Part of Building Safety Bill - Third Reading – in the House of Lords at 3:44 pm on 4 April 2022.

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Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 3:44, 4 April 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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