Amendment 8

Fire Safety Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 17th November 2020.

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Votes in this debate

Lord Kennedy of Southwark:

Moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark

8: 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, Amendment 8 in my name seeks to make progress in respect of the recommendations of the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. I intend to test the opinion of the House on this amendment.

It is disappointing that progress has been so slow, in all matters, following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017. That is a matter of huge regret and, quite frankly, unacceptable. I have stood at this Dispatch Box for years urging the Government to move forward on all aspects of the tragedy with greater speed and urgency, but that plea has so far not been answered. We have on record pledges from Ministers to implement the full recommendations in the report of the first phase of the inquiry, but this Bill does not include provision for any of those recommendations to be implemented. That is most regrettable.

When this Bill was before the other place the Government did not take the opportunity to correct this, and opposed bringing it forward. Instead, they said that they would launch a consultation. The consultation was launched in July and ended last month—a full year after they pledged to implement the first phase recommendations. That highlights the problem: we are not moving quickly enough. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, will explain to the House why the timescale that the Government are working to is so slow. People have waited far too long for legislative action.

I do not understand why the Government are not even prepared to include in the Bill the simplest of the inquiry’s recommendations, such as the inspection of fire doors and the testing of lifts. Perhaps the Minister will tell us why when he responds to the debate. These recommendations need to be implemented urgently. The Government need to do more and act with greater speed.

We remember that terrible night of 14 June 2017, with its dreadful loss of life and the ruin and devastation caused to the lives of those left behind. The physical scars may have healed, but the mental scars remain. It is beyond belief that, more than three years later, we have seen so little action.

This is the third piece of legislation from the Government. Today, people are still living in blocks of flats covered with ACM cladding; there are schools, hospitals and other buildings covered in it as well. Three years after the Grenfell Tower disaster, people will go to bed tonight having to rely on a waking watch. The cladding scandal has people trapped in their homes, unable to sell them and with the unimaginable worry that they are living in buildings which are potential death traps.

We ask the Government to take the long-overdue action to which they have committed themselves. It is urgent, necessary and right. Everyone concerned demands that these safety changes are put into effect. There is no justification for delay. The Government have given no reason for not acting immediately. They say that they want to do it not in this Bill but in the building safety Bill. That is just not acceptable, and I hope that the House will reject it. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I strongly support the eloquent plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, that we should get on with what everybody knows needs to be done. No one is apparently objecting to it, but the Government have not yet acted. The sense of impatience in your Lordships’ House is much more strongly felt by those who live in blocks affected by ACM and by all the terrible flaws in building construction revealed during the Grenfell inquiry and in Dame Judith Hackitt’s responses.

Amendment 8 systematically lists some of the key requirements that Dame Judith’s report strongly commended and recommended be done. The Government came to your Lordships’ House—not once, not twice, but at three-monthly intervals, for two years—promising that everything would be implemented and that this was a high priority. I am afraid to say that opportunities have been missed. The draft building safety Bill is silent on these issues, so it is not simply a case of saying that it will come up there: it does not. The opportunity has also been missed to include it in this Bill.

Among the recommendations is the inspection of individual flat entrance doors. We all know that tenants and leaseholders have individual views about personalising their accommodation. Not surprisingly, many flat doors do not comply. A survey in July showed that, of the roughly 750,000 fire doors in buildings of this type, perhaps as many as three-quarters needed some action to make them compliant. There is a potential risk to the residents in block after block after block. The Government are now resisting Amendment 8, which sensibly includes the core requirements of Dame Judith’s report for making our buildings safe. We have to wonder exactly how sincere the Government are in their frequent, powerfully expressed commitments, which, unfortunately, they do not seem willing to implement.

Just this last week, I have been looking with members of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service at what needs to be done to satisfy the requirements emerging from the Grenfell inquiry. They told me that they have been inspecting high-rise buildings in Greater Manchester—as you would expect—with considerable diligence. Having reassessed the situation based on their professional knowledge, they have already required a number of those blocks to completely change their evacuation procedures. Surely it is time that these sensible requirements were included in legislation. It should not just be up to particularly diligent fire authorities to make residents safe, but to owners, leaseholders and the building industry.

