Power to change premises to which the Fire Safety Order applies

Part of Fire Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 25 June 2020.

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Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Home Office) 2:30, 25 June 2020

Amendments 3 and 4 would ensure that the key articles of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 could be amended to account for the Grenfell Tower public inquiry phase 1 recommendations—and the phase 2 recommendations, although of course phase 2 has not happened yet—as well as any changes that may be brought about by the forthcoming building safety Bill. The issue was brought to our attention by the London Fire Brigade, and it makes a reasonable point.

Clause 2 provides for further changes to be made to the scope of the 2005 order, and clarification of its application. Our amendments would ensure that there was sufficient legal power, which could be relied on to respond to emerging evidence or events. It is important that we should not find that there are constraints in the future. The London Fire Brigade gave some examples of things that could be included. One was a legal mechanism for improvements to or replacement of the front doors of flats. Others were the installation of additional fire detection and warning systems, the retrospective fitting of fire safety measures in a building, and the adjustment or clarification of what an enforcing authority might need to be notified about.

As I have said and will keep saying, we welcome the Bill. We do not think it goes far enough, but want to make sure it does everything it sets out to do. We want to make sure that it is possible to make changes or additions to this cornerstone or foundation, as the Minister called it, including as a result of what comes from phase 2 of the Grenfell inquiry.

Amendment 5 would ensure that there was proper alignment between the 2005 order and other regulations on fire safety. The forthcoming building safety Bill, which we have talked about, will place requirements on accountable persons to ensure that buildings in occupation are safe.

This will include fire safety and will place enforcement responsibility with the new building safety regulator.

The fire safety order refers to a responsible person, but it is not clear whether this aligns precisely with the accountable person or the building safety manager referred to in the “Building a safer future” consultation. We have heard from local government that a lack of clarity about the boundary between the fire safety order and the Housing Act 2004 has been a complicating factor in resolving issues with dangerous cladding on buildings, so it would be useful to hear from the Minister; hopefully he can provide assurance that the concept of the responsible person aligns precisely with the accountable person or the building safety manager referred to in the consultation. If someone is deemed to be the responsible person for the purposes of the fire safety order, will they be considered the accountable person or building safety manager under the building safety Bill?

These are issues of quite complex semantics, but they are important, and we need to make sure that there is clarity about who is responsible for carrying out essential fire safety checks in all circumstances. Any confusion or ambivalence would lead to delays or attempts to shift responsibility, which could put lives at risk. The entire purpose of the Bill is to clarify fire safety rules in order to reduce any risk to life, so I urge the Minister to consider the merits of the amendment.

Concerns were raised about this issue on Second Reading. There is a risk of creating silo pieces of legislation that do not talk to each other; it would be good to understand from the Minister what could be done about that, what the Government are doing, and how we can make sure that we do not create silos. Again, Members from all parties raised this issue on Second Reading.