Amendment 1

Fire Safety Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 1:47 pm on 17th November 2020.

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Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

Moved by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, after “paragraph (1A)” insert “or paragraph (1C)”

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Conservative

My Lords, the Fire Safety Bill is important legislation that I strongly support, as I do the building safety Bill, which is in draft form and which I believe your Lordships’ House will receive early in the new year. The motivation behind the amendments I am proposing is that there should be a safer home environment—a motivation shared, I believe, by the whole House. Specifically, the amendments refer to high-rise blocks; that is the spur.

I thank my noble friend Lord Randall and the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty, who are also signatories to the amendment and have given strong support. I also thank many others for their strong support and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Best, who, unfortunately, is unable to speak today. I thank the Minister for making time to discuss these issues; I know he is sincere in his desire to do something constructive to move matters forward on checks in tower blocks. I also thank Electrical Safety First, an excellent charity dedicated to reducing deaths from fires caused by electrical accidents. It has been magnificent, and I would like to thank Rob Jervis-Gibbons in particular but also Lesley Rudd, Ron Bailey and Martyn Allen for their help.

We need to translate the good intentions of the whole House into action, and there are some important facts to bear in mind. Approximately 7,000 domestic fires per annum are caused by faulty electrical goods; that is 53% of domestic fires. Many of these are in high-rise blocks and, in those circumstances, they are particularly treacherous. We can all recall Lakanal House in 2009, Shepherds Court in 2016 and, of course, tragically, Grenfell Tower in 2017—all confirmed to be caused by electrical ignition.

My amendments essentially focus on two proposals, as they did in Committee. First, mandatory five-year electrical system checks in high-rise blocks—just high-rise blocks. The model for this is what is being done currently in the private rented sector, just introduced by the Government this year: I endorse that move. It applies, of course, to all the private rented sector, essentially, not just high-rise blocks. My amendments would apply just to high-rise buildings—those over 11 metres high—but would apply to social tenants and owner-occupiers as well as private tenants. I ask myself why social tenants should be excluded: I am a strong believer in the levelling-up agenda, which the Government also are strongly behind. It should apply to owner-occupiers too, of course.

Social tenants are a large part of the residents of high-rise blocks. In Grenfell, they constituted the vast majority of residents, for example. I should say, and I congratulate the Government, that I am pleased to see, in the social housing White Paper issued today, moves not just in relation to smoke and carbon monoxide alarms—I see that consultation is opening on extending that into social housing, quite rightly—but also consulting separately on ways to ensure that social housing tenants are protected from harm caused by poor electrical safety. That is certainly welcome. The wording confirms the direction of travel. What is at issue, of course, is the pace, the speed: that is what we need to pick up. This is something that should be done expeditiously. The most sensible course of action in high-rise blocks would surely be to mirror the checks in the private rented sector for all residents of tower blocks, to provide for the safety of everybody in those tower blocks.

I should say in passing that I certainly endorse other actions that have been taken to help protect and guard against fire. The Home Office “Fire Kills” campaign is very welcome and is supported by the charitable sector. The building safety Bill that is coming down the tracks provides, in Clause 86 currently, that responsibility should be placed on residents for electrical goods and their safety. I welcome that but, of course, it is not sufficient in itself and will not protect, in the way that this would protect, against the fires that we are all too familiar with.

The second of the two main proposals in my amendment would require that a person responsible for fire safety, who is of course being designated in this legislation, should be responsible for a register of electrical goods. The majority of fires are caused by faulty electrical goods, and many of these are goods that have been subject to recall by the manufacturer. The fire at Shepherds Court, for example, was caused by a faulty tumble dryer that was subject to a recall. The purpose of the register would therefore be to identify these goods and ensure that they were recalled and either refitted or replaced. The person responsible for fire safety would be able to distribute information to residents, and there is a precedent for such a register in student accommodation throughout England.

I know that we all recall graphically the Grenfell Tower tragedy: it is forged on our individual memories, just as it is seared on the nation’s conscience. I look to my noble friend the Minister, who I know is sympathetic, to provide some clear way forward, indicating the seriousness of the Government’s intentions and the intention to move decisively on this agenda in the building safety Bill, possibly with a working party to move the agenda forward quickly. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, I am pleased to support my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and I was delighted to put my name to his amendments, together with the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty. My noble friend has expressed very clearly and eloquently what his amendments are about. I also welcome the very constructive discussions we had with the Minister. As my noble friend Lord Bourne said, I believe that he understands fully what we are trying to achieve.

