since 2011. It was the Labour Member Ann Jones who passed the legislation through the Welsh Assembly, some nine years ago. That is one case where the Government could learn from what has happened in another institution in our United Kingdom.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. As in other debates, we have highlighted significant outstanding issues. The Government should take this opportunity to reflect on the issues that have been raised in Committee; I hope that they will agree to come back on Report and actually move on some of them. Although we all want to make progress, speed is the issue for us and we want to move forward where we can. As I said before, it is 40 months since the tragedy of Grenfell Tower.

I will come back to this and many other issues on Report. I will make it clear to the noble Lord now: if we do not see some progress, we will divide the House many times on Report. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 5 withdrawn.

Amendments 6 and 7 not moved.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 8. 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 this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.