New Clause 36 - Asbestos remediation

Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:00 pm ar 30 Ionawr 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

“(1) The Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 37B, insert—

(1) This section applies where a claim to exercise the right to collective enfranchisement in respect of any premises is made by tenants of flats contained in the premises and the claim is effective.

(2) The landlord must cause a survey of the premises to be undertaken by an accredited professional to ascertain whether asbestos is, or is liable to be, present in those parts of the premises which the landlord is responsible for maintaining.

(3) Where the survey required by subsection (2) reveals the presence of asbestos, the landlord must, at the landlord’s cost, arrange for its safe removal.

(4) If the removal of asbestos required by subsection (3) is not carried out before the responsibility for maintaining the affected parts transfers to another person under the claim to exercise the right of collective enfranchisement, the landlord is liable for the costs of its removal.’”—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Llafur, Brent North

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Minister will be relieved to know that this is genuinely a probing new clause, which I am pleased to move on behalf of my right hon. Friend Sir Stephen Timms. He is not a member of the Committee, but he certainly wishes to raise the issue on Report.

New clause 36 would address the problems relating to enfranchisement when asbestos has been found, or is liable to be found, in the structure of a building. It requires that a survey be done prior to any enfranchisement process, and sets out that the landlord would be responsible for the remediation if asbestos should need to be cleared from the building. I am laying out the new clause before the Committee so that the Minister can set out his thinking about such problems in buildings, in the full knowledge that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham will speak to it on Report.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I thank the hon. Member for Brent North for moving the new clause. I heard the right hon. Member for East Ham make his case clearly on Second Reading, and I asked officials at the Department to go and look at it. I will read this into the record for their benefit and that of the right hon. Gentleman.

The Government recognise the devastating impact that asbestos-related disease has on those who are exposed and on their families, and we are committed to ensuring that the risk of asbestos exposure is properly managed. New clause 36 would either duplicate existing UK law or change the well-established evidence-based policy in this area.

Specifically, proposed new subsection (3) would mostly duplicate the existing duty in regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 for landlords to survey the common areas of their property, where they are responsible for maintenance. It is true that there is no current requirement for the survey to be done by an accredited professional. That is partly because currently only organisations, not individuals, can be accredited to carry out surveys. The Health and Safety Executive is carrying out research to see whether changes to the accreditation of surveyors would be beneficial. That is in response to a recommendation from the recent inquiry into asbestos by the Work and Pensions Committee, chaired by the right hon. Member for East Ham.

Proposed new subsection (3) would be a significant departure from current health and safety policy regarding asbestos. It could increase the risk of exposure to asbestos: it could create a situation in which asbestos was removed, irrespective of whether it was in good condition. Evidence shows that any removal of asbestos is difficult and inevitably involves disturbing asbestos fibres and making them airborne. In some cases, asbestos can be removed only if there is significant and highly invasive work to the fabric of the building. For that reason, the HSE’s long-held view is that asbestos that is unlikely to be disturbed or is in good condition gives rise to less risk if it is left in situ and monitored until a suitable opportunity to remove it arises, such as refurbishment or demolition. That part of the new clause goes against HSE policy. Such a policy shift in this case would have significant implications for the legal framework for the management of asbestos across the built environment. Understandably for such a hazardous substance as asbestos, any proposed changes to how it is managed in the UK must be considered carefully.

While I appreciate the points that the hon. Member for Brent North has made on behalf of the right hon. Member for East Ham, I hope that that explains why the Government are not supporting new clause 36. I look forward to comments from them, should we have missed anything. I hope that the hon. Member for Brent North will consider withdrawing the new clause.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Llafur, Brent North

I am grateful to the Minister for reading that into the record. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.