House of Commons
Monday 10 January 2022
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Death of a Member
I regret to have to report to the House the death of a friend, Jack Dromey, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington. I know hon. Members in all parts of the House will join me in mourning the loss of our colleague, and in extending our sympathy to the hon. Member’s family and friends. I invite all Members to join me in one minute’s silence in memory of Jack.
The House observed a one-minute silence.
I also wish to assure the House that there will be an opportunity for all of us to pay tribute to Jack at a later date, to be determined in consultation with the family. Members wishing to send letters of condolence to the family can do so via the Speaker’s Office, who will collate them and pass them on. I am sure we all extend our deepest sympathy to Harriet, a friend of all of us. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Armed Forces Pay
May I open by associating myself with your remarks, Mr Speaker, about the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington? We express our deepest sympathy to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and their entire family.
Armed forces pay remains competitive. Indeed, in 2021 approximately 35,000 service personnel earning less than £24,000 received a £250 consolidated pay uplift because, despite the public sector pay freeze, we are mindful of protecting the lowest earners in the armed forces during the public sector pay pause.
May I start by offering my condolences to the family of our hon. Friend, Jack Dromey, and in particular to our colleague, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham? Our thoughts are with her at this time.
Since 2010, many armed forces personnel have experienced a dramatic real-terms decrease in pay, some by as much as 6.5%. With the cost of living increasing dramatically and personnel struggling to stay afloat financially, will the Minister now lift the pay freeze and restore pay to at least the levels of a decade ago, when his party came to power?
When considering armed forces pay, it is very important to look at it in the round. Service personnel benefit from subsidised food and accommodation, a fantastic non-contributory pension, and allowances on top of basic pay. If I may say, it is a little bit rich getting lessons on armed forces pay from the SNP, given that it has hiked tax on service personnel in Scotland to the tune of £580 per person. It is just as well that the Ministry of Defence is making up the difference.
I am very sad about the loss of Jack. I had known him since we both served together—him for the unions, me for the military—in Northern Ireland a long time ago.
Private soldiers, able seamen and aircraftsmen, after six months’ training and in accordance with the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body, get roughly £3,000 to £4,000 less than a policeman who is also trained for about six months. That seems weird and I ask the Minister if he might slightly account for that.
As I said, we have to take note of the fact that service personnel benefit very significantly from subsidised food and accommodation, a non-contributory pension and allowances. Many young soldiers are also taking advantage of the opportunity to get on to the property ladder through the Forces Help to Buy scheme, which has been a great success.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for what you said about Jack Dromey; his loss is felt by all of us across the House.
I take on board what the Minister said about pay below £24,000, but being as tough as it is for all those people, we think that that is inadequate. Moreover, is he aware that there are huge pressures in terms of the retention of more senior staff, particularly in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force? The gap between what they can earn in the private sector and what they currently earn in the Navy and Air Force, and how much their skills are in demand, are really affecting the ability to retain important members of staff.
UK Defence Jobs
May I pay tribute on behalf of the Cabinet and the Government to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey)? We are sorry for his loss and our condolences are with his family. I shall remember Jack with his trademark mac that he often wore—he never changed it—and for his well-crafted arguments often against the Government, but nevertheless making strong and powerful points.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics recorded Ministry of Defence support to over 200,000 jobs in UK industry. Further economic growth and prosperity, including jobs, across the Union will be underpinned by £188 billion of investment in defence over four years and this Government’s commitment to a deeper and more strategic relationship with industry, as part of the defence and security industrial strategy.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. There is great interest in north Wales in the opportunity that the new medium helicopter programme could bring to the region. Will he provide an update on the progress made by his Department ahead of the launch of a formal competition?
As my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies), mentioned, the new helicopter programme could be significant in north-east Wales and generate around 400 jobs at Airbus directly, should its bid be successful. Will the Secretary of State confirm when the process is scheduled to be completed and when he expects the helicopters to come into service afterwards?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Whoever wins this competition, it is important that they contribute to the prosperity and job opportunities for UK citizens wherever they may be. I am not interested in “here today, gone tomorrow” suppliers for this. We want to enhance British industry and make sure that these helicopters are properly made and put together in this country. Once the competition is complete, we hope to have the medium-lift helicopters in service from the middle of this decade.
I was pleased to read last week of a new five-year, £460 million logistics contract that has been issued which should deliver the MOD £54 million of efficiency savings a year. Will the Secretary of State outline what the new logistics information system will mean for jobs in the UK, and specifically, jobs in the east midlands?
My hon. Friend highlights an important part of the capability in which we need to invest. Our logistics information system contract will support vital services for another five years and ensure that the UK can rapidly deploy military personnel and equipment globally. He will be pleased to hear that the contract will sustain 675 jobs across the UK supply chain and benefit the whole country, including through jobs at companies with a presence in the east midlands, such as IBM in Nottingham.
As joint chair of the all-party group on manufacturing, I know that Jack Dromey would have appreciated the emphasis today on manufacturing and UK jobs. The national shipbuilding strategy sets out an ambition to support UK manufacturing by boosting innovation, skills, jobs and productivity across the UK, in addition to ensuring the construction of ships’ hulls in British shipyards using British-sourced steel. Will the Secretary of State confirm that every encouragement will be given to UK-based companies to add to the UK content of these new vessels by supplying the systems and equipment that go hand in hand with them?
The 2017 national shipbuilding strategy has been highly successful at supporting our UK naval shipbuilding industry. I wish to reassure my hon. Friend that the Government are working hard to ensure that the UK producers of steel, and the wider UK shipbuilding supply chain, have the best possible chance of competing for contracts—including General Electric, from his constituency. The refresh of the national shipbuilding strategy is due for publication—we hope that this will be by the end of this month.
Can I bring the Secretary of State back to planet Earth—or planet MOD? He has just mentioned GE at Rugby, but the MOD took no interest when its American parent company in Philadelphia wanted to move production to France; similarly, there was no interest in ensuring that the fleet solid support ships are built in the UK using British steel. Every other major industrial country and major defence country looks after their own industry. Why will he not throw off the blinkers and actually do the same here in the UK?
Oh dear. I think the right hon. Gentleman has not even read the defence industrial strategy, where it is very clear that we have committed to enhancing sovereignty. He will know, because he has watched the solid support ship contract with great interest, that we have also classified those ships as warships and started that competition. It is incredibly important that we recognise that, first and foremost, this Government are going to do more, and have done more, to enhance British shipbuilding than any other Government for many, many years, including the one he was a member of.
May I start by thanking the Defence Secretary and you, Mr Speaker, for the words about Jack Dromey? On this side, we mourn deeply his very sad and sudden death. He touched everyone he worked with—everyone has a proud or affectionate Jack Dromey story—and our House and our politics are the poorer without him this week.
Turning to the question, there are indeed 300,000 UK defence jobs, many linked to MOD contracts. Why have the National Audit Office and the MOD’s own accounts officially confirmed 67 cases of overspends, write-offs, contract cancellations, unplanned extensions and admin errors since 2010, costing at least £13 billion in taxpayers’ money wasted since 2010? Those are only the published data—they are the tip of the iceberg—so will the Secretary of State now commission the NAO to conduct an across-the-board audit of MOD waste, as Labour in government would from day one?
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of the contents of Labour’s dodgy dossier on defence procurement, which are a fascinating read. They include allocating the loss on Nimrod, which the Labour party had governed for 13 years, to a Conservative Government and the fact that the Labour party had estimated that aircraft carriers would cost only £2.7 billion when in fact they cost over £6 billion. Considerable amounts of the so-called “waste” in the dossier show a breathtaking misunderstanding of both accountancy and how things operate when it comes to procurement. Retiring an aircraft last year that was due to retire in 2015—the Sentinel—does not make it a write-off or a waste; it is getting rid of a piece of equipment that is no longer value for money in delivering what we need to deliver. If he wishes to become the future Defence Secretary, I suggest he takes a course in accountancy first.
The Sentinel was, of course, retired before the replacement E-7 Wedgetails were ready, so the MOD rightly accounted for £147 million in constructive loss in its accounts. However, £4 billion has been wasted since 2019 alone, since the Secretary of State has been in post, and the National Audit Office has judged the MOD’s accounts for the defence equipment plan “unaffordable” every year for the last four years. It has said that there is a budget black hole of up to £17 billion. The Secretary of State has taken no serious action to deal with these deep-seated problems. He is failing British forces, and failing British taxpayers.
Let us start with the first point. The Sentinel is not an early-warning radar, which the E-7 Wedgetail is. If we are going to say that I retired one platform capability and replaced it with another, let us try to make sure that we replace it with the right type of capability, otherwise someone will be flying the wrong plane in the wrong place at the wrong time—but then I suppose we should not really be very surprised by Labour.
I entirely understand the NAO’s observations. There are, absolutely, a great many things to put right, and in putting them right, yes, we cancel programmes that we cannot afford, yes, we retire capabilities that should have been retired previously, because that is called putting your house in order. Otherwise, we end up with an NAO ruling that
“The MoD has a multi-billion-pound budgetary black hole which it is trying to fix with a ‘save now, pay later’ approach.”
That was the NAO’s report on the Labour Government in 2009, and the “pay later” is what we are now living with.
I endorse everything that both Front Benchers said about Jack Dromey, but not everything that followed.
The Secretary of State and I have crossed swords before about procurement. As he knows, the Public Accounts Committee said that the system was broken. He kindly offered me a meeting last time we discussed this in the House, and he kept his word: he generously gave me an hour of his time, and we discussed it in detail. Following that, is there anything he would like to say to the House today about his plans to reform procurement in the Ministry of Defence?
As I have said, there are observations about defence procurement in all the NAO reports and also in those of Select Committees of both Houses, and it has been a running sore for many years. We have to fix some of those issues. The Minister for Defence Procurement, my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), has come to the House time and again to talk about and expose the issues relating to Ajax, and has been honest and clear about the problems that we need to put right. I discussed with my right hon. Friend the need to ensure that our pricing estimates and the quality of our contracts are correct, so that risk is held in the right place. Both those issues are incredibly important. We also need a change in the culture of optimism bias: sometimes people want to gold-plate things when the good will do, rather than the perfect.
