[Relevant documents: Seventh Report of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Session 2019-21, Cladding remediation—Follow-up, HC 1249, Fifth Report of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Session 2019-21, Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Building Safety Bill, HC 466, and the Government Response, CP 473, Second Report of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Session 2019-21, Cladding: progress of remediation, HC 172, and the Government Response, CP 281, Letter from the Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee to the Minister for Building Safety and Communities regarding the Government’s response to the Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of the Building Safety Bill, dated 19 July 2021.]
Before I call the Secretary of State to move the Second Reading motion, the House will not be surprised to hear that there will be an initial time limit on Back-Bench speeches of four minutes, which is likely to reduce later in the day. I say that so that Members can cut out the middle pages of their speeches. I call Secretary of State Robert Jenrick.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Today marks the next significant step on our path to a robust but proportionate building safety regime that delivers high standards of safety for people’s homes, particularly those that are high rise, while providing reassurance to leaseholders, residents and the market that the vast majority of homes in this country are safe. In February, I announced our five-point plan to support leaseholders and address building safety issues: a plan to remove unsafe cladding where it is necessary and proportionate to do so; to provide certainty to leaseholders in the significant minority of buildings that require works; to make industry pay its fair share for its failures and poor practices and ensure a change in the broader culture and attitude of the industry to quality and safety; to create a world-class building safety regime; and to inject confidence and certainty into this part of the housing market, which has been suffering from market failure, with significant detrimental effects for many homeowners across the land.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will do so in a moment, and I will also give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox).
The Bill delivers on our promise to create that world-class building safety regime, but one that is sensible and proportionate, reflecting the true level of risk that living in these buildings poses and thereby safeguarding the broader interests of homeowners and residents.
Today I will set out the key measures in the Bill and update the House on the progress of our plan, including providing further detail on a written ministerial statement that I have just published, representing a significant intervention by the Government and lenders in response to expert advice on building safety in medium and low-rise blocks of flats and the use of EWS1 forms that I commissioned earlier in the year.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that we have to get away from the term “cladding” as a generic issue and start to focus on genuine fire risk? There is a real danger of us creating unnecessary anxiety and cost where there is little or no increase in fire risk and, what is worse, using taxpayers’ money to remedy non-fire risks that should be the responsibility of the building industry.
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. That is exactly the approach that we now need to follow as a country. I hope that the written ministerial statement, which I will come on to explain in a moment, will provide further reassurance to him.
I note the provisions in the Bill for working with the Welsh Government on the levy, the charges and so on, but it is my understanding—I have checked with them today—that the Secretary of State and the Treasury have yet to confirm to the Welsh Government, despite repeated requests, what the consequential will be of the funding announcement that he made many months ago? My residents are deeply concerned, and until the Welsh Government have clarity on the money they are going to get from the UK Government, they cannot proceed with their own building safety fund to deal with these many issues.
I understand the important point that the hon. Gentleman raises. That is really a matter to be directed to my right hon Friends the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which is responsible for the management of the Barnett consequentials. I would just point out—this is not a criticism of the hon. Gentleman, who is understandably standing up for his constituents—that the Welsh Government have yet to bring forward a scheme that would use the funding they have already been given by the United Kingdom Government. I appreciate that they would always like to have further funding, but they have not yet spent the money that the Government have already given them.
After the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, the Government appointed Dame Judith Hackitt to review the current building safety regime and to recommend reform. Her findings were clear. Too often, regulations and guidance were misunderstood or misinterpreted. There was ambiguity around who is actually responsible for the safety of buildings, with insufficient oversight and enforcement. She called for an overhaul of the system, and her recommendations underpin the Bill before this House. We have tested these measures through consultation with industry, with regulators, with local government and with the public, and we have also taken on board many of the recommendations made following scrutiny of the Bill by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. I am grateful to the Select Committee for the work that—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I just wondered if I could get your advice. Is it normal practice that, moments before an important debate with dozens of Members down to speak, the Minister lays a ministerial statement about the matter before us that is not yet online so none of us is able to see it, therefore avoiding any scrutiny of the said ministerial statement? Is that in order, Madam Deputy Speaker?