Here is the opportunity for the Minister to accept the strength of the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. Will he come back at Third Reading and include provisions along these lines? If not, I shall certainly be joining the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in the Lobby at the end of this debate.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Shipley.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Stunell. There have been—and still are—legislative opportunities for the Government to act. When the Minister sums up, I hope that he will urgently clarify the Government’s plans.

As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, said in introducing this group, progress has been disappointingly slow. He went on to say that it is “beyond belief” that, three years after the Grenfell fire, action is so slow. He is absolutely right. The general public will become increasingly worried by the deeply disturbing revelations of the Grenfell inquiry.

This amendment seeks to implement recommendations made in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase 1 report. Surely that is the right thing to do as a matter of urgency. This new clause would clarify the duties of an owner or manager in relation to a building with two or more sets of accommodation to provide information on its construction to a local fire and rescue service. Secondly, it would introduce annual inspections of individual flat doors. This is an essential change, given recent experience and the growth of our knowledge about the state of so many entrance doors. This clause would also require monthly inspections, and for evacuation and fire safety instructions to be shared with the building’s residents. What on earth can be wrong with these proposals?

There is nothing in this amendment which should be surprising or problematic. Frankly, the general public would expect nothing else. If the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, decides to press this matter to a vote, I shall certainly support him.

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

My Lords, this amendment, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is fundamental to the effective implementation of the principles of this Bill. The role of the responsible person is one of the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry phase 1 report which was published more than a year ago. I quote from the recommendations in the report:

“No plans of the internal layout of the building were available to” the London Fire Brigade

“until the later stages of the fire … It should be a simple matter for the owners or managers of high-rise buildings to provide their local fire and rescue services with current versions of such plans. I therefore recommend that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building”—[Inaudible.]

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am afraid that we are having a little trouble with the noble Baroness’s connection. If she turns off her camera, perhaps that will help with the audio feed.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 3:30 pm, 17th November 2020

The report continued:

“I therefore recommend that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law:

a. to provide their local fire and rescue services with up-to-date plans in both paper and electronic form of every floor of the building identifying the location of key fire safety systems; b. to ensure that the building contains a premises information box, the contents of which must include a copy of the up-to-date floor plans and information about the nature of any lift intended for use by the fire and rescue services.”

So last year, the Grenfell inquiry report asked for the speedy introduction of these recommendations. A year later, we are waiting.

I know that the Government have stated a firm commitment to implementing the recommendations of the inquiry, and the amendment seeks to rectify this absence of government legislative action. As my noble friend Lord Stunell so wisely said, we all agree that this action needs to be taken and we are all impatient for it to be put in place.

The Government said that this was a high priority. However, even the building safety Bill is silent on the matter. How then can we be assured that it is a high priority for them? Here we have an opportunity to show intent, as a consequence of that tragic fire at Grenfell, to ensure that others do not endure what Grenfell residents endured. If the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, pushes this amendment to a vote, we on this side will vote in support of this vital change.

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

My Lords, the Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy of epic proportions. It was the largest loss of life in a residential fire since the Second World War. We have to recognise that a lot has happened and that a lot of actions have been taken by the Government since that event over three years ago.

The Government took early and decisive action to announce an independent Grenfell Tower inquiry. They took decisive action to start the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, and they took decisive action to establish the building safety programme. The Government took decisive action in setting up a comprehensive aluminium composite material—ACM—remediation programme. They took decisive action in setting up an independent expert panel to provide advice to government and building owners. They took decisive action in providing £600 million to help with the remediation of ACM high-rises. They took decisive action in providing a further £1 billion to remediate high-rises with other forms of flammable cladding. They took decisive action to ban combustible cladding on buildings within the scope of the ban. The Government took decisive action in introducing a protection board.

