THE BILL amendment, put forward by Labour, requires the implementation of recommendations from the first phase report produced by the Grenfell inquiry.

In December last year, the government’s Queen’s Speech saw building safety and fire safety bills introduced, with both setting out to ‘learn the lessons’ from Grenfell. While the Building Safety Bill would ‘place new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products’, both bills aimed strengthen the ‘whole regulatory system’ for both building and fire safety.

The Fire Safety Bill was said to ‘hint’ at supporting the findings from the Grenfell inquiry’s first phase, including ‘main benefits’ such as providing residents with ‘reassurance’ on fire safety and making it clear that building owners and managers know they are ‘responsible for assessing the risks of external walls and fire doors’.

Main elements were to include a clarification that the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [FSO] ‘includes the external walls of the building, including cladding’ as well as ‘fire doors for domestic premises of multiple occupancy’. ‘Relevant enforcement powers’ to hold owners and managers ‘to account’ would be strengthened, while a ‘transitional periods’ for these roles, the responsible person and the fire and rescue services (FRSs) would ‘assist’ in placing infrastructure.

In January, more details were released including the requirement for building owners to ‘fully consider and mitigate’ the risks of external wall systems and individual flat doors, as these changes would ‘make it easier to enforce’ where owners have not remediated combustible cladding ‘by complementing the powers under the Housing Act’.

The government is also set to work alongside local authorities and support ‘enforcement options’ where ‘there is no clear plan for remediation’, as building owners are ‘responsible for ensuring their buildings are safe’. In late March, the bill was officially introduced, with the government stating it would ‘improve fire safety in buildings in England and Wales’, and that it ‘builds on action already taken to ensure that people feel safe in their homes’.

The bill will amend the FSO to ‘clarify’ that the responsible person or dutyholder for multi occupant residential buildings ‘must manage and reduce’ the risk of a series of elements. These include the structure and external walls of a building, including cladding, balconies and windows, and entrance doors to individual flats ‘that open into common parts’, with this clarification to ‘empower’ FRSs to take action ‘and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant’.

It will also provide a ‘foundation’ for secondary legislation to ‘take forward’ the inquiry’s recommendations, and outlined these. Recommendations cover responsibilities of building owners and managers of high rise and multi occupant residential buildings, including ‘regular’ lift inspections and reporting results to FRSs; and ensuring evacuation plans ‘are reviewed and regularly updated’, as well as personal evacuation plans for residents ‘whose ability to evacuate may be compromised’.

Others include ensuring that fire safety instructions ‘are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand’, and ensuring that individual flat entrance doors ‘where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding’ comply with current standards. The bill will also give Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick the power to amend lists of qualifying premises that fall within the scope of the FSO ‘by way of secondary legislation’.

In May, the bill received its second reading in parliament, with Security Minister James Brokenshire stating that the government was ‘resolute’ in its ‘commitment to ensure’ that Grenfell is ‘never repeated’. Mr Brokenshire added that ‘specialist knowledge and the expertise of the fire risk assessor’ would be required to comply with the bill’, and noted that the bill ‘is a clarification’ of the FSO, and will ‘apply to all multi-occupied residential buildings regulated by the order.

‘The current ambiguity is leading to inconsistency in operational practice. That is unhelpful at best and, at worst, it means that the full identification and management of fire safety risks is compromised, which can put the lives of people at risk’. St Albans MP Daisy Cooper later tabled amendments to the bill in July ‘to help protect leaseholders living in homes with dangerous cladding’.

Most recently in September, the bill passed the first stage before becoming law, but Labour saw an amendment defeated that had aimed to ensure that the inquiry’s first phase recommendations were implemented. The bill ‘cleared the Commons’, with Mr Brokenshire adding that reforms will be introduced in the ‘fastest possible time’.

This came as a direct response to Labour having expressed its concerns over progress made since Grenfell and the failure of its amendment to ‘ensure the government implements recommendations made by the first phase of the Grenfell inquiry’. Mr Brokenshire stated that the bill ‘must be brought into law first before other changes can be made’, with the bill amending regulations ‘in a bid to offer greater clarity over who is responsible for fire safety in blocks of flats’.

Labour’s amendment, specifically its first clause, would ‘have required owners or managers of flats to share information with their local fire service about the design and materials of the external walls’. In turn, they would have been ‘required to carry out regular inspections of lifts and individual flat entrance doors’, while evacuation and fire safety instructions ‘must be shared with residents’.

The amendment was defeated by 118 votes to 318, and while Mr Brokenshire ‘recognised’ the intent to ‘implement recommendations made by the first phase’, he ‘insisted the government is taking action’. Referring to the fire safety consultation that later concluded on 12 October, he said Labour’s proposed amendment would ‘not hasten any more than what the government is intending and proposing’, with the bill providing a ‘framework for the changes to be introduced’.

The government was consulting ‘on the detail’, he pointed out, and the bill would receive an ‘unopposed’ third reading before undergoing ‘further scrutiny’ in the House of Lords ‘at a later date’. Yesterday, it was reported that Labour was again putting the amendment forward, and ITV has now reported that it was passed by the House of Lords on Tuesday evening.

The amendment was backed by 269 votes to 250, with the news outlet pointing out that this requires ‘the implementation of the recommendations made by the first phase of the inquiry’, with Lord Kennedy commenting: ‘People have already waited far too long for legislative action. There’s urgent need for these recommendations to be implemented and the Government needs to do more and act with greater speed.’

In turn, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Stunell added: ‘We should get on with what everybody knows needs to be done and which apparently nobody at all is objecting that it should be done, it’s just that the Government hasn’t yet done it.’

In response, Fire and Building Safety Minister Lord Greenhalgh insisted that the government ‘is and always has been committed’ to making the changes proposed, but that it was ‘right’ to seek peoples’ opinions before making regulations. He added that 200 responses to a consultation had already been received, and that ‘it is important that we consider carefully these responses before finalising the precise policy detail to implement these new duties’.

Lord Greenhalgh pointed out that these could offer alternative approaches that ‘may provide more practical and proportionate options which are no less effective’, stating: ‘This amendment may hinder our ability to deliver what may be a better solution for the safety of residents. Understanding and acting on the consultation responses will ultimately help us to produce better informed legislation.’