It seems strange to me and, I am sure, to many others, that the rules for private tenants are stronger than they are for social tenants. This inequality of responsibility should be addressed. That applies also to owner-occupiers, of course. As my noble friend said, in high-rise buildings the majority of tenants are, indeed, social tenants, and I think they need as much help as they can get in ensuring the safety of their premises and, of course, the safety of their neighbours.

On the issue of a register, again, I think this is extremely important. We have heard that this is already in place for student accommodation. I feel that there is a real problem: perhaps we should consider, with both of these proposals, that there is a huge number of, presumably, second-hand electrical appliances in existence. People will be buying them not necessarily from retail outlets; they may be buying them on eBay or elsewhere, and they will not necessarily be having them tested appropriately. This is something that I think we have to look at. Having somebody responsible for maintaining that these items are safe is, I think, of paramount importance.

I welcome the social housing White Paper that was published today, particularly the provisions around these matters. Even if we cannot get exactly what we want today—and I understand that the Bill may not be the ideal vehicle for these amendments—I look forward, when the building safety Bill comes before your Lordships, to being in a position to implement these excellent ideas and proposals from my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I begin, as always, by declaring my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and co-president of London Councils, the body that represents all the London boroughs and the City of London. Particularly in respect of these amendments, I should declare my interest as patron of the charity Electrical Safety First.

I apologise that I was not able to be present in Committee when the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, moved and debated these amendments. We debated this issue fairly fully at Second Reading; we certainly covered amendments very similar to these in Committee—which I have read, even though I was unable to participate—and I have been very pleased to add my name to them again. I do not think I need to repeat today all the things that were said very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. The key points have been made; I think that they are understood and I believe that they are generally accepted.

We have made reference a number of times, and again today, to the fires that happened not only at Grenfell Tower but at Lakanal House and at Shepherds Court. In all those buildings, a significant number of residents living there were owner-occupiers. They were not tenants in the private sector or the social sector; they were owner-occupiers.

In a way, this is key to these amendments. In a high-rise block—these amendments apply only to high-rise blocks—there is what has been described as a tenure lottery. There is a mixture of tenure, yet, by the nature of a tower block, every resident in it—regardless of their tenure—is equally at risk from these dangers. We owe it to all of them, not to any particular sector, to provide as best we can not only to deal with the risks after they have happened but, even more importantly, to prevent them happening in the first place. That is the object of all these amendments.

I again thank the Minister for meeting me and my Liberal Democrat colleagues to discuss this issue, among others that we will come to later. I am certain he understood exactly what we were trying to achieve. The issue before us is how and when.

Before I go on to that, I will deal with the other aspect of these amendments: the provision for a register of electrical appliances to be kept by the responsible person. The Local Government Association—I have declared my interest—is at least doubtful about that, suggesting it shifts the responsibility from the manufacturers. I do not agree at all. The responsibility to deal with recalls for their faulty goods rests fair and square, and will continue to rest, with manufacturers. I see this as a measure that helps the manufacturers do this more effectively than at present. It is very much a positive aid in that. I hope the Minister will be equally keen on accepting some form of mandatory register of all electrical appliances to be kept in high-rise buildings, not because the responsibility has shifted, other than to keep the register, but because it enables the residents in the block to be alerted to any recall and encouraged to take it up.

I will not divert into a discussion on the shortcomings of the present recall situation, but I think we all accept that it is by no means perfect and that most if not all manufacturers wish to see it improved. This is a significant way of being able to do that; it may not be perfect, but, as has been said, similar registers are voluntarily kept in student accommodation. It is a very long time since I have had any experience of student accommodation, but I suspect it is a lot harder to keep such a register there than it would be in any permanently residential high-rise block.

We come now to what exactly we will do, how we will do it and when. We will hear shortly that the Minister is sympathetic and certainly understands the issues. I would like to hear a clear commitment from him today on the action to be taken, whether through this Bill—perhaps not—the building safety Bill or any other course; what that action will be and, in particular, when it will be taken and subsequently implemented.

The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, mentioned the possibility of a working party. I think there was a similar working party before the introduction of the private rented sector provisions. It would be extremely helpful to all concerned, particularly the Minister, to have such a working party, comprised of Government and other interested parties in the sector, to make sure that such provisions can take effect as soon as they are put into practice. I would be interested to know what the Minister thinks about the possibility of that.