In 2010, when this Government came to power, there were three main RAF bases in Scotland, at Kinloss, Lossiemouth and Leuchars. Now there is only one. Can the Secretary of State tell us how many jobs were lost to Scotland as a result of the RAF draw-downs inflicted on it by Westminster, and, two years on from the Government’s own target of 12,500 personnel to be stationed in Scotland by 2020, will he also tell us how much that target has been missed by, as of today?
It is correct that there is one RAF base now—in Lossiemouth. However, we are increasing the footprint up there, because we will base the E-7 there alongside the P-8, and it is home to some Typhoon aircraft as well. So there have been increases in some areas. We have replaced the RAF base at Leuchars with Army units, and we will put another unit there as well. Overall, the proportion of the Army that is based in Scotland has increased since “Army 2030”.
Devonport is the UK’s premier naval base and dockyard. Will the Secretary of State present plans to recycle the 13 rotting nuclear submarines that are tied up alongside it? That would not only be good for the environment but good for Devonport, freeing up dock space, and good for jobs as well.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for drawing attention to the importance of Plymouth. I have asked our Submarine Delivery Agency and, indeed, the Navy to present plans for investing in its infrastructure, which has suffered for too many decades from a lack of investment because people want the more “sexy” show capabilities rather than the things that underpin keeping our forces ready and fit for battle.
My right hon. Friend’s Department has announced that the Alanbrooke barracks in my constituency, which proudly hosts the 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, will close in 2031. Can my right hon. Friend identify any possible other military uses for that base? Alternatively, will he work urgently with the local authority to ensure that the obvious redevelopment opportunities are taken up as quickly as possible?
Ajax Programme: Cost
As reported by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority in July 2021, the budgeted cost of Ajax is £6.354 billion to manufacture the vehicle and bring it to full operating capability and for its first period of service. Forecasts are updated twice yearly and our current forecast is that we will deliver under budget at £5.915 billion, though that is subject to change. That includes our £5.5 billion firm contract with General Dynamics.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the short tribute to our comrade Jack Dromey.
The latest document on Ajax is enough to make anyone weep. It points to an alphabet soup of accountabilities and a saga of poor procurement, and says that the vehicle thus far is not fit for purpose. And of course it has been a health and safety minefield. This project matters for our military capability and for the 4,000-strong workforce in south Wales and across the UK. In his December statement, the Minister ended on an optimistic note when responding to a question about the workforce from my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones). Can the Minister give us the expected timeline for fixing these issues?
The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that I sounded an upbeat note in terms of the jobs in south Wales. We were right to commission the report. It was a thorough report and I believe it was right to publish it so that this House knew exactly where we stood on Ajax. On the question of employment, there are some 4,100 jobs across the country in 230 companies, and the programme is particularly important to south Wales. I was upbeat to the extent that I believe that we must work together with General Dynamics to fix this issue. We have now received a draft report from Millbrook, as I outlined in my last statement, and there is work to be done on that. We may not really get to grips with that until July, but progress is being made. Certainly I believe that the independent work that General Dynamics is doing in Horiba-Mira and elsewhere can resolve these issues. We need to test that very carefully, but we have invested very heavily in this project, it is an important capability and we are determined to make it work if we possibly can.
I would also like to express my condolences on the loss of Jack Dromey, who made his maiden speech the same day that I made mine. I was very fond of him.
I have no doubt that some of the procurement processes that were inherited from the last Labour Government led to some of the flaws in the Ajax programme. I say that because it is emblematic of a catalogue of wasteful decisions such as the selling off of the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar in 2009 for £3 million when it had reportedly been valued at £52 million. Could the Minister please assure me that the MOD’s procurement and disposal decisions, such as that involving Fort Blockhouse at Gosport, will maximise the benefit for the taxpayer and for local communities?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her elevation; that is good to see. She refers to the approval process for Ajax, which was indeed under the last Labour Administration. I think it passed maingate business approval in March 2010, around the same time that the National Audit Office was pointing out the multi-billion pound black hole that the Labour party was leaving in Defence at the time. I do not believe that Fort Blockhouse will be disposed of until 2023, so there is time to get it right. I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend if that is helpful.
I join other voices in expressing my own sadness at the loss of our colleague Jack Dromey. Jack was someone who committed his entire life to improving the lot of others. He was, and is, an example to us all.
Last month, the Government’s own report found that Ministers were in the dark about the serious issues surrounding Ajax for a whole two years before the current Minister was informed in 2020. During that time, soldiers were put in a vehicle that could cause harm. What new measures have been put in place to ensure that Ministers are fully on top of what is going on in their Department?
There is a whole raft of measures. I have met the hon. Gentleman and he is aware from reading the report of what has been set out. We immediately accepted the vast majority of recommendations. There are about two recommendations that need to be worked on, but the intent is there and our intent is to adopt them. One of the most important aspects is to make certain that all people with a view on safety are part of the decision making process, so that everyone with a view has an opportunity to air it and everyone is listened to with respect. We are also putting health and safety input into the highest ranks of the decision making process, so that major decisions cannot be made, either by Ministers or by other parts of the organisation, without that health and safety input right at the top of the organisation. These measures will help to ensure that such a situation does not reoccur.
Relocation from Afghanistan
Clearly the movement of any vulnerable Afghan or British national from Afghanistan to the UK requires the co-operation of a third country. In the UK’s case, this has mostly been through Pakistan and we are very grateful to our friends in Islamabad for working with us. More than 2,000 people have come to the UK since the end of Operation Pitting, and we continue to work with partners in the region to facilitate the exit of more, through more routes.
It is worth noting that the last speech Jack made to the House of Commons was on this very subject of standing by our friends in Afghanistan.
Given the unhealthy closeness of ties between parts of the Pakistani state and the Afghan Taliban, what assurances and assistance will the Minister give to Afghans in hiding in Pakistan, who may have been issued with UK visas, that they will not be deported back to Afghanistan by the Pakistani authorities when they present themselves at an airport, instead of being permitted to fly to the United Kingdom?
My right hon. Friend will know that we are flirting with operational detail that may be best kept private, but he and all colleagues should reassure those with whom they are in touch that everybody who has arrived in Pakistan with the correct paperwork has been facilitated by the British high commission to leave the country successfully. The challenge, as he might expect, is for those who do not have papers, which is a very live conversation not just with Islamabad but with our friends in other capitals around the region.
I fear this may be a red herring, inasmuch as indefinite leave to remain is an automatic part of the ARAP scheme. More than 5,000 ARAP-eligible personnel were brought out during Operation Pitting, and around 1,100 of the 2,000 who have come out since are also ARAPers. About another 150 or so ARAP principals from the original cohort who actually worked for us and were approved during Operation Pitting are left in Afghanistan, and we continue to work to bring them out. Of course, we are getting applications all the time. The ARAP entitlement is absolute and is not time limited. We will bring out anybody eligible who applies.
Ukraine: Territorial Integrity
The Ministry of Defence has a long-standing relationship with our Ukrainian counterparts, and we continue to provide support in many areas including security assistance and defence reform. Since 2015, the UK has helped to build the resilience and capacity of the Ukrainian armed forces through Operation Orbital, which has trained over 22,000 Ukrainian troops.
It became very clear after 2014 that Ukraine had lost large parts of its navy to Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, and it is important to help Ukraine build up and sustain a naval capability. We have continued to invest in that, and last year we signed not only an MOI but an agreement to sell naval patrol boats with weapons systems to the Ukrainian Government.
My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to staff at PJHQ. Both civilian and military staff constantly work around the clock to deliver a whole range of international operations and, in terms of the frontline, are always ready and prepared to deploy to wherever we need in the world, including in Ukraine.
As I have said, in June last year, we entered into an agreement with Ukraine to supply eight fast ships equipped with modern weapons systems. That was a significant agreement as it affirmed the UK’s openness to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons systems as well as training, and that principle remains.
May I thank the House for the kind words about our friend, Jack Dromey? He is a loss to my party, to the wider Labour movement, and, indeed, to Parliament.
The threats made to Ukraine are part of a wider pattern of behaviour by Russia, ranging from Belarus to the Balkans, to test NATO and the west. We also have to tackle Russian misinformation, as it is a huge tool in President Putin’s arsenal and has been used to devastating effect against our allies. What steps are the Government considering taking to counter that huge problem, along with other grey zone attacks?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The false narrative is that, somehow, NATO is surrounding Ukraine, when only one 16th of Russia’s border is shared with a NATO member. It is also a false narrative to say that NATO, as some sort of single entity, looks to expansion. People seek to join NATO often as a result of other issues. The question for the Kremlin is why so many countries have sought that membership.
On what I am doing to counter that information, I think we all have a role to play. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has engaged the media, and I will continue to do so as well. This House had an extremely good debate on the subject, and I listened to many Members’ speeches. I urge anyone who has not read the debate, to read it. It is important to call out the false playbook. I also urge right hon. and hon. Members to read the article written by President Putin himself in July last year in which he exposes his real views towards the people of Ukraine.
Lots of people spoke in the debate last Thursday about the hybrid warfare that Putin is effectively waging against the west at the moment. Is the Secretary of State for Defence convinced that the UK is doing enough to tackle the dirty money that comes from Russia into London? Is he convinced that we are doing enough not just on the misinformation that Russia perpetuates here, but on the number of dodgy companies that are functioning here?
The hon. Gentleman will know from my time as Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime that I was always pushing to do more—and there is always more to do. The unexplained wealth orders were one step, but more transparency and more rigorous checks in places such as Companies House are also important steps. I think that he is right that Russia goes after a whole range of our vulnerabilities. Perhaps, in the way that we function as an open liberal society, we should make sure that we protect those places and not just the more obvious places, such as the military.
May I associate myself very warmly with the comments made about my good friend, Jack Dromey? He was a friend to us all in this House.