I am sure that it is in order, and that is the question that the hon. Lady is asking me as the Chair. It is in order for the Minister to lay a written statement when he decides it is the right time to do that, but if there is a question of information that the hon. Lady is suggesting ought to be before the House in order to inform Members about the Bill that is before us now, I cannot make a judgment because I do not know what is in that statement. However, if the Secretary of State would care to answer that point, it might help the House.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. All the documents that are relevant to this debate on Second Reading of the Bill are on the Table except the written ministerial statement that the Secretary of State has just referred to. For some of us who have been in the Chamber for some hours now, I am sorry, Secretary of State, but that is not acceptable.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have just been out to the Table Office and they have no copy of the statement. There is a notice of a statement coming entitled “Housing Update”, but it is yet to be provided to them or online, so Members are unable to get hold of the important information the Secretary of State has just referred to.
I would be delighted to, Madam Deputy Speaker. A written ministerial statement will be laid shortly, which is market-sensitive. It is difficult to suggest that there is no scrutiny, because I am here before the House to explain that statement in the context of the wider debate. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) will give me a few moments, I will be very happy to set out, in the remarks I am about to make, exactly what we have agreed with lenders and the position we have come to.
Order. The Secretary of State has explained that the reason for the specific timing of the laying of the statement is that it is market-sensitive. If the Secretary of State says it is market-sensitive then I accept that it is market-sensitive. I trust that it will be available very shortly?
Very shortly. I am quite sure that we will be able to facilitate Members holding the Secretary of State to account for the contents of that written statement when it becomes available, because he is here in the Chamber. I trust that it will become available before the Secretary of State concludes his opening remarks.
Absolutely. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I chose to make the statement directly to the House of Commons and I will come on in a moment to set out the contents of it. The written ministerial statement merely summarises that.
In the actions we have taken and those we take today, we have always prioritised public safety. As I said earlier, the Bill before us will create a strong regulatory regime for all new high-rise buildings. However, it is also important that we put the risk of a fire, and in particular the risk of a fatal fire, into context. It is very low for all buildings of all heights. Dwelling fires have reduced by more than a quarter over the last decade and are now at an all-time low. It is right that we address safety issues where they exist and are a threat to life, but we must do so in a proportionate way guided by expert advice. That is why, through the Bill, we are drawing a very clear line at 18 metres for the enhanced regulatory regime. That is on the advice of building and fire experts that those are the buildings that pose the greatest safety risks in the event of fire spread or structural failure, albeit even there the risk should not be overstated given the low occurrence of fires and the even lower occurrence of fatalities. We are also including hospitals and care homes that meet the height threshold during their design and construction.
The Secretary of State mentioned discussions with the industry. What can he say to companies in the Glasgow South West constituency, such as Bell Building Projects Ltd, that cannot get the appropriate indemnity insurance because insurance companies will not provide it? That company specialises in cladding. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with insurance companies to enable that company to do cladding across the UK?
I have been working intensively with those in the insurance sector and it is incumbent on them to bring forward products. We do not believe that it is the role of the state to step in and correct the market failure in its totality, but we are bringing forward a product—I will say something more about this later in my remarks—with particular reference to professional indemnity insurance for those assessors who are conducting EWS1 forms or equivalent. That is designed to give them the confidence to take the most proportionate risk-based approach to those assessments, which some are not able to do today.
I spoke to the Secretary of State beforehand. The charity Electrical Safety First, which promotes sustainable electrical safety, was brought to my attention, and probably to that of a few others in this House. It states that 54% of electrical fires are caused by an electrical source of ignition. Has the Secretary of State had the chance to speak to the Electrical Safety First charity to ensure safety is paramount in the Bill? If not, could he come back to me on that, please?
I would be happy to speak to the organisation the hon. Member refers to or ensure that my officials do so if they have not done so already. Of course, we take the risk of electrical fires very seriously, and the Government have taken a number of steps, particularly in the private rental sector, to ensure higher standards than there are today.
I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He made the point a moment ago that the risk of a fatal fire is very low. Can he therefore explain why thousands and thousands of leaseholders are paying for expensive waking watches, having been told by their local fire services that, unless there is a waking watch, the building will be closed down and all of them will have to leave? There is a clear contradiction between those two positions.
