5. Fire Safety Bill debated in the Commons
The Fire Safety Bill 2019-20 is entering its final parliamentary stages, and will return to the House of Lords for consideration of Commons amendments on 17 March, before going on to receive Royal Assent and passing into law.
Five Lords amendments were considered during a House of Commons debate on 24 March, concerning discharge of duties under the Fire Safety Order, a public register of fire risk assessments, Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations, and leaseholders and cladding remediation.
Opening the debate for the Government, Minister of State for the Home Office Kit Malthouse MP said that the Government would move Lords amendments 1 and 5, to do with duties under the Fire Safety Order, following advice from fire safety operational amendments. Regarding amendment 3, concerning a public register of fire risk assessments, Malthouse said that this would engage financial privilege and raises two concerns. First, the initial estimate of cost to the public purse would be £2 million per annum. Secondly, these costs would be broadly commensurate with the expenditure of maintaining a database of energy performance certificates. Malthouse sympathised with the intent behind the amendment, which would not be ruled out in future, but said this was the wrong time to include this in primary legislation.
On Lords amendment 2, which would place requirements on the owner or manager of buildings that contain two or more domestic premises in line with recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry, Malthouse said that Bill is the first step, but is a short and technical piece of legislation "designed to clarify that structure, external walls and flat entrance doors should be included within the fire safety order." He announced that additional measures will be included in the Building Safety Bill.
On Lords amendment 4, which would protect leaseholders and tenants from paying for remediation of unsafe cladding, he said that the Government had already committed to £3.5 billion additional funding to remove unsafe cladding, to give leaseholders peace of mind. He said that the amendment would be impractical to implement and could result in delay to interim measures to protect residents while remediation is being brought forward, meaning that fire rescue services would have to evacuate residents. Malthouse concluded that these amendments were based on good intentions, but they were not the appropriate means to solve these complex problems. He assured members that the Government schemes to address these issues would be launched as a matter of priority.
Responding, Shadow Policing and Fire Minister Sarah Jones MP said that the Labour Party supports the Bill but added that it is only a small piece of concrete legislation and the first since the Grenfell Tower fire. On the details of the Bill, she said that the Government has rejected many attempts to amend the Bill. She said that the Draft Building Safety Bill places various requirements on the "responsible person" and refers to the Fire Safety Order to establish the definition of this person, yet the Fire Safety Order does not provide any definition. She emphasised the need for clarity on this point.
On Lords amendment 2, she said if the Minister had concerns about the way it was worded, then he could have amended it, and that this amendment is a straightforward way of implanting the Grenfell Phase 1 Inquiry recommendations in full and without delay. On Lords amendment 4, Jones said that the Government have not committed to saying that leaseholders should not have to foot the bill, and that while there has been much talk there has been no action to put this principle into law.
The House voted on amendments 2 and 4, which were disagreed by 345 to 226 and 340 to 225 respectively.