Government defeat as peers demand fire safety action post-Grenfell

Peers have defeated the Government in demanding the speeding up of building fire safety improvements in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, amid frustration at the lack of progress.

The House of Lords backed a Labour amendment to the Fire Safety Bill by 269 votes to 250, majority 19, requiring the implementation of the recommendations made by the first phase of the inquiry into the tragedy.

Critics argued the Government was “not moving quickly enough”, despite having committed to introduce the changes.

However, ministers insisted action had been taken and stressed the need to gather people’s views on the proposed measures, arguing it could lead to better solutions for the safety of residents.

The Bill was drawn up in response to the fire at Grenfell Tower in west London on June 14 2017, which claimed 72 lives.

An electrical fault with a fridge-freezer sparked the catastrophic blaze.

The Grenfell Inquiry’s phase one report, published in October 2019, found the tower’s cladding did not comply with building regulations and was the “principal” reason for the fire’s rapid spread.

The legislation, which has already been through the Commons, changes regulations in a bid to offer greater clarity over who is responsible for fire safety in blocks of flats.

The amendment backed by peers, which introduces the initial recommendations of the Grenfell Inquiry, will require owners or managers of flats to share information with their local fire service about the design and materials of the external walls.

They will also have to carry out regular inspections of lifts and individual flat entrance doors, while evacuation and fire safety instructions must be shared with residents of the building.

Opposition frontbencher Lord Kennedy of Southwark said: “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.”

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Stunell said: “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.”

Responding, communities minister Lord Greenhalgh insisted the Government “is and always has been committed” to making the changes proposed by the inquiry, but argued it was “right” to canvas opinion before making regulations.

With more than 200 responses received to a consultation, the minister said: “It is important that we consider carefully these responses before finalising the precise policy detail to implement these new duties.”

He pointed out these could offer alternative approaches that “may provide more practical and proportionate options which are no less effective”.

Lord Greenhalgh said: “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.”