Duties of owner or manager

Part of Fire Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 25th June 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith 3:45 pm, 25th June 2020

I will get it right before the end.

I have a brief comment about new clause 9, which goes to the heart of our discussion. It says that where there are

“two…sets of domestic premises, an inspector must prioritise the premises which they consider to be at most risk”.

That echoes what Mr Carpenter, the head of fire safety at L&Q, said in evidence this morning, and it must be right. It also mirrors the debate that we are having about covid-19 and the balance between the health implications and the economic implications. If all our eggs are put into the basket of buildings where there is believed to be a singular risk or multiple risks, there will be all the consequences we have already discussed relating to delays to sale and so on for buildings with a more marginal risk that nevertheless need remedial work. The Government have to grasp that dichotomy and say how they propose to deal with it.

At the moment individual landlords are dealing with it in their own way. My local authority, for example, has gone far beyond what are considered to be minimum standards. It has something called a fire safety plus programme, which means that fire safety experts visit tenants to check electrical and fire detection appliances. They replace white goods for free if they are faulty. I referred earlier to problems with flame failure devices, where gas leaks can occur, and the authority has now incorporated checks of all gas devices into annual boiler checks.

Some responsible landlords, and particularly social landlords such as Hammersmith and Fulham Council, take those responsibilities seriously and prioritise those matters. However, that has to happen across the board and not be left to landlords’ good will, as it were, or their responsible action. It has to be something that the Government enforce. It would be useful to include that with new clause 9 and provide for such prioritisation in the relevant circumstances. However—and yes, this is cake-and-eat-it, but this is a cake-and-eat-it Government, so I am sure they can incorporate it—we cannot forget those tenants or leaseholders who are at the back of the queue and who, as Mr Carpenter said at column 14 in the first sitting of the Committee, may be waiting 10 years for remedial work to take place. I should be interested to hear the Minister’s response to that—both whether he agrees with the content of new clause 9 with respect to prioritisation, and what he would do as a consequence.