Given that there is a need for maximum co-ordination and co-operation with our allies if we are to counter the threat from Russia effectively, what measures are the Government taking to enhance our co-operation with our European partners to make sure that we are an effective alliance?
The United Kingdom has uniquely at its disposal a strong partnership with the United States, and a partnership also with the EU and indeed in NATO. We are working all those avenues to make sure that we present a united and strong front. This week, I will visit a number of countries in eastern Europe and Scandinavia, many of which are very, very worried about what has been happening. We have continued with the diplomatic track. In 2019, I extended Operation Orbital to continue to help build Ukraine’s capability to defend itself, which is incredibly important. All of us should call out those false narratives to make sure that, should anything happen, we have a package of sanctions ready to deliver to make sure that Russia’s bad mistake is punished.
Putin’s ultimatum in December, placing unrealistic demands on NATO’s forced presence in eastern Europe and giving Russia licence to invade Ukraine, was clearly designed to be rejected. Will the Secretary of State confirm that we will not concede to Russia’s threats; that NATO’s defence posture in eastern Europe, and in the Baltic states in particular, will not change; and that we will commit to a long-term strategy of supporting Ukraine through joint training exercises, arms sales and the eventual inviting of Ukraine to join NATO?
First and foremost, we need to deal with the central charge, which I think is a false charge, of NATO aggression and a NATO surrounding of Russia. NATO is defensive by its very nature—if you attack us, you attack us all—and it is a defensive alliance; it is not offensive. There are no NATO bases in Ukraine, which is also alleged. The United Kingdom will work with whoever wants to work with us and shares our values. We will not be deterred by bullying, and we will not be deterred by distance. We shall step up and help those countries in eastern Europe and Scandinavia, and Ukraine—that is its right as a sovereign country—should they wish to have our assistance. We respect their rights as free, sovereign countries, and I ask other countries to do the same.
The worrying developments in Ukraine along with those in Kazakhstan demonstrate the need for us to be able to understand the Russian Federation and its motivations, however misguided its actions. Thankfully, the Ministry of Defence has the Russian military studies centre in Shrivenham, which is a resource of outstanding pedigree built on a proven research record. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the centre will be able to preserve its independence following the review that his Department is undertaking? It would be a great pity if the unique pedigree of that research centre was lost.
Not for the first time, the hon. Member raises an interesting point that I will be delighted to look at. It is important that we all have independent advice. This month, I will make the Chief of Defence Intelligence available to hon. Members of the House, to brief those who so wish on the current situation in Ukraine. We should not forget that what the Russian Government—not the Russian people—are frightened of is not NATO but NATO’s values.
Future Soldier Programme: Army Estate in Wales
My right hon. Friend has fought and fought for the retention of more military personnel at St Athan. At his request, I visited the site personally and re-evaluated our options. Unfortunately, the historic agreement entered into with the Welsh Government does indeed make such—[Interruption.] I do apologise, Mr Speaker, and I apologise to my right hon. Friend—I wanted first to give an answer on future solider in general before getting on to the specifics—[Laughter.] I know exactly what my right hon. Friend is going to ask, because he has been assiduous in demanding more troops at St Athan.
Before I get on to that, future soldier is good news for Wales, bringing additional investment into the Army estate of around £320 million. I know Brecon will be delighted that Brecon barracks—the headquarters of the 160th (Welsh) Brigade—will be retained. We have identified Caerwent training estate for investment to host not one but two units—including the Queen’s Dragoon Guards—and, in north Wales, a new reserve unit of the Royal Welsh will be established in Wrexham.
I associate myself with the comments made about our friend and colleague Jack Dromey.
The Welsh Government’s refusal to extend the lease of the land at MOD St Athan effectively blocked a new major military unit coming to St Athan. What reassurance can the Minister give to the soldiers based at west camp? Do the Welsh Government have any right to the land on which they are based? If so, are they at risk of being evicted in the same way as those soldiers who were based at east camp?
No, they are not. The good news is that the Ministry of Defence holds the freehold for the west camp land, which was not covered by the historic agreement made with the Welsh Government. My right hon. Friend has tackled me on this issue on so many occasions, and I went to visit the camp. We could not put new units into St Athan given the historic agreement with the Welsh Government, but west camp is MOD freehold and we will retain our forces there.
I associate myself with the tributes to Jack Dromey. He was a true friend and a credit to the House.
The Minister spoke about the future soldier programme in general terms, which connects to the Armed Forces Act. He made a welcome concession by agreeing to publish data on both investigations and prosecutions at all stages of the service justice system. What will the Government do if conviction rates for one or more of these serious crimes are concerningly low? Will the Government reconsider their approach and finally recognise that these cases should be dealt with by the civilian judicial system, and what impact does the Minister think that the Armed Forces Act 2021 will have on the Government meeting the target they have set themselves for 30% of Army recruits to be—
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I, too, pass on my condolences to Jack’s family and friends? It is indeed a sad loss.
I am clutching at two words—Army estate—in asking this question. On a recent visit to the Special Boat Service—our Marines special forces—I was shocked to find that it does not have a proper aquatic centre. Will my hon. Friend the Minister tell me and the House when and if the Special Boat Service will get a proper aquatic centre to do vital training in?
Withdrawal from Afghanistan: Inquiry
I have no doubt that that Committee is doing a very find job indeed, but surely the damning evidence that it has received makes a full independent inquiry all the more important, not less so. Tens of thousands dead, millions facing humanitarian disaster, democracy and human rights in tatters, and many of billions of pounds spent—if that does not merit a full, comprehensive independent inquiry, what on earth does?
Awarding of Defence Contracts
The defence and security industrial strategy provides a more flexible approach to determine the right acquisition strategy for any given capability, in line with our priorities and national security requirements. Where tenders are used, they are designed to be fair, open and certainly accessible to domestic contractors.
Wight Shipyard Co. in my constituency recently raised with me its concern about the niche criteria and very short timeframes for the Ministry of Defence’s special purpose ship contract. Will my hon. Friend reassure me that all MOD contracts are fairly given out and fairly tendered to all contractors in the country, including smaller contractors such as Wight Shipyard?
My hon. Friend is an assiduous advocate for the Island and he was right to raise this issue with me before Christmas. I looked into it and have written to him and another hon. Gentleman on the subject. The requirement is for an existing vessel that can enter service very quickly to help the Royal Navy perform, at pace, trials on autonomy and the use of modular persistent operational deployment systems. I am satisfied that the tender for this vessel is fair and open. It has attracted a significant degree of interest from a wide range of suppliers, and they will have to compete along the lines outlined.
The Government are invariably keen to talk up their role in the manufacturing success story of Scottish warship building, and the Minister knows exactly the extraordinary private investment that has been made by BAE on the Clyde and by Babcock at Rosyth, and about the state of the art manufacturing process, equipment and, crucially, apprenticeships. Will he now commit to rewarding that investment by unequivocally ensuring that the fleet solid support ships are built in whole, not in part, in Scottish and, if necessary, other UK yards, and categorically commit to using UK steel?
I think the hon. Gentleman should pay tribute to what this Government are doing in terms of investment in shipbuilding. We are a phenomenal investor in shipbuilding. BAE and Babcock are doing a tremendous job, with a huge number of ships coming through the production line. I am not going to prejudge a tender—that would completely contradict what I said in my previous remarks. However, if only the Scottish Government could take a leaf out of our book in the way in which they work with Ferguson’s, I think we would all be better off as a shipbuilding industry.
Since the veterans strategy was published in 2018, we have been delivering for our veterans, including Op Courage in the NHS to support veterans with their mental health, the veterans’ railcard, and a national insurance holiday for those employing veterans. We continue to drive forward that agenda, with our publication soon of a veterans strategy update, which will recognise what a fantastic asset our veterans are.
In north Staffordshire we are very proud to house the Tri Services and Veterans Support Centre led by Geoff Harriman and supported by John Painter and Kathy Munslow, all of whom served themselves and do a range of work to support our local veterans—for example, the new veterans’ retreat set up in Kidsgrove parish, bringing veterans together to take part in archery, construction and even bee-keeping. I want to personally thank Ron Jeffries, a local businessman who kindly donated some of his land for this vision to become a reality. Will my hon. Friend therefore applaud the work of Geoff, John, Kathy and Ron in supporting our veterans and commit to visiting later this year to show us his skills in the field?
I would be delighted to learn about the work of those people in the parish of Kidsgrove—it sounds fantastic. I absolutely join my hon. Friend to thank Geoff Harriman, John Painter, Kathy Munslow and Ron Jeffries for their military service and all they continue to do for veterans in the community. I also thank my hon. Friend for the work he does to support our armed forces personnel. If possible, I would be delighted to visit.
Last month the President of the United States signed off the National Defense Authorization Act, which will ensure that US atomic veterans receive a medal and an official day of recognition for their service. Does the Minister agree that it is time to end the UK’s shameful position as the only country not to provide official recognition or compensation for nuclear veterans, and to mark the 70th anniversary of Britain’s first nuclear test by finally rewarding our courageous nuclear veterans with the medals they so highly deserve?
Colleagues across the House are right to voice their concern about Russia’s ongoing aggression towards Ukraine. While we are hopeful for a positive outcome from this week’s diplomatic efforts, we are preparing for all eventualities.
May I associate myself with the tributes to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington?
Time and again during this pandemic our armed forces have stepped up, whether by building hospitals like the new Nightingale in central Manchester, delivering vital supplies or getting jabs into arms, and they are now doing it again by supporting our world-leading booster programme. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that we should thank them for their amazing service and encourage everybody to get that booster?
My hon. Friend points out the other job that Defence does, which is building this country’s resilience wherever one may be in the United Kingdom. It is always important to remember that our armed forces have a day job—a main job—of defending our country. When we are out of this national crisis and pandemic, it will be important to look at making sure that other people step up to cover. In the long term Defence personnel are always there, whether for floods, pandemic or other threats, and they will continue to be so. That is why it was important that we put soldiers and sailors at the heart of our Defence Command Paper.
