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Building Safety

Volume 702: debated on Monday 25 October 2021

The Government’s landmark Building Safety Bill will drive the most significant regulatory, cultural and behavioural improvements to building safety in a generation. In addition, as the House will know, we are investing £5.1 billion of taxpayers’ money to remove unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings, with a new tax and levy on industry. We will offer further support to leaseholders in buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres high.

I welcome the action taken so far, but it is not fast enough or far enough for the thousands of leaseholders in Putney who are trapped in a perfect storm, with some living in unsafe buildings and many more caught up in a crisis of confidence in building safety. They cannot sell their homes, yet through no fault of their own, they are forced to pay thousands in ongoing costs for waking watch—or sleeping watch, as they call it—and insurance, before we even get to the costs of remediation works. They need Ministers to get a faster grip of the situation and solve the crisis. Will the Minister agree to Labour’s plan for a building works agency to find, then to fix, fund and, crucially, certify these buildings as safe; and then pursue those who are responsible for the costs, not the leaseholders?

The hon. Lady will know that through the building safety fund we have now distributed £734 million for 689 identified buildings—identified by local councils and communities, which are best placed to do this—with the result that 65,000 homes are now in the process of being remediated. Ninety-seven per cent. of buildings with unsafe aluminium composite material cladding have been remediated or are in the process of so being. Of course we want to speed up the process and of course we will work with developers, local authorities and fire and rescue services to make sure that the work is being done. It is being done, it shall be done: she can be assured of that.

The building safety charge is a charge to ensure that the building safety regulator—the most important and powerful regulator of building safety in the world—will be responsible for ensuring that through the life cycle of the development of a building, from design to construction through to its operation, it will be safe. We will be ensuring that there are accountable persons for those buildings who will be responsible for them. We will make sure that the cost that falls on individual leaseholders will be sensible and as limited as possible. My hon. Friend can be assured that that cost will be transparent so that they can see exactly what they are paying for.

First, let me pay my respects to Sir David Amess. He was a tireless campaigner for building and fire safety, chairing the exceptional all-party parliamentary group on the subject. I last met him only a few weeks ago to discuss the omissions in the Building Safety Bill. His loss will be greatly felt in these crunch weeks of the Bill’s passage.

I also welcome the new Secretary of State to his role. He has been brought in by the Prime Minister he tried to torpedo to sort out the building safety crisis. Given his reputation for getting things done, expectations really are very high.

In the spirit of David Amess, I offer my commitment to help to resolve this crisis, because it is now urgent and getting worse. Every day, more innocent homeowners receive new and enormous bills for remediation, their insurance costs soar, and lenders will not lend. Does the Minister agree that we face an important, and closing, window to bring forward any necessary legislation? Will he work with us and campaigners to put into law the protection of leaseholders from any remediation costs and bring forward a comprehensive plan to resolve this?

I am obliged to the hon. Lady for her question and the spirit in which it was asked. I certainly associate myself with her remarks about our late friend Sir David Amess.

During the passage of the Building Safety Bill, which is currently in Committee, a number of amendments have been tabled. Nine amendments tabled by the Opposition and have been withdrawn, and only one has been divided on. That is an example of the collegiality that we have managed to establish as this very important Bill progresses through Parliament. Of course we want to make sure that leaseholders are not exposed to unfair costs. That is what we have been working towards since the Grenfell disaster, and we shall continue so to do. The hon. Lady’s support in helping that endeavour will be gratefully received.

It is good to hear that that is what we are working towards, but it has been some time now and this does need enacting in law as the only way to ensure protection.

Can I give the Minister, in the same spirit, some gentle advice as someone who has been dealing with these issues for many years? He will not get resolution on this issue by rehashing some of the previous failed approaches like naming and shaming of developers, nor will it be dealt with by just looking at the symptoms of the problems such as insurance, as pressing as that is. Does he accept that he must tackle the problems at their root: namely, I repeat, by protecting leaseholders in law, as the Government promised; and bringing forward a comprehensive plan to assess, fix, fund and certify all tall buildings by overseeing risk assessment and removing the 2020 consolidated advice? We have the fund, but it simply will not work without dealing with those two fundamental issues, so will he do all this before the window closes firmly?

I am obliged to the hon. Lady for her question and how she couched it. She will know that we have committed to raise a significant amount of funds through a residential developers property tax and a tall building levy, which will ensure that buildings that need to be remediated are remediated, so avoiding costs falling on leaseholders. In the Building Safety Bill, we have made it absolutely clear that we expect building owners to pursue every route to find funding before passing on any cost to leaseholders. If building owners do not do that, the costs they may impose can be challenged in the tribunal. We are looking at further evidence we have received on the prevalence of cladding in the 11 metre to 18 metre building cohort. That will help us finalise our decisions, and we shall bring them forward in due course.

The Minister has been very accessible, and I have had conversations with him over this issue, but I am still not clear what people can do if they have already been stung with costs in respect of remediation. To go to a tribunal is a gamble, because legal costs may be incurred. Can he give further thought in his approach to this matter to how to get money back for people who have wrongly been charged when they are merely innocent leaseholders?

I am obliged, as ever, to my right hon. Friend. He is right. We have met on a number of occasions to discuss these issues. I will not labour the point about the public funds we have already expended on remediation or the plans we have to bring forward further support for those who find themselves in this very difficult and distressing situation. I will always talk to him and consider the thoughts and ideas he presents.