I support these amendments wholeheartedly. I look forward very much to hearing the Minister’s response and commitment.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 2:00 pm, 17th November 2020

My Lords, I fully support all the amendments put down by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. Many of the points have been made by my cosignatories already.

On the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, clearly this does nothing to undermine the essential responsibility of the manufacturer—and to some extent the retailer—in the safety of appliances. Indeed, some of the liability rests with the user or householder if they use them irresponsibly or unsafely or do not return them when a recall has been issued. However, it is also the case that the owner or manager of the building is responsible for all the tenants, leaseholders and owner-occupiers who occupy that building. If there is a fire, differential tenure is hardly relevant; the rules should be the same for all forms of tenure. An electrical fault could arise anywhere and could affect any neighbour in the block, as we have tragically seen all too often. It is important that a high-rise block is covered, with responsibilities to the owner or manager, regular clear inspections and a list of equipment. Electrical systems are presently dealt with differently from gas; there is a requirement for gas inspections for everybody. We need to require the owner to take account of the potential damage to others within his or her building.

Obviously, we hope the Government will take this up as rapidly as possible. There are issues around who bears the cost and whether this is the appropriate Bill for these clauses. The latter seems odd to argue; this is the Fire Safety Bill. We are arguing that it should include provisions about the single most frequent cause of fire and measures that have already been identified in the Grenfell inquiry. These are most relevant here. I understand the Minister might prefer to see them in the forthcoming building safety Bill, but they are not there; the fact that the provisions in these amendments are not in the pre-legislative version of the Bill at the moment, although some aspects of electrical safety are, makes us doubt the speed with which these clauses would be brought into operation. It would be much better if they were in this Bill.

On cost, I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Best, who wanted to speak in this debate but was somehow precluded. He calculated that, even if inspection costs for carrying out the regular inspection were £100, that would be £20 a year over five years, or 20p a week per premise, which would go on the service charge to leaseholders and tenants in one way or another. That is a minimal cost for a major contribution towards everybody’s safety. It would not be logical for the requirement on the owner for inspection to be postponed until the building safety Bill comes through, but it would be better than nothing. If we can be given an absolute assurance, I will accept it as second best, but it really should be in this Bill to prevent fires starting now. I support all these amendments.

Photo of The Earl of Lytton The Earl of Lytton Crossbench

My Lords, I first declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and a chartered surveyor with some 45 years of experience in dealing with the management, maintenance and condition survey of properties, as well as matters of tenure. I apologise to the House for not having been able to participate directly on previous stages of the Bill. Many noble Lords will know that I have been following this extremely closely and have written to many of them, including the Minister.

Turning to the thrust of these amendments, I entirely agree with the purpose of the amendment on electrical systems: to make regular periodic tests and inspections of fixed electrical installations most desirable. However, with leases in long-leasehold tenure, the leaseholder is typically responsible for what is in the flat and is identifiably unit-specific to that bit of accommodation. Typically, that also applies to other conducting media and conduits such as drains, extraction ducts and water supplies. Some items are centrally operated, such as fire alarms and detection equipment, which may be within the flat and may be differently treated, but such provision does not always pertain to rack-rented letting. Straightaway, the legal obligations between different types of tenure, which are established in the case of long leasehold in their long leases, and therefore in their title, are not consistent across what I might call the flatted sector.

I also have concerns about the scrutiny and enforcement of the regulation, which in the past has sometimes been patchy. The issue is one of resources. The capacity, competence and finance are often insufficient or inadequate in the areas where the responsibility lies, or, in some circumstances, the responsibilities may be split. The Government must address these in the context of the Bill, because the subject matter is vital in terms of human safety, and too important to be left to chance, but I wonder how secondary legislation will deal with overriding established practices set out in the legal arrangements for tenure and occupation.

I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, is very enthusiastic about electrical appliances. I am a little less enthusiastic, not about the objective of greater safety, but about the practicality. There should be a clearer cut-off between what is “system” and what is “appliance”. For instance, a hardwired electrical hot towel rail is regarded as appliance, not system. There should be a clearer definition, so that anything with a square pin plug on the end of its lead falls under “appliance”. Again, there are issues to do with things such as cookers, which are also hardwired.

I note and largely agree with the views of the LGA regarding the enforceability in real life, and the shifting of responsibility, in my definition, from the primary leaseholder or occupier of the unit, who is in charge of the items in the building, unless they have been supplied by the lessor or manager from inception. There is an assumption that there will be some degree of occupier co-operation. Logging the appliances on a register may capture the inventory at a moment in time, but that does not procure accuracy without continuous updating, so there are issues there as to how much time and energy are to be taken up with doing this. Some modern service lettings include white goods, and possibly many other smaller items, and, to give the example of holiday accommodation, typically the owner of the accommodation provides all the white goods and appliances, but even that does not stop someone coming along with their own appliance, which may not be tested. The same thing applies for normal rentals.