Today’s US-Russia talks in Geneva start a critical week of dialogue over Ukraine. I assure the Secretary of State that we fully support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. As a defensive alliance, it is clear that it is not NATO’s but Russia’s actions that are dangerously escalating the current tensions. What leading role is the UK playing to ensure that any agreement on the talks is fully co-ordinated with NATO and with European allies?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support. I will continue to work with him, and the Leader of the Opposition, to ensure that he is kept informed as much as we can on the situation. That goes for the Scottish National party as well. I have personally been to Ukraine five or six times in my time as Security Minister and Defence Secretary. The lessons of Afghanistan are that as we move together, whether as NATO or as a coalition, we will continue to work with—
I think my right hon. Friend will do so. I have been to Brecon previously with my hon. Friend, who has campaigned relentlessly to retain the barracks, and I was delighted to confirm that that would be the case. It is the right decision for the Army, for Wales and indeed for Brecon.
The Minister made a welcome concession at the end of the debate on the Armed Forces Act 2021 to publish data about investigations and prosecutions. What will the Government do if the conviction rate for one or more of these serious crimes is concerningly low? Will they reconsider their approach? What impact does the Minister think the Act has had on meeting the target of 30% of Army recruits being female by 2030, particularly given that the current trends mean that that target will not be met until 2063?
The steps we have taken on judicial oversight, the Judge Henriques review of the service justice system and implementing the Lyons and Murphy reviews mean that we are confident that the changes we have made to the service justice system mean that cases will be better investigated, there will be a better quality of law and that justice is delivered. We are also continuing the work we are doing under Air Chief Marshal Wigston’s review to make sure it is a better environment for women to serve in.
My hon. Friend is right. In anticipation of those training situations, the Defence Command Paper in March and “The Integrated Operating Concept 2025”, which preceded it, put in place measures to ensure that our Army is more ready, more forward and more deployable than it has ever been before, because speed and readiness are the one of the best ways to deter our adversaries.
I am pleased to confirm that all the other nations of the United Kingdom do indeed have veterans commissioners.
As my hon. Friend might be aware, we recently announced a closer working relationship with Japan on elements of the future combat air system programme. That followed on from talks that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I had last September in Tokyo. The Japanese Government and we see a lot of benefit in working together on defence equipment programmes.
Periodically we come to this House—either myself or the Foreign Secretary—to update the House overall on Op Shader, and we periodically inform the House of all strikes we make. If it has not happened yet, it will happen very soon through the Cabinet Office.
The Department is investing in emerging technologies around the country as part of the defence supply chain. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the next generation of armed forces personnel, including those at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, are trained to take advantage of them?
I thank my hon. Friend for the question. We have more than 1,000 science, technology, engineering and mathematics—or STEM—representatives. We ensure that about 90% of all non-commissioned roles have the opportunity to take apprenticeships, which go right the way across new areas of skills, including STEM skills. That includes the outstanding Harrogate College. From memory, part of the syllabus includes space, autonomy and cyber. We are ensuring that we are absolutely at the cutting edge.
I am not sure I will accept that characterisation of the US position. I thought Secretary Blinken’s speech in Abuja was very encouraging. The UK is committed in east, west and southern Africa, against not just the rise of violent extremism, which concerns us enormously, but also increasingly how our competitors and adversaries are using countries to develop their influence. We see that as a bad thing in the long term, and we are seeking to counter it.
If the closure of RAF Halton gets the go ahead—frankly, I do not think it should—the largest town in Hertfordshire will have no military capability on its boundaries. Is there any way we can have a reserve capability—we need the reserves as we go forward—at RAF Halton for the Army and the RAF?
I thank the Minister for Defence Procurement for his letter on the Navy’s special purpose vehicle and the changes he has made to the procurement process, but that will not get us away from the fact that the money has to be spent by March, which means that the vessel will be built or procured from a Dutch company, Damen. Why is he not backing British industry? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) said, this is a £10 million contract that will go to a Dutch yard, rather than be spent in the UK.
The right hon. Gentleman has already decided how our competition will end, which is unwise. We have multiple potential providers of a vessel that needs already to have been built, so we are going through a buying process and we will see how that procurement exercise ends.
May I commend my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement for the care that he is taking in dealing with the challenges of the Ajax contract, and for the transparency with which he is keeping the House up to date with the problems? Does he agree that the production contract, which was entered into in 2014, was characterised by transferring risk to the contractor? Had we followed the practice of the previous Labour Government, trumpeted by the shadow Secretary of State, the risk would have stayed with the Ministry of Defence and the taxpayer.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Had this been like the Nimrod situation, where £3.7 billion was wasted by the previous Government and they attempted to blame it on us, that would have been where we are, but we are not; we have a firm-price contract with General Dynamics.
Redford barracks in my constituency has had another stay of execution to 2025. As the UK Government seem unmoved by arguments for retaining the defence estate in Scotland, will the Minister consider transferring the land at Redford to the City of Edinburgh Council so as to offset some of the economic impact of the closure of the barracks?
The hon. and learned Lady fails to recognise that we have already moved the 51st Brigade headquarters to Redford, so large parts of the barracks will be retained. Also, Glencorse barracks, which was due to be reduced, will be retained and increased on that site. The investment going into Scotland, through new bases or by securing existing bases, is incredibly important.
From foot and mouth disease to floods and the pandemic, our armed forces have always stepped up in civilian emergencies, but the lesson has always been that this needs to be done as early as possible. Given recent experiences with Storm Arwen, does my hon. Friend agree that measures need to be put in place across all levels of Government so that the armed forces can be deployed in civilian emergencies locally, strategically and quickly?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We do have those mechanisms already, with liaison officers in every local resilience forum. The armed forces do an amazing job, whether responding to flooding or, indeed, delivering 521,700 jabs last month alone as part of the booster programme.
As a fellow trade unionist, Jack Dromey was a dear friend. His final fight in this place was for Afghan refugees, 13,000 of whom are languishing in hotels—not exactly a warm welcome. Can the Defence Secretary say exactly how he is deploying the defence estate and Annington Homes to ensure that we home these refugees?
The hon. Member makes a very important point. I ask all Members of this House to reach out to their local authorities, because a lot of local authorities’ words have not been matched by action. I have made available nearly 500 married quarters to those individuals. Of course, very few local authorities were prepared to take up the available married quarters in which to place the refugees. It is important that we all get our local authorities to pull together alongside the rest of the Government.
Before I call the Secretary of State to make his statement, I have to express once again my disappointment that important announcements have been made first to the media, rather than to this House. In this case, I accept that issues of market sensitivity meant that announcements had to be made this morning. However, I am told that the announcements were required because of speculation about the policy change over the weekend. That speculation appears to have been substantially accurate, which means that the media appear to have known the details before this House did. If that is the case, I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could confirm that a leak inquiry is to be held.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on building safety. Before I do so, I can confirm that I have asked the permanent secretary in my Department to conduct a leak inquiry. It was a matter of considerable regret to me that details of the statement that I am about to make were shared with the media before they were shared with Members of this House, and indeed with those most affected.
It is worth pausing at the start of any statement to reflect on why building safety is an issue of concern to all of us in this House today. It took the tragedy at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017, as a result of which 72 innocent men, women and children lost their lives, to put building safety properly on the political agenda. Families were living in a building that was literally a death trap because of failures of enforcement and compliance in our building safety regime. This Government must take their share of responsibility for those failures.
Over four years on from that terrible tragedy, it is clear that the building safety system remains broken. The problems that we have to fix have been identified by many across this House, from all parties. I would like at this point to register my appreciation of the work that the late Jack Dromey did on this issue. He was shadow Housing Minister for three years and he did a great deal, both as a trade unionist and as the Member of Parliament for Birmingham, Erdington, to bring to light the plight of those affected by this crisis.
As we know, there are still a small number of high-rise buildings with dangerous and unsafe cladding that have to be fixed. We know that those who manufacture dangerous products and develop dangerous buildings have faced inadequate accountability so far, and shown insufficient contrition. We also need to ensure that we take a proportionate approach in building assessments overall. There are too many buildings today that are declared unsafe, and there are too many who have been seeking to profit from the current crisis.
Most importantly, leaseholders are shouldering a desperately unfair burden. They are blameless, and it is morally wrong that they should be the ones asked to pay the price. I am clear about who should pay the price for remedying failures. It should be the industries that profited, as they caused the problem, and those who have continued to profit, as they make it worse.
Mr Speaker, we will take action on all of these fronts. To ensure that every remaining high-rise dangerous building has the necessary cladding remediation to make it safe, we will open up the next phase of the building safety fund early this year and focus relentlessly on making sure it is risk driven and delivered more quickly.
We will also ensure that those who profited, and continue to profit, from the sale of unsafe buildings and construction products must take full responsibility for their actions and pay to put things right. Those who knowingly put lives at risk should be held to account for their crimes, and those who are seeking to profit from the crisis by making it worse should be stopped from doing so.
Today, I am putting them on notice. To those who mis-sold dangerous products, such as cladding or insulation, to those who cut corners to save cash as they developed or refurbished people’s homes, and to those who sought to profiteer from the consequences of the Grenfell tragedy: we are coming for you. I have established a dedicated team in my Department to expose and pursue those responsible. We will begin by reviewing Government schemes and programmes to ensure that, in accordance with due process, there are commercial consequences for any company that is responsible for this crisis and refusing to help to fix it.
In line with this, just before Christmas, I instructed Homes England to suspend Rydon Homes, which is closely connected to the company that refurbished the Grenfell Tower, from its participation in the Help to Buy scheme, with immediate effect. I also welcome the decision by the Mercedes Formula 1 team and Toto Wolff to discontinue sponsorship from Kingspan, the cladding firm, with immediate effect. The voices of the families of the bereaved and the survivors of the Grenfell Tower were heard, but this is only the start of the action that must be taken.
We must also restore common sense to the assessment of building safety overall. The Government are clear—we must find ways for there to be fewer unnecessary surveys. Medium-rise buildings are safe, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. There must be far greater use of sensible mitigations, such as sprinklers and fire alarms, in place of unnecessary and costly remediation work.