I accept that the pace of remediation has been slow, but I point to the progress that has been made this year in particular. This was a year when we had a global pandemic with two national lockdowns, and nevertheless we have seen a considerably greater number of on-site starts in those buildings—high-rises with the same cladding as Grenfell—and we are on track to see that around 90% of buildings will either have had the cladding removed or people will be on-site to complete that in a matter of months. That is real progress. This is cross-party; I thank Mayor Burnham, and Mayor Khan in London, but also the local authority leaders for their work to make sure that there has been real pace in the remediation this year. It is not easy to continue these construction programmes in that sort of environment.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for the amendment on the duties of an owner or manager. It is important that we discuss this amendment given the attention it has already received in the other place and in Committee in your Lordships’ House. I know that the noble Lord and other noble Lords have strong views on this issue and wish to see the Grenfell inquiry’s recommendations implemented as soon as possible. I share that intention. However, the Government do not consider that this amendment provides the most effective means of giving effect to the inquiry’s recommendations.

I hope to reassure the noble Lord that our shared objective can be achieved without the need for his amendments, which may in fact work against the swiftest possible implementation of the recommendations. I reiterate, as I said in my all-Peers letter and in Committee in your Lordships’ House, that the Government are, and always have been, committed to implementing and, where appropriate, legislating for the inquiry’s recommendations. This was a manifesto commitment and I am determined to ensure that we deliver on it.

I will set out our approach on this issue. It is right that we consulted before making regulations to deliver the Grenfell recommendations. As I set out in Committee, this was not solely because we have a statutory duty to do so—but we do, and this amendment is not in keeping with that duty. It also reflects Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s own view on the need to ensure broad support for recommendations and an understanding of the practical issues associated with implementing them. Our 12-week public consultation, which closed on 12 October, is allowing us to do just that. I am pleased to say that over 200 responses were received. It is important that we consider carefully those responses before finalising the precise policy detail to implement these new duties. Due consideration has to be given to the views of those who have submitted a response to the consultation.

I will highlight an example of that. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord prescribes a minimum set period for checks of both fire doors and lifts. As we consider our responses to the consultation, other approaches may be suggested that may provide more practical and proportionate options which are no less effective. The amendment may hinder our ability to deliver what may be a better solution for the safety of residents. I hope that is not the noble Lord’s intention, but I ask him to reflect on that fact. Understanding and acting on the consultation responses will ultimately help us to produce better, informed legislation, which we will deliver through regulations under the fire safety order as soon as possible after the Bill is commenced.

I reiterate that this amendment is not necessary and will not speed up the legislative process. It requires us to make regulations to amend the fire safety order to introduce new duties on the face of the order, but we consider that we already have the ability to implement such new duties through the power in Article 24 to make regulations, which we plan to use to implement a number of the Grenfell inquiry recommendations. Our intention is to introduce these regulations as soon as possible after the Bill is commenced.

I am also concerned about the impact of the misleading media coverage—even in recent media coverage written by Pippa Crerar that quotes the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark—after this amendment was voted on in the Commons on the Grenfell community’s faith in our commitment to deliver the Grenfell recommendations. I reassure the Grenfell community that the Government remain absolutely steadfast to their manifesto commitment to implement the inquiry’s recommendations.

I think that all noble Lords are seeking the same thing—the swift implementation of the Grenfell inquiry’s recommendations—and that is what the Government are committed to. While I understand the spirit of the amendment, it will not do that and may risk undermining our efforts. As such, I hope that the noble Lord will be content to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy.

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 thank all noble Lords for their contributions in this important debate. While I have no doubt of the sincerity of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, on all these matters, it is most disappointing that again the Government have failed to take up the opportunity afforded to them to implement the recommendations of the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry. They have said, and repeated today, that they are fully committed to implement those recommendations. What is the problem preventing that? The Government have repeatedly said that they are fully committed to doing so, but for some reason they will not do it. It is not good enough.

One goes home and reads or sees on the television the shocking revelations in the second phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry, and, sadly, nothing that the noble Lord has said reassures me on these matters. The Government are not taking the decisive action that has again been referred to. It is three years and five months since the fire. I hope that the House will take decisive action and agree with my amendment. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 269, Noes 250.

Division number 1 Fire Safety Bill - Report — Amendment 8

Aye: 269 Members of the House of Lords

No: 250 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Division conducted remotely on Amendment 8

Amendment 8 agreed.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:55 pm, 17th November 2020

My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 9. 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 amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.