Therefore, accuracy is an issue. Retrofitting the sort of standard that might apply in circumstances where all the white goods and appliances are pre-provided by the lessor would be extremely difficult. If the intention is to include everything that might be caught under a normal PAT test, that will be extremely detailed, with a high turnover of items within any five-year period. If occupiers of flats are not obliged to declare all relevant items whenever exchanged for another, or whenever a new item is brought in, this could create an impossible task for managers. Therefore, if the Minister agrees to this amendment, in detail or in principle, some of these issues must be addressed.

I suggest a phased approach, to allow for the most at risk and the most dangerous situations to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. Here, I am with the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, but for the rest, one must ensure that the arrangements are put in place in a workmanlike manner, that they are practical and, particularly, that manufacturers and retailers be locked into the chain of compliance. Also, there has to be a cultural change, so that every occupier of a high-rise block realises that they have a responsibility and an input, and that they are pivotal in procuring safety and ensuring that they do not misuse—or fail to maintain and clean—their appliances or operate them in unsuitable locations. I recognise, approve and agree with the thrust of these amendments, but I remain concerned about some of the detail.

Photo of Lord Mann Lord Mann Non-affiliated 2:15 pm, 17th November 2020

My Lords, I declare an interest, having lived for nearly 20 years as a private tenant in—under the definition in this amendment—a high-rise block in London. I am trying to work through how a register would apply, because I have never solely rented. It has always been part of a multiple-occupancy residency within a council-owned block where a private owner has bought a property and then leased it out to the likes of me.

The amendment seems to be approaching this the wrong way around. The poorer one is, the more one will be buying second-hand goods and not buying direct from manufacturers, particularly with white goods. Systems of registration can never easily apply with that. The Government should be looking at the opportunity—although it cannot be fitted into this Bill at this moment—whereby there is an incentive at local authority level for there to be certificates of competence in relation to properties that are being let out, in relation to electrics and gas, so that one can see that the standard has been met. Such a system would quickly isolate those who were not prepared to have the relevant certificates in place, who would then become the primary targets for enforcement investigation. It seems that the market could assist in a significant part of the solution if it was required to parade its worthiness in an effective public way in terms of the safety of a property.

Under this definition, this building would be a high-rise building. In planning terms this is one building, with at least two occupied residences; there may be more that I am unaware of. That is not necessarily an argument against this amendment, and might even be one in favour of it, to fast-forward some of the building changes that are needed in here. However, rightly, the focus has been the Government’s focus. I make no criticism whatever of this or of contributors in this debate, in terms of traditional high-rise. However, while I am in favour of the Government’s approach in wanting more office-style or above-shop conversions over the last 20 years, often these buildings were not designed as accommodation, and, having seen first-hand some of those which have been done over the last 20 years, if they are badly designed, the fire risk seem disproportionately high. That aspect of “above-shop”, which could be two, three, four or storeys in some cases, in terms of accommodation, needs more attention from the Government, and potentially, more powers for local authorities.

Finally, in the context of Clause 1—I hope that the building safety Bill is the appropriate place for this—the fire risk in fixed Traveller sites and park home sites is a different kind of problem. The problem could be immediately outside the property. Park home sites in particular may be constrained by a perimeter wall, and the fire risk comes from the lack of space therein. I have direct experience of challenging that, and it has been fiendishly difficult to do anything about it in law. I hope, as the Government move the building safety Bill forward, that the question of properties on fixed Traveller sites and park home sites will be looked at, including in the context of fire safety. More can and should be done there.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I strongly support this group of amendments, and it is good to see cross-party support for them.

At previous stages of the Bill, I spoke on the importance of increased electrical safety checks. In view of what we are now hearing from the Grenfell inquiry, such checks of electrical systems and appliances in high-rise blocks are vital. As the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said, there should be a safer home environment and we should be translating good intention to action. I strongly agree. He reminded us that almost half of domestic fires relate to an electrical fault, and also of the precedent of a register of electrical equipment in student housing blocks.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall, made a number of points on second-hand electrical equipment, which I hope the Minister will note. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, explained that the cost is minimal. This derives, in part, from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Best, in Committee, where he identified how the cost could be much lower than people had thought. My noble friend Lord Tope called for a clear commitment from the Minister on what action the Government are proposing and when they are proposing to implement it.