To achieve that, today I am withdrawing the Government’s consolidated advice note. It has been wrongly interpreted and has driven a cautious approach to building safety in buildings that are safe that goes beyond what we consider necessary. We are supporting new, proportionate guidance for assessors, developed by the British Standards Institution, which will be published this week.
Secondly, we will press ahead with the building safety fund, adapting it so that it is consistent with our proportionate approach. We will now set a higher expectation that developers must fix their own buildings, and we will give leaseholders more information at every stage of the process.
Thirdly, before Easter, we will be implementing our scheme to indemnify building assessors conducting external wall assessments, giving them the confidence to exercise their balanced professional judgment. We will audit those assessments to ensure that expensive remediation is being advised only where it is necessary to remove a threat to life.
I will be working closely with lenders over the coming months to improve market confidence, and I have asked my colleague Lord Greenhalgh to work with insurers on new industry-led approaches that bring down the premiums facing leaseholders.
Further, we will take the power to review the governance of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, to ensure that it is equipped properly to support a solution to this challenge. Those in the industry who refuse to work with us in good faith to take a more proportionate approach should be clear that our determination is to fix the problem for all those caught up in this crisis.
Finally, we must relieve the burden that has been unfairly placed on leaseholders. I want to pay tribute to all those across the House who have campaigned so passionately on this subject. They know the injustice of asking leaseholders, often young people who have saved hard and made sacrifices to take their first steps on the housing ladder, to pay money they do not have to fix a problem they did not cause, all while the firms who made a profit on those developments sit on their hands. We will take action to end the scandal and protect leaseholders. We will scrap the proposal for loans and long-term debt for medium-rise leaseholders.
I can confirm to the House today that no leaseholder living in a building above 11 metres will ever face any costs for fixing dangerous cladding and, working with Members of both Houses, we will pursue statutory protection for leaseholders and nothing will be off the table. As part of that, we will introduce immediate amendments to the Building Safety Bill to extend the right of leaseholders to challenge those who cause defects in premises for up to 30 years retrospectively.
We will also take further action immediately: we will provide an additional £27 million to fund more fire alarms, so we can end the dreadful misuse of waking watches; we will change grant funding guidance so that shared owners affected by the crisis can more easily sub-let their properties, and encourage lenders and landlords to approve sub-letting arrangements; and in the period before long-term arrangements are put in place, I will work with colleagues across Government to make sure that leaseholders are protected from forfeiture and eviction because of historic costs. Innocent leaseholders must not shoulder the burden.
We have already committed £5.1 billion of taxpayers’ funding from the Government, but we should not now look to the taxpayer for more funding. We should not ask hard-working taxpayers to pay more taxes to get developers and cladding companies making vast profits off the hook. We will make industry pay to fix all of the remaining problems and help to cover the range of costs facing leaseholders. Those who manufactured combustible cladding and insulation, many of whom have made vast profits even at the height of the pandemic, must pay now instead of leaseholders.
We have made a start through the residential property developer tax and the building safety levy, both announced last February, but will now go further. I will today write to developers to convene a meeting in the next few weeks, and I will report back to the House before Easter. We will give them the chance to do the right thing. I hope that they will take it. I can confirm to the House today that if they do not, we will impose a solution on them, if necessary, in law.
Finally, we must never be in this position again, so we are putting the recommendations of the Hackitt review on building safety in law and we will shortly commence the Fire Safety Act 2021. We are also today publishing new collaborative procurement guidance on removing the incentives for industry to cut corners and to help stop the prioritisation of cost over value. We will legislate to deliver broader reforms to the leasehold system, and also bring forward measures to fulfil commitments made in the social housing White Paper. When parliamentary time allows, we will have legislation on social housing regulation so that social housing tenants cannot be ignored as those in the Grenfell community were for many years.
Four and a half years on from the tragedy of Grenfell, it is long past time that we fix the crisis. Through the measures that I have set out today, we will seek redress for past wrongs and secure funds from developers and construction product manufacturers, and we will protect leaseholders today and fix the system for the future.
May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your kind words about Jack Dromey, who should have been with us here today? There is a space over there that I know Jack would have occupied. Back in the 1970s, horrified by the spectacle of a skyscraper in London that lay empty while people slept rough underneath it, Jack was one of those who occupied Centre Point tower in protest. He was never afraid to speak truth to power, and I hope that today marks the start of all of us across the House invoking his spirit.
Four and a half years after the appalling tragedy at Grenfell, and with a road paved with broken promises and false dawns, hundreds of thousands are still trapped in unsafe homes, millions are caught in the wider crisis, and the families of 72 people who lost their lives are waiting for justice. It is a relief that we finally have a consensus that the developers and manufacturers who profited from this appalling scandal should bear greater costs, not the victims, and that blameless leaseholders must not pay. After a year of hell of the prospect hanging over leaseholders, we welcome the decision to remove the threat of forced loans, but can the Secretary of State tell us what makes him think that he can force developers, who have refused to do the right thing for four years, to pay up? We have been told there is a March deadline and a roundtable, but there is not a plan. If he has one, can we hear it? He will find an open door on the Opposition side of the House, if he has a credible proposal to bring.
Today the Secretary of State warned developers that if negotiation fails,
“our backstop…what we can do…is increase taxation on those responsible”,
but that is not quite right, is it? I have in front of me the letter from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May I remind the Secretary of State what it says? He was told that
“you may use a high-level ‘threat’ of tax or legal solutions in discussions with developers”
“whether or not to impose or raise taxes remains a decision for me”
—the Chief Secretary—
“and is not a given at this point.”
If I have seen the letter, I am fairly sure that the developers have too. Furthermore, it appears that what the Secretary of State has told the public—that tax rises are the backstop—is not what he has told the Treasury. The letter says that
“you have confirmed separately that DLUHC budgets are a backstop for funding these proposals in full…should sufficient funds not be raised from industry.”
That is not what the Secretary of State told the House a moment ago, so can he clear this up? Has the Chancellor agreed to back a new tax measure if negotiations fail, or is the Secretary of State prepared to see his already allocated budgets—levelling-up funding, or moneys for social or affordable housing—raided? Or is his plan to go back to the Treasury, renegotiate and legislate, if he fails in March? If that is the case, it will take months, and there is nothing to stop freeholders passing on the costs to leaseholders in the meantime. Does he even have an assessment of how many leaseholders will be hit with whacking great bills if he delays?
If the Secretary of State is serious about going after the developers—I hope that he is—why is he not putting these powers into the Building Safety Bill now? The only trick that he has up his sleeve, as he just confirmed to the House, is to ban them from Help to Buy, and we know that the impact of that, though welcome, will be marginal. Can he see the problem? He will also know that there is a gaping hole in what he has proposed. A significant number of buildings have both cladding and non-cladding defects, and leaseholders in them face ruinous costs to fix things such as missing fire breaks and defective compartmentation. One cannot make a building half safe. Given that the Secretary of State recognises the injustice of all leaseholders caught up in the building safety crisis, why is he abandoning those who have been hit with bills for non-cladding defects, and why will he not amend his Bill so that all leaseholders are protected from historical defects in law?
The truth is that the pace of remediation has been painfully slow. The Secretary of State is now on track to miss the deadline to fix all Grenfell-style cladding by over half a decade, and there are huge delays when it comes to building safety fund applications, so will he get a grip on what is going on in his own Department and ensure that the progress of remediation is accelerated markedly? As he knows, this has been a living nightmare for affected leaseholders, and we owe it to them to bring it swiftly to an end.
What the Secretary of State has given us today is a welcome shift in tone and some new measures that the Opposition very much hope will succeed, but the harder I look at this, the less it stands up. We were promised justice and we were promised change, to finally do right by the victims of this scandal, and that takes more than more promises. It takes a plan.
I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for her questions. First, I entirely agree with the generous and fitting words that she had for Jack Dromey. As I mentioned briefly in my statement, he was a relentless campaigner for social justice throughout his career. Indeed, the role he played in highlighting the plight of the homeless, and the need to act in order to ensure that they had a safe and decent place to live, is one of the many achievements that we will all recall as we think of his contribution. I also welcome the consensual approach that the shadow Secretary of State and her Front-Bench colleagues are taking in seeking to ensure that we place responsibility where it truly lies, and she had a number of appropriate questions to follow up in order to ensure that we deliver effectively.
The shadow Secretary of State made the point that the allocations from the building safety fund so far have been slow and are behindhand, and that is true. I think it is always better to be honest about those areas where the Government have not performed as well as they should, and one of the first things I did as Secretary of State was to ask for all necessary steps to be taken to ensure that that money was spent effectively. Of course, one of the problems we have had is that it is a demand-led system, so we have relied on many of those who have been responsible as the individual owners of buildings to come forward. However, what we are also hoping to do is ensure that, working with the National Fire Chiefs Council, we have the most extensive analysis of all the buildings that need our support and that we accelerate work on the BSF. So her concerns are not misplaced, and it is certainly my intention to ensure that we accelerate and make comprehensive that work.
The shadow Secretary of State also made the point that non-cladding costs do need to be met, and I agree. She specifically requested that we provide amendments to the Building Safety Bill to ensure that there is statutory protection for leaseholders. That is our intention—we intend to bring forward those amendments—and I look forward to working with her and colleagues across the House to provide the most robust legal protection.
The shadow Secretary of State doubted—again, I can understand the basis of her scepticism—whether developers and others in industry, given their past behaviour, would necessarily come sweetly to the table, and that is why it is so important that we have a range of tools available. I think it is important to recognise that there are some developers and some in the industry who have done the right thing, and it is also important to recognise that a spokesman for the Home Builders Federation, Stewart Baseley, today struck a very a constructive and open tone.
However, we do need to have additional backstops, and it is clear that taxes can, if necessary, play a part. I do not want to move there, but we do have the absolute assurance that we can use the prospect of taxation to bring people to the table. All taxation decisions are made by the Chancellor, and no Chancellor or Chief Secretary would ever say anything other than that, but the fact that the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor have authorised me to use the prospect of taxation, and the fact that we already have taxation through the residential property developer tax, shows that we are prepared to take every step necessary.
