THE LABOUR Party has proposed an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill in the House of Lords that ‘implements recommendations’ from the Grenfell inquiry’s first phase report.

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’ int eh House of Lords ‘at a later date’. The Mirror has now reported that Labour is planning a ‘fresh bid’ to put the government ‘under pressure to speed up’ and ‘finally deliver on long-delayed promises to improve building safety’.

Its amendment proposed in the House of Lords would implement the inquiry recommendations, and the changes would be the same as those proposed in the previous amendment, with Lord Kennedy of Southwark commenting: ‘The early stages of the Grenfell Inquiry highlighted the need for proper evacuation procedures and regular inspections in tower blocks, and for building owners to share information with local fire services.

‘But it’s now been over a year and ministers have still not delivered on their promise of action. That’s why I’ve tabled an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill, to implement those recommendations and ensure no other family suffers the horrors of a Grenfell-like fire. The House of Lords will get a chance to vote on this issue on Tuesday and I hope all sides – including those on the Conservative benches – help us put pressure on the Government to change the law.’