I think the right hon Gentleman makes an important point, and that is one element of the market failure we are seeing today. Waking watches are being used excessively. They can be rip-offs and, in many cases, they can be replaced by modern fire alarms. That is why I created the waking watch relief fund last year, which is assisting with the issue, but has not closed it down entirely. The National Fire Chiefs Council has now produced further guidance, which essentially says that waking watches should be used only in the most exceptional of circumstances, and where they are used, they should be used only for short periods. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is taking forward that work with fire and rescue services, and I would like to see most waking watches, barring the most exceptional of circumstances, brought to a close as quickly as possible.
The Bill will deliver improvements across the entire built environment. It will strengthen oversight and protections for residents in high-rise buildings. It will give those residents a greater say and will toughen sanctions against those who threaten safety. Its focus on risk will help owners to manage their buildings better, while giving the home building industry the clear, proportionate framework it needs to deliver more high-quality homes.
I will make some progress, if I may, but I will return to the hon. Lady.
While strengthening fire safety requirements in all premises regulated by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and improving competence and oversight generally, the Bill rightly focuses the new more stringent requirements on those buildings and those issues that pose the greatest risk. It provides a framework to ensure that, during design and construction, defined duty holders have clear responsibilities and that compliance with building regulations occurs. They will have to clear a series of hard stops through the new gateway system for in-scope buildings. In occupation, every building in scope will have an identified accountable person with clear responsibility for safety matters. Importantly, it will be a criminal offence not to carry out these duties effectively, punishable by an unlimited fine and up to two years in prison.
If we are truly to build a world-class regime, then residents must be at its heart. That is why, as well as championing social housing residents through the social housing charter that I created last year, we are giving residents a stronger voice in the system through the Bill, making it easier for them to seek redress and to have their voices heard. The Bill will require an accountable person for a high-rise residential building to engage with their residents and establish a formal complaints process for residents to raise concerns.
These measures are strong, but fair, and they will be overseen by the new building safety regulator within the Health and Safety Executive. The regulator will be equipped with robust powers to crack down on substandard practices, and as I said earlier, it will ensure that proportionality is embedded within its operations.
Dame Judith’s review pointed to an industry that needed significant culture and regulatory change to be fit for purpose, and I am sure I am not the only Member who has been shocked by the recent testimony at the Grenfell inquiry. This has exposed a corrosive culture of corner cutting and at times a cavalier attitude to building safety. We await the findings of the inquiry, and indeed whether criminal proceedings will follow.
The Bill creates powers to strengthen regulatory oversight for firms that manufacture and sell construction products, overseen by the new national regulator for construction products. Crucially, the Bill will have powers to remove unsafe construction products from the market swiftly and to take action against those who break the rules.
Our new regime will help those living in high-rise residential buildings to raise these issues, but we need to expand legal safeguards for everybody, regardless of the type of property they live in. We are strengthening redress for people buying a new build home, through provisions for the new homes ombudsman, which will provide dispute resolution and resolve complaints involving buyers and developers. As Members of Parliament, we all know of examples of shoddy workmanship by developers and of cases where complaints about things ranging from snagging to much more serious issues have not been properly addressed. There will now be a forum where these issues can be settled and consumers provided with the outcome they deserve when making the biggest investment in their lives.
I thank the Secretary of State for the kind words he said about the Select Committee’s scrutiny of the legislation. On the new homes ombudsman, many of us have been shocked by what we have seen from developers of new housing and the cavalier attitude they have towards their developments. Will he confirm that the new homes ombudsman will have the powers to deal with the appalling practice of non-disclosure agreements which some people have been asked to sign in order to get builders who have not built their homes properly to put that right? Will he consider going a step further and requiring the builders of new homes which have faults to put right all similar faults in other homes, just as a car manufacturer would have to do?
Those are two important points. I would like to see the new homes ombudsman be able to take the kind of action that the hon. Gentleman describes. I will have to revert to him on whether the powers exactly allow that. If they do not, that is the kind of issue we should progress during the passage of the Bill. I give way to the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and apologise for keeping her waiting.
Returning to the issue of waking watch and risk, London now has 900 waking watches, with the number having risen significantly. The London Fire Brigade says that there remain a number of buildings under 18 metres, or seven storeys, that in its view present equal or greater risks than those currently in scope. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether he believes that the LFB is wrong?