The final point that was implicit—perhaps explicit—in everything the shadow Secretary of State said is that we will be judged on our actions, and I think that is entirely fair. I recognise, given the scale of the frustration that so many have felt in the past, that ultimately there can only really be satisfaction when we bring this matter to a conclusion. I believe that today marks a significant step forward, but there is more work to do, and I hope that we can conclude that work on a cross-party basis in order to bring justice to those who deserve it.
I will co-operate, Mr Speaker, and may I say, through you, to the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), that the tributes to her husband Jack Dromey for his work on people’s interests at work and at home will be long remembered, together with that of David Amess, who for 20 years worked on the all-party group on fire safety and rescue with Ronnie King and others?
I believe that this is another step forward that is greatly welcomed and greatly needed, but I think the extension of the liability to 30 years is wrong for those who knew that what they were doing was wrong: 30 years may be fine for those who did it by mistake, but for those who knew what they were doing, there should be unlimited liability both in time and in money.
I hope that the Secretary of State will have a roundtable. If he wants to take over the all-party group roundtable for a summit on this, he can pick up some of the other issues that no doubt he has been working on, but which, to keep his statement reasonable, he may not have covered today.
One problem is the insurance premiums paid by leaseholders for a property they do not own, which may have gone up from an illustrative £300 a year to £3,000 a year. I believe that the Association of British Insurers should be told that the Competition and Markets Authority will look to see whether there is price gouging, in simple terms, and, that if there is some kind of catastrophic reinsurance needed, the Government should help them to make communal arrangements to deal with that, because insurance premiums should come down to the £300 they were before.
The last point of very many I would like to make is that the Treasury will expect to get the benefit of the levy and tax towards the £5 billion already announced, and the contributions that will come in from developers will relieve burdens on residential leaseholders, but the Government should also get the VAT on money that is spent, which is 20% of the total cost. If the total cost comes down from £15 billion to, say, £12 billion, my right hon. Friend can calculate and discuss with the Treasury how much extra the Treasury is getting. The Treasury should not be making a profit out of all this catastrophe.
I thank the Father of the House for his questions. He is quite right that Sir David Amess, before his sad death, was one of the most prescient and most effective campaigners for improved building safety. His memory is very much in my mind.
The Father of the House makes a point about the need to potentially look at unlimited liability for those who consciously and deliberately operated in a reckless fashion. I will consider that and I am sure it will be considered during the passage of the Bill. On his point that we should work with others, particularly the broad leasehold community who have done so much to identify the way forward, we absolutely intend to do that. The point he makes about insurance premiums is absolutely right. That is why my noble Friend Lord Greenhalgh will be talking to Baroness Morgan of Cotes and others in the Association of British Insurers to ensure that more insurers, like Aviva, do the right thing. I very much note his point about VAT and Treasury contributions. In the ongoing conversations we have with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I will reflect on the very important point that he made.
I wish to echo the sentiments from across the House on the work Jack Dromey did on this issue and his campaigning to get justice for those affected.
It has been almost five years since the Grenfell fire. In that time, we have had four Housing Secretaries and several different policies and approaches to this issue. First the Government would pay, then leaseholders would pay and now developers will pay, all because the Treasury has for so long refused to act further on this issue. The confusion is not only harming homeowners facing a Tory cost of living crisis, but affecting the ability of devolved Governments to plan their responses appropriately. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that this latest policy will be acted on, and will he commit to working with the devolved Governments to provide further clarity? Additionally, can he make it clear when already promised funding will fully and finally be delivered to the devolved Governments for this matter?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her points. We certainly will work with the devolved Governments. Of course, the residential property developer tax, like all UK-wide taxes, is distributed appropriately in line with the Barnett formula and other requirements, but we will certainly work with devolved Governments. I should say that I am very grateful to the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive for the work they have already done on this issue. We all have much to learn from one another.
I welcome the direction of travel in the statement, specifically that leaseholders will not have to pay for cladding remediation. I am also glad that building product makers are now coming within the scope of Government, not only property developers. I have been personally shocked by some of the revelations coming from the Grenfell inquiry and I think that potentially we need to address the building products sector. May I stress to my right hon. Friend that speed and delivery here is critical? It is now four and a half years since the tragedy in my constituency. What is important is not only having a good plan, but executing it quickly and efficiently.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am very conscious of the need for speed. I quite agree. If we look at the behaviour of some of the cladding firms, the behaviour of people who work for Kingspan and Arconic, and the evidence presented to the Grenfell inquiry, we see that it is truly dreadful. The individuals concerned must take responsibility. She represents a constituency in which there are many, many people who are effectively trapped because of the failure of the property market to effectively address all these problems. In the interests of her constituents and so many more, and in particular in the interests of the Grenfell community and its fight for justice, I am very conscious of the need to move as fast as we possibly can.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I am sure he will welcome an invitation from the Select Committee to come and discuss these matters further in detail. Just two important issues. First, will he clarify that leaseholders will not have to pay the cost of remediation, including non-cladding work, because that is not exactly what his statement says? Secondly, will he clarify that, apart from the removal of aluminium composite material cladding, the Government will give social housing providers no help whatsoever? If developers do not pay for the measures that he announced today or taxes are not raised, and there are cuts to his budget as a result, will that come off social housing provision as well? What assessment has he done of the total impact on the future building of social housing?
These are three very important points. First, we will make sure that we provide leaseholders with statutory protection—that is what we aim to do and we will work with colleagues across the House to ensure that that statutory protection extends to all the work required to make buildings safe. Secondly, to ensure that there is not an adverse impact on social housing or on the work that Homes England is leading to bring together and remediate brownfield land for new private-sector development, we will do absolutely everything possible so that, ultimately, those with big balance sheets and big bucks discharge their responsibility. He and I will know that the seven major housing developers do much good work but that in the last three years they made profits of £16 billion. Understandably, people are prompted to ask that those significant sums be devoted to ensuring that the building safety crisis is met, alongside the building supply pipeline of the future.
I welcome these further measures to provide critical support to leaseholders and to restore a greater degree of confidence to the housing market. In particular, may I welcome the future support for those in medium-rise buildings? It is a pity that the Treasury did not agree to that proposal in January of last year, but such is the way with this issue. May I ask my right hon. Friend about two particular points? First, he has agreed a backstop with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury whereby the ultimate risk will be borne by the provision of social housing. I am sure that he would agree that it would be quite wrong for social housing tenants and the homeless to pay the price for solving this issue, so will he say that that will not be the case? Secondly, I see that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has failed to make good on the conversations we have been having for several months, if not years, to instil a more proportionate and sensible approach into the assignment of risk. What further steps—he alluded to some in his remarks—can he take against RICS, because its behaviour is now bordering on scandalous in not taking this issue seriously?
First, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, my predecessor. I have had the opportunity since joining the Department to see just how hard he worked, facing a number of frustrations, to secure justice for those who are our first concern. I heard some comments from some Opposition Members seeking to decry that. If they knew what I know about how hard Robert had worked to try to secure justice, they would not be trying to make a cheap point about it. We all care about this issue, but few care about it as much, and certainly no one currently in this Chamber has worked as hard to try to help those people, as my right hon. Friend. So I am not having it.
The second point that m right hon. Friend made is absolutely right; we need to ensure both that there is more social housing provision and that we improve the quality of social housing—that is a core mission for the Department. His third point, about RICS, is right. There have been all sorts of difficulties with that organisation in the past, but I am now hopeful that we are on a more positive footing. We have the potential to take steps to improve the governance of the institution, but I am hopeful now that, given some of the conversations we have had, including with lenders and others, we can be on a more positive footing. Let me once again underline and affirm my gratitude to my right hon. Friend for his incredibly hard and dedicated work to try to bring this situation to a satisfactory conclusion.
My constituents in Eclipse House, Station Road, Wood Green have been suffering for more than a year with astronomical costs to deal with gaps relating to fire doors and external wall insulation. Can the Minister confirm that that is not covered in today’s statement? Secondly, what voice will tenants have in the future? One of the worst things about Grenfell is the lack of tenant voice to make good things stick when bad practice is all around.
The hon. Lady makes two important points. First, the freeholders, as the ultimate owners of these buildings, will be held responsible for all the work that is required, and we will make sure that leaseholders are not on the hook. Secondly, she is right that those who listened to some of the testimony at the Grenfell inquiry, and those who have seen some of the excellent campaigning journalism associated with it, will know that Ed Daffarn and others explicitly warned of some of the consequences of the approach taken at the time. Tenants’ voices were not heard, and people died as a result. That is why the social housing White Paper, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) did so much to advance, and the social housing Bill, which will come forward in due course, are so important.
I welcome this brilliant statement, and I am grateful to the Secretary of State for working constructively with us, across parties, and with the cladding groups to get us to where we are today. Today’s announcement is another huge step forward for leaseholders. This is a victory for leaseholders, who will get up to £9 billion of support. We will make those responsible pay and start on the journey.
I seek clarification on two areas. First, cladding is an external fire safety defect, but are developers responsible for internal fire safety defects such as missing fire breaks, which stop fire spreading from one flat to another? Secondly, will there be Government amendments to the Building Safety Bill to make it clear in law that leaseholders are innocent parties and will not have to pay?
I thank my hon. Friend for his fantastic campaigning on this issue. On the first point, which is linked to his second point, the owners, the freeholders and the responsible figures in charge of these buildings will be held responsible and made responsible for making sure that all the work is done to make these buildings safe. We will table amendments to ensure that, on a statutory basis, we protect leaseholders from having costs passed on unfairly by the owners of the freeholds of these buildings.
When the horror of Grenfell happened, many local authorities such as mine responded immediately by inspecting all buildings and taking action as appropriate, as they should have done. The private sector did not do that for many of our leasehold properties.
I had a very sad conversation with a group of leaseholders a month ago. They are completely stuck. They cannot sell or move, they have expanding families and they are faced with massive bills. Can I go to them tomorrow and say that the Government will underwrite all the costs that they have been threatened with so that they can get their building brought up to standard and, if they wish, sell and move on? Or will there be months and months of delay until the private sector decides not to pay and the Government intervene? I think those leaseholders, like leaseholders all over the country, deserve an immediate answer. They have been through too much stress.