It has been said that the legislation will be complicated to enforce. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, made a number of detailed points about the responsibilities of leaseholders and those with other kinds of tenure. I hope the Minister responds to those points, particularly in view of the distinction that may have to be drawn between systems and appliances. The points made by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, will be very helpful in drafting regulations. He said that we need a cultural change; that has to be right.

The noble Lord, Lord Mann, has personal knowledge of living in a residential block as a private tenant. That experience will clearly be helpful to the proceedings of the House. He raised a number of important issues on design, which I hope the Minister will note.

It is important to understand the issue properly. It is surely the right of tenants and leaseholders of high-rise blocks to feel more secure. This is a public safety issue. I cannot understand why checks are required in the private rented sector but not for high-rise blocks, except where the property in that block is privately rented. I hope that we hear something helpful on this from the Minister in a moment.

Finally, there is going to be a responsible person. I am fully in support of that, but such a person needs responsibilities to undertake. This group of amendments presents some responsibilities that seem central and core to the duties and obligations of a responsible person. For that reason, I fully support this group of amendments.

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, as this is the first time I am speaking on Report today, I refer the House to my relevant registered interests—namely, 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 Ltd. I support the Fire Safety Bill. My main concern across the whole Bill is the speed with which we are moving forward. That is the main issue for me with this and other amendments.

I fully support the amendments before us today in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, and other noble Lords. I tried to sign up to these amendments, but I was too late; all the spaces had already gone when I contacted the Public Bill Office. I have made it clear to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, that he has my full support, and I pay tribute to him for raising these issues, as he did on 29 October during the consideration of the Bill in Committee. I also put on record my admiration for the charity Electrical Safety First, and Robert Jervis-Gibbons and his colleagues, for all the work they do to highlight the danger of electrical fires to both property and people. Through their campaigning work, we have managed to make progress in recent years in the area of fires started by electrical ignition.

In speaking in this debate, noble Lords mentioned the fires at Lakanal House in Southwark, Shepherds Court in Shepherd’s Bush and Grenfell Tower—all examples of the tragedies that electrical fires can cause. We need to ensure that action is taken. As has been clearly set out to the House, these amendments are intended to build on the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020, which provide for mandatory checks in the private sector every five years. Those regulations were good news, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, deserves credit for all his work in bringing them into force.

What now needs to be addressed is the tenure lottery that has been created, as private tenants in a building will be covered by the regulations but social tenants and owner-occupiers will not. There are three types of tenure, but only one would be required to have electrical safety checks. You can see the problem: if you have a block of flats but only some of the properties are tested, covered and confirmed as safe, or have remedial work that is needed and undertaken, but others are not checked, the building is then not safe. How can some properties be required by law to be checked, when others are not? That has to change. I suggest that, to be certain the building is safe for all dwellings, it would need to be checked by a competent person. If it is for only some of the dwelling, you cannot deem the building to be safe.

The amendments before us also provide for a responsible person, which is a new role that I fully support, to be brought into being to compile a register of every white good in a building. This would ensure that, when a recall of a product occurs, we can quickly identify all the affected appliances and the safety issue can quickly be resolved. This does not take away responsibility from the people who sell the appliance or the manufacturers, but it is another important safety measure.

The Government may take the view that they cannot commit to this, at this stage. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, has not indicated that he wishes to test the opinion of the House, but I hope to have a considered opinion from the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, on these important amendments. I also hope that the noble Lord and his team will look at what goes on in other parts of the world—certainly in Australia—where there are much stricter regimes about electrical white goods than elsewhere. They need to be looked at because, clearly, if this can work in other parts of the world, it can work here. All these amendments are about keeping people safe, and I fully support them.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department 2:30 pm, 17th November 2020

My Lords, I refer to my relevant commercial and residential property interests as set out in the register. I thank my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth for his amendment, which shines a light on the important issue of electrical safety. Indeed, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for his clear focus and mission to prevent fires happening in the first place as a result of electrical faults as absolutely the key. I also thank my noble friend for the constructive meeting that we had on this issue last week, involving my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I recognise the covering fire received from the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Whitty, for this amendment, and in particular, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, mentioned, the work of the Electrical Safety First organisation. I commend the latter for the work that it is doing to raise awareness of the risks of electrical fires. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Mann, for pointing out the issues around second-hand electrical goods; this is a particularly difficult area to regulate and something that we need to look into.