As I understand it—I stand to be corrected if I have the wrong information—the 900 figure that the hon. Lady cites was a misinterpretation of the figures that were released earlier. None the less, the actual number is significant, albeit fewer than 900. We want to see waking watches used only in cases where they are absolutely necessary. The recent statement from the National Fire Chiefs Council has suggested that they are being used too often and that they can be reduced significantly. If she has constituents in that situation, as I am sure she does, in the first instance I would recommend that they make use of the waking watch relief fund to install a fire alarm, which can cut the costs very considerably.
This Bill takes an unusual step of retrospectively extending the period during which compensation for defective premises can be claimed—it more than doubles the current period, from six to 15 years. This significant step forward was requested and campaigned for by groups impacted by the cladding issue. We are going further, expanding the scope of the work for which compensation can be claimed also to include future major renovation work to buildings. These measures will not help everyone, but they do provide a step change in redress for raising issues. I hope that, in time, builders will extend their warranties to cover this period and provide the maximum amount of confidence to house purchasers.
While my right hon. Friend is considering this point about the extension, will he please consider the point made by Robert Ayling, at Grosvenor Waterside, that the Building Act 1984 provision should be extended to six years after the plaintiff is aware of the defect? I am not asking for an instant answer, but such a measure would help to deal with the current situation very well.
I will give that further thought and revert to my hon. Friend on it.
It was clear after the fire at Grenfell Tower that action was required to address safety concerns with respect to existing buildings, and my predecessors rightly took a safety-first approach, as I have also tried to do. We have provided expert advice and accelerated inspections of all high-rise buildings, and that work continues, with substantial progress having been made by the National Fire Chiefs Council on the building risk review, which is likely to be concluded by the end of the year. We have provided £5 billion in grant funding to carry out vital remediation work targeted at the buildings we know to be at the greatest risk from fire spread—those over 18 metres—and we have banned the use of combustible materials on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings, providing industry with a clear standard for the construction of new builds.
Some 474 buildings have been identified as having Grenfell-type ACM—aluminium composite material—cladding. We are now well on the way to remediating all of those buildings. Over 95% of the buildings identified at the beginning of last year have either completed or started remediation work; 70% of those have now been fully remediated, and that is rising every week. That means that around 16,000 homes have been fully remediated of unsafe ACM cladding, an increase of around 4,000 since the end of last year. Despite many building owners failing to provide adequate basic information, almost 700 buildings with other types of unsafe cladding are proceeding with a full application to the building safety fund. We have already allocated £540 million, which means that owners of 60,000 homes within high-rise blocks can be reassured that their remediation will be fully funded.
We currently forecast that over 1,000 buildings with non-ACM unsafe cladding will receive support of the same form through the building safety fund, providing a guide to the cohort of high-rise buildings where remediation is actually required. That is being progressed by a dedicated team in my Department and our two delivery partners, Homes England and the Greater London Authority. The Government have played their part: the unprecedented £5.1 billion we are providing gives assurance to leaseholders in eligible buildings that unsafe cladding on their blocks will be replaced at no cost to them.
I know that there will be strong feelings across the House about industry needing to fix and pay its fair share for problems that is has helped to cause. I recognise that some house builders have stepped up, too, thus far committing over £500 million for remediation since my statement in February. But some have not stepped up, or at least not in the way I expect them to. Ballymore, for example, has yet to commit to fully funding the remediation of its buildings.
The industry needs to go further. That is why we are introducing a new levy on high-rise residential buildings. We have published today a consultation document on the levy and I welcome views from all interested parties on its design. The levy will sit alongside a tax being developed by the Chancellor to raise at least £2 billion to contribute to the costs of historical remediation. This Bill also introduces the building safety charge to provide residents with clarity and certainty on the costs of building works, and we have listened and ensured that that charge only includes the cost of management of building safety in their building.
As I said at the outset, in bringing forward this new building safety regime we need to take a sensible, proportionate approach driven by expert advice. The Bill ensures that the building safety regulator will regulate in line with best practice principles, be proportionate and transparent, and ensure that the interests of leaseholders are protected. In 2020, only 9% of fires were in flats of four storeys or more. In 2019-20, only 7% of fires spread beyond the room of origin in such buildings. And, while every death is of course tragic, thankfully only 10 people died in 2020 as a result of a dwelling fire in flats of four storeys or more. We strongly believe that our proportionate approach is in line with these facts, ensuring that remediation works are undertaken only where absolutely required, and leaseholders should not be landed with bills for unnecessary work.