Perhaps for the first time, I am almost wholly in accord with the right hon. Gentleman. Leaseholders deserve speedy action, but I do not want to overpromise. I believe we can rapidly relieve the difficult situation in which his constituents find themselves. I do not think it can be immediate, but I intend to ensure it is as quick as possible.
Please forgive me for making this point, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that many in local government, across parties, were far quicker to respond to this crisis than some in the private sector, which is shaming.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that this whole issue has caused extraordinary misery, anxiety and upset, and I had the opportunity this morning to speak to Jim Illingworth of BrumLAG. He, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) and our friend Jack Dromey have worked closely, and he was clear that he is very grateful for this progress. We are seeing a mixed economy of response, although there are clearly issues of timing and other details, which I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will need to address. I hope that he accepts that he needs to crack the whip on this, but is he not well able to do so?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his point. I had the chance to chat to Jim Illingworth and other cladding campaigners earlier today and he is absolutely right. I know that my right hon. Friend, as a Birmingham MP, is all too well aware of how many people in that great city are affected by this crisis, and I look forward to working with him and others to resolve it as quickly as possible.
A retired teacher in my constituency invested in a property in 2015, but just before Christmas, they were issued with a massive bill for £200,000 for an increase in their costs, and remedial work on their property will cost a possible £9 million. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and the leaseholders to talk about how the policy change will benefit them?
I welcome the statement today and the work that the Minister for Housing has done with colleagues across the House to explain how the policy will go forward, because this has been a nightmare for leaseholders. I have two quick questions. First, if leaseholders have already paid money out, will they get that money back from the freeholders or the developers? Secondly, on the issue of insurance, which was raised earlier, does the Secretary of State realise that even though people are liable for the costs of building insurance, they have no rights at all in the policy? When the situation occurs, they cannot claim against the policy; only the freeholder can do so. That must get changed in the Bill.
There are few people in the House who know as much about fire safety as my right hon. Friend. We will certainly work with him to explore the specific insurance provisions that he mentioned. I cannot, unfortunately—I would not want to mislead him—say that we will be in a position to compensate those who have already contributed. We are seeking to ensure that individuals do not face costs in the future, but again, I will work with colleagues across the House to try to get to the most equitable position possible.
I look forward to seeing the amendments from the Government about how leaseholders will be protected, because my constituents in St Albans, like many others, have had too many false dawns. I want to ask about the Secretary of State’s review of proportionality. In the past, building safety assessors have been chosen because of their willingness to recommend the less expensive safety work, and that has created a race to the bottom. Will he confirm that the BSI guidance will be mandatory for building safety assessors, and will he put protections in place so that assessors do not get away with offering the lightest touch mitigations that they can?
First, I thank the hon. Lady—it is always difficult for me to praise a Liberal Democrat, but she has been campaigning consistently on this issue for some time and has done a great job of bringing to light some of the defects that need to be addressed. It is the case that the BSI work, we believe, will ensure a properly proportionate approach. There are incentives either way—incentives, sometimes, for some to seek to do work on the cheap and for others to exaggerate the scale of the work that may be required to generate business. I hope, however, that a truly proportionate and safe approach will now be followed as a result of the BSI’s work.
I joined this campaign a year or so ago because, as the Secretary of State said in his statement, leaseholders are blameless and it is morally wrong to make them pay. I look forward to seeing this become part of the Bill so that leaseholders know that they will never have to pay. However, let me go back to insurers: not only are they increasing premiums by up to 1,000% for people who cannot really afford the premiums that they were paying before, but insurers are part of the problem. They were indemnifying these developers and underwriting these developments. They are part of the warranty issue and yet, this has not been brought into scope as part of the solution, so will the Secretary of State look again and make sure that insurers have to pay in the way that developers will?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point and his campaigning has been a significant factor in helping us to get to the right, or certainly to a better, position. We want insurers to be part of the solution, as we want everyone to be, and Lord Greenhalgh is doing great work with them. I am sure that there will be an opportunity before too long for me to explain in greater detail, with Lord Greenhalgh, to my hon. Friend and others the progress that we are making, but he is absolutely on the button in pointing out some of the mistakes that have been made that need to be addressed by the insurance sector.
I note that the Secretary of State said he would extend the right of leaseholders to challenge those who cause defects retrospectively for 30 years, but he will be aware that unscrupulous developers such as Mr Jason Alexander in my constituency exploit loopholes in company law with the result that there is no corporate entity to go after because it has been wound up, struck off or stripped of assets. Can he say what work he is doing with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that those loopholes in company law are closed? Can he also tell us whether the obligations that developers will now face as a result of his statement today will take precedence over their other financial obligations?
The hon. Lady makes two important points. On the first point, yes, this has been a feature. I was not fully aware, until I took on this responsibility, of how some within the development industry play fast and loose with the rules and set up special purpose vehicles, shell companies and so on to evade their responsibilities. They exhibit the unacceptable face of capitalism, I am afraid, and she is right to say that work requires to be done to bring them appropriately to account. I will be working with colleagues across Government to do just that.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement today but, like others, I will be awaiting the detail, not least because I was calling for leaseholders to be protected from the cost of cladding when I was a Minister in the Department. So what has happened to change the Government’s mind?
Today the Secretary of State has told us what many all across the House told the Government three years ago—namely, that individual leaseholders trapped in unsafe homes should not have to bear the cost of making them safe. But today’s statement focuses on cladding, whereas the vast majority of leaseholders are suffering in unsafe homes as a result of other insulation and fire stopping defects. How will he address that? He has told the companies to pay up, but many have now gone into voluntary liquidation. We need a windfall tax on the whole industry now. Far too many leaseholders have been waiting for three and half years in purdah. Many of them, like my constituents in Central Square, have been waiting since 31 July even to get a response from the BSF. Can the Secretary of State get his own Department to be a bit more expeditious?
The hon. Gentleman makes a number of important points. Yes, the Department needs to be more expeditious and yes, we are focused on doing just that. Yes, it is important that the freeholders—the ultimate owners—deal with all the fire safety issues and yes, it is absolutely right that, while ACM cladding is the most egregious example of buildings being unsafe, there are many other issues that require to be tackled.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. It is long overdue. Many in my constituency and elsewhere face huge bills, as he knows. The biggest problem is getting the developers to talk to those who have suffered. I spent two years trying to get representatives of Telford Homes to meet the leaseholders, but they have now gone to ground and will not say a word. The Government have been talking about talking to developers for some time now but nothing has come of it, so, with all due respect, how is my right hon. Friend going to drive them—and the insurance companies that insured those that have gone out of business—to meet the leaseholders? Taxes can take time, so what about instantaneous fines?
By any means necessary. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. My preference is, wherever possible, to proceed consensually and to think the best of people. There are undoubtedly many people in the property development sector who have done the right thing and others who hope to do so, but if we need to, we will deploy heavier artillery to ensure that we get the necessary support to those on the frontline.
I welcome the statement, which is certainly a step in the right direction.
There are many tall buildings in my constituency. Some of the issues affecting them, and the costs that they bear, are very complex, and do not involve anything that would be covered today. Two blocks, Longitude and Altitude, have to pay for compartmentalisation, and although Bridge House—which is over 18 metres tall—is cladded, its cladding is not categorised as the right type to qualify for funding under the Government’s scheme. Some of my constituents live in blocks where the developer has gone bust and the freeholder is overseas, and they have a tenuous relationship with the managing agent. It is very difficult to get any information. Can the Secretary of State say something about that wider issue and what can be done about it, and what is his estimate of the cost of making all these buildings safe?
The hon. Lady has made a series of important points. I know that she has already been in touch with the Department, but I want to be more closely in touch with her. Our project team, Operation Apex, are making sure that we can do everything possible to ensure that the ultimate responsible owner is identified and takes on responsibility for the work to which the hon. Lady has correctly drawn attention. I look forward to working more closely with her to address precisely that issue.
I thank my right hon. Friend for standing up for leaseholders, particularly young people who have just got on to the housing ladder. May I ask him to look again at sprinklers as a safety measure? They are required in many countries, and the fact that they are not required here has always perplexed me. I also ask him to ensure that the building materials used for social housing are subject to the necessary level of scrutiny. Developers often use lower-quality materials which create a greater risk to safety, and we need to protect social housing tenants as well.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She was an incredibly hard-working figure in local government in London, where she helped to ensure that the needs of those in social housing were understood. There are specific provisions in the building safety legislation introduced by the Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), to address some of those questions about poor-quality material social housing.
It is right that leaseholders should not be held responsible for the faults of builders in the past, and I therefore welcome the statement. However, given that housing is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, I assume that what we are discussing today will not automatically apply there. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Communities Minister and the Finance Minister—both of whom are responsible for these housing and building regulations issues—given that Sinn Féin seem to take the view that anything that emanates from this place, regardless of how beneficial it is to people to Northern Ireland, is not acceptable?
Those are very fair points. I have written today to Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive and the other devolved Administrations to outline the approach that we propose to take. I will work with Ministers from whatever party—I absolutely take on board the point made by the right hon. Gentleman—to ensure that we get to the right position. I am grateful to the First Minister, Paul Givan, for the support he has given us overall in the run-up to this announcement: it is much appreciated.
Everyone remembers their first visit to Bolton, but on his next visit, will the Secretary of State come with me to Holden Mill in Blackburn Road and Astley Bridge to meet residents and see the progress that has been made on the removal of cladding, but also to discuss with them issues relating to poor build quality and how the Government can fight their corner?
May I add my voice to those who have spoken of the sudden passing of Jack Dromey? He was a truly pleasant and decent person. Let me also convey my condolences to the Mother of the House, and especially to his son, Joe Dromey, who I know very well, and knew especially well when we were councillors together in Lewisham.