I will not reiterate all the points that I raised in Committee, but I will mention two concerns that I have in relation to this amendment. First, I note that the wording has changed to focus on high-rise buildings, but I am still concerned that it would not have the effect that my noble friend seeks to achieve. In particular, it is doubtful that the amendment would result in electrical appliances in private dwellings being brought within the scope of the fire safety order. This in turn will thwart the amendment’s underlying objectives for systematic checks on electrical appliances and for the responsible person to keep a register of appliances, as required by the additional schedule proposed in this amendment.

My other concern is that the amendment risks delaying the implementation of necessary reforms to fire safety regulation. A number of concerns have been raised in both your Lordships’ House and the other place about the pace of reform to fire and building safety legislation. We now have a package of reforms: this Bill, the upcoming fire safety order regulations, and the building safety Bill. The amendment would impact on the delivery of this package of legislation, and in particular on the fire safety order regulations.

A lot of the detail of this amendment is left to be implemented through regulations, and the work that this would require would lead to significant delays in our being able to deliver other key recommendations from the Grenfell inquiry. The answer to addressing the concern about electrical safety lies in the work that is being undertaken across government, which includes a number of strands. I will not repeat all of the work that I referenced in Committee but will pick out some key aspects.

A regulatory regime is in place on product safety, underpinned by legislation and overseen by a national regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, which was created in 2018. This regime places responsibility for the safety of products on those actors best placed to ensure this before products are placed on the market. The draft building safety Bill reflects the role that all parties have to play in ensuring the safety of high-rise dwellings, from the developer to the accountable person to the residents themselves, and electrical safety is an important part of this. As mentioned by a number of noble Lords, there are standards for electrical checks in private rented accommodation, which require that electrical equipment is checked at least every five years. This is already in place for new tenancies and will apply to existing tenancies from 1 April 2021.

I recognise the concerns expressed by a number of noble Lords with respect to there being no mandatory checks on social housing. The inequality between social and private housing was raised by my noble friend Lord Randall and the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Kennedy. I am pleased to say that today we have published a social housing White Paper, which sets out our charter for social housing residents. It includes a commitment to undertake a consultation on keeping social housing residents safe from electrical harm. Among a range of issues, this will consider extending the safety measures already in the private rented sector to social housing.

I assure my noble friend that the Government take the issues raised in his amendment very seriously indeed. In that regard I am happy to give him a firm commitment that, outside the Bill process, my officials will engage Electrical Safety First and other key stakeholders in an official-led working group to inform the content of our consultation. Given the assurances that I have provided, I ask my noble friend to agree to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Conservative

My Lords, I first thank everybody who has participated in the debate on the amendments in this group. It has been a very worthwhile discussion, and every noble Lord who participated added something valuable. It is clear that there is broad support within the House for action, and a recognition of the inequality that exists between private tenants on the one hand and social tenants—and indeed owner-occupiers—on the other hand.

I note what my noble friend the Minister said in relation to some of the detailed points in the consideration of the amendments that may cause concern; clearly they are matters that could be looked at. I agree with my noble friend the Minister on the importance of what has happened today in relation to the White Paper, although I note that there is no timescale attached to that. Before I withdraw my amendment, which I am minded to do, I will press my noble friend a little on two matters. First, would he be willing to meet with me and the other signatories to the amendment ahead of the building safety Bill to see how we can dovetail what we are seeking to do here with that Bill? I know from discussions with him that he felt that that Bill was a more appropriate medium to use, so I seek that from him.

Secondly, I thank him very much for the undertaking that he has given to meet with Electrical Safety First, along with officials, to consider the proposals in the social housing White Paper as to possible timescales. He will understand that we are now three and a half years after the dreadful events of Grenfell. The social housing White Paper has been a long time forthcoming, for reasons that I do understand, and we are now looking at a future consultation; we do not—and I am sure he does not—want this stretching out a long time into the future. So I will just press him a little bit on those two matters before I withdraw my amendment.

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

My Lords, I am very happy to give my noble friend the assurance that we can meet together before the introduction of the building safety Bill. Indeed, as soon as I have more information about the timescales in relation to the social housing White Paper being turned into legislation, I will be able to provide that to my noble friend. I am happy also to agree to meet with the Electrical Safety First organisation; I would find that very constructive indeed.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Conservative

My Lords, I know my noble friend and I know his sincerity so, with those undertakings, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendments 2 to 4 not moved.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 5. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.

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