Leaseholders are feeling anxious and angry about the delays, and the uncertainty about when the cladding will be removed from buildings and associated safety problems will be dealt with. That includes residents of the Parkside development in my constituency. The developers and the housing association have said that they will start to look at doing the remediation work in the spring, but will provide no absolute guarantee that any costs will not be passed on to the leaseholders. Will the Secretary of State review this case in order to provide the certainty that leaseholders in my constituency so desperately need?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his sheer determination not only to hold people responsible for the wrongdoings they did but to stand up for leaseholders. However, building owners are still dragging their feet, delaying essential remedial works, even though they might be eligible for Government funding. What incentive can he give today to those building owners to complete the works as soon as possible and not put concerns about their own financial liabilities, however theoretical, above the concerns and safety of residents in those blocks?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is certainly the case that many already enlightened owners have done just that. But one thing we are saying today is that ultimately we will ensure in law that it is the ultimate owner of the building that is responsible for that work, so the incentive is to move now for fear of consequences later.
It is good to see the Secretary of State acknowledge the unjust treatment of buildings under 18 metres in particular. However, it appears that what he has outlined will involve a voluntary contribution from developers, which may take a while. The leaseholders in my Vauxhall constituency do not have a while to wait. They are fed up of waiting. It has been four and a half years. They want solutions now. So will he confirm that he absolutely understands the urgency that leaseholders want to see and call on those developers to take action now?
The complexity of this issue has been highlighted by the Secretary of State’s statement and by the questioning. May I challenge him on one point? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) said, thousands of people will have received large bills and many will have paid them. The Secretary of State is saying that he will take statutory powers in the Bill that is coming before us. When will that happen? Once the House has voted on those powers, will that be the operational date for bills not to be presented to leaseholders, or can leaseholders who have refused to pay the bills thus far say, “Thank goodness—I don’t have to pay anything”?
My hon. Friend, who has been a consistent campaigner in this area, makes a very good point. Again, I do not want to make a cast-iron commitment at the Dispatch Box on the operational date, but I will work with him and others as we frame the legislation and ensure that he has access, in so far as it is possible, to the legal advice we have, so that we can stress test it and provide the maximum level of protection.
I have spoken to many leaseholders in my constituency who have struggled with issues around fire safety and cladding and the impact that has had on their mental wellbeing. We raised that issue in the Building Safety Bill Committee and the response was that those people should access mental health support through their GP in the usual way. We know the pressure GPs are under at the moment, so will the Secretary of State bring forward any additional measures in the light of his statement to support leaseholders’ mental health?
It is the case that some leaseholders face additional vulnerabilities. Some have had mental health problems and other leaseholders living with disabilities have particular problems. It is important that we develop a comprehensive package for all, so I will look into that.
I welcome the announcement and thank my right hon. Friend for listening to leaseholders who have faced the prospect of bankruptcy because of defects that needed to be put right. In confirming that he will keep in mind that other defects may come to light when cladding is removed, will he commit to looking at that and ensuring that the bodies responsible for the cladding crisis cannot find a place to hide and will be pursued to pay for it?
Absolutely. I totally agree with my hon. Friend that we need to take all means to pursue those who are ultimately responsible. We also need to recognise that, exactly as she said, when remediation work is undertaken, sometimes other flaws are revealed, and they need to be addressed.
I associate myself with all the comments that have been made about my colleague, Jack Dromey.
I welcome the steps forward that we take every time a Secretary of State comes to the House and makes a statement, but it is the steps backwards that we make after those statements that are causing me problems. I have a property in my constituency that is about 18 metres high. The residents have done their own survey and say that it is over 18 metres. The management agency says that it is over 18 metres and should therefore qualify for the building safety fund. These issues though are difficult to resolve. Meanwhile, the residents have been paying out £28,000 a month for waking watch for nearly four years. How retrospective will these measures be? Will my constituents be compensated for what they have unfairly had to pay out? It would have been far cheaper to put in a fire alarm system than to continue paying waking watch. Will we see an end to the EWS1 forms or will RICS come back at us and say that we cannot possibly do that, as it has done before?
I can totally understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) pointed out, and as the hon. Gentleman’s question lays bare, there is a complex set of inter-related problems. We are making money available to ensure that we can get rid of waking watch in all save a very few circumstances. I recognise that there are people who have faced costs so far, but it depends on individual circumstances as to whether or not—depending on the ultimate owner of the building—they can receive compensation. I do not want to make any guarantees about that in a blanket way today.
On EWS1 forms, we can dramatically reduce their use as a result of the engagement that we have with lenders and with RICS. Again, it will still be the case that, in the meantime—even as we get a more proportionate approach—there will be some 11-to-18 metre buildings where work of that kind will be required, but we absolutely want to reduce it.
I welcome the commitment of the Secretary of State to hold to account those responsible for this. It is morally wrong that leaseholders should foot the bill. I know that this announcement and this progress will be welcomed by residents of Vizion apartments in Milton Keynes as well as by thousands and thousands of others across the country. Can he confirm that this means that the Government are accepting the principle of polluter pays in this instance? How confident is he that the cowboys will cough up without additional taxation?
We do accept that principle, and we will do everything that we can to round up the wrong ‘uns. I do recognise, none the less, that we are dealing with some individuals who have behaved unscrupulously in the past and who will do everything to evade their responsibilities, which is why we need tax as a backstop.
There are many Welsh victims of this particular scandal, including in my own Arfon constituency and elsewhere in Wales, as I am sure the Secretary of State will be hearing about. I am very much in favour of holding the industry to account, but I have to tell him that long experience of trying to hold the cavity wall insulation industry to account, albeit as a Back Bencher, has not been encouraging, so I wish all power to his elbow on that matter. I was glad to hear him say that he will be working with the Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Can his officials look at the issue of companies that work from England and are subject to its strictures, but that also work in Wales, as that might be a complicating factor?
I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement, but I gently remind him that those who have worked hardest on this issue are Conservative Members supporting their constituents. Two in particular—my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland)—have worked incredibly hard on this issue. Will the Secretary of State confirm that no leaseholder—living in the building or not—living in a building of 11 metres or lower, or having problems with external or internal building defects, will pay any costs whatever?
My hon. Friend makes an important point and allows me to place on the record my thanks to my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland). I completely agree that their campaigning has been incredibly important. It is our intention that the ultimate owner of a building is responsible for all of the safety steps that are required, and we will use statutory means in order to ensure that that happens. That is what we will seek to do with the help of colleagues across the House.
I, too, welcome the statement’s commitment to leaseholders and the fact that it puts businesses on notice, giving them the chance to do the right thing. When will the deadline be up for that chance to do the right thing? Without it, we could just be kicking the can down the road. Leaseholders in Putney will want to know when they can expect to be able to sell their homes and to move on. Will there be a Government guarantee—a letter or similar that they can use with estate agents and others—so that they can move on with their lives? Finally, residents in a Putney building of just under 11 metres have been given a bill of £1 million for remediation. Will they be covered by this?
I will look at the specific case of the building of just under 11 metres that the hon. Lady mentions. More broadly, I would absolutely love to be able to provide people with reassurance that from tomorrow the cloud will be lifted, but as a number of Members have pointed out, there is a complex set of interrelated problems. I believe that we have a means of dealing with them all, and I also appreciate that we need to move at speed. I will come back to the House before Easter with an update on the measures we have taken. I will work with colleagues across the House in order to ensure that we have the right statutory underpinning. Again, I want to confirm that we require everything to go right in order to be able to help everyone who is currently facing difficulties. We will do everything we can. I hope the hon. Lady will appreciate that I would not want at this stage to provide an absolute guarantee for people whose specific circumstances I am not yet familiar with.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, which I very much welcome, and I am incredibly grateful to his Ministers for the time they have spent listening to my concerns and those of residents of The Wharf in my constituency. They have suffered from a lack of transparency and clarity on the work required and whether it needs to be done. As we speak, the management company, Y&Y, is applying to the tier 1 tribunal for costs. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give my constituents, who are very concerned about any outcome that would leave them with bills of between £10,000 and £20,000, payable within the next six months?
Absolutely the intention of today’s statement is to try to address the concerns raised so powerfully by my hon. Friend on behalf of constituents who face those imminent bills. I am really grateful to her for drawing attention to the immensely hard work being done by Ministers in the Department. The Minister for Housing, Lord Greenhalgh and the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), who has responsibility for rough sleeping, have all been working incredibly hard to engage with colleagues across the House and with others in order to try to move this forward. It has been a collective effort and I am very grateful to my colleagues for that.
It is four and a half years since Grenfell. The Secretary of State has made clear today that the Government have failed to solve the problem, but he then said that his chief action has been to write a letter to developers to ask them to come along to a meeting. That is simply not good enough for the thousands of leaseholders affected in Southwark. The biggest threat in this statement is to allow the backdating of action against those who have installed unsafe products over 30 years, but it is leaseholders who will be forced to take on the legal and other burdens involved, including the fees. Will the Secretary of State therefore amend the Building Safety Bill to finally clarify responsibility and load the burden where it belongs—on the developers, builders and manufacturers—so as to properly protect leaseholders, as Ministers have promised multiple times but which today’s statement fails to deliver?
The proposals that the hon. Member enjoins on me are the ones that we are seeking to bring forward. However, in fairness to the hon. Member, for whom I have a great deal of respect—he is a courageous and doughty campaigner—I can understand a degree of cynicism and/or scepticism, given some of the missteps we have had in the past. If we manage to make progress along the lines that he has outlined, I hope that he will be in a position then to say that his worst fears were not realised. I think it is perfectly legitimate for him, at this stage, to want to see the colour of other people’s money.
Morello Quarter in my constituency has issues not only with cladding but with other building defects such as the apparent lack of firebreaks. Will my right hon. Friend include those in the scope of the measures, or should I go back to my residents and tell them to pursue legal action against the developers, who do not want to engage with me or with them, to try to get a resolution and certainty?
It is our intention to ensure that those who are ultimately responsible—the ultimate owners of the freehold or the real owners of the building—pay in order to make it safe, but I will look specifically at the example that my hon. Friend raises to ensure that we can do everything we can to provide his constituents with the reassurance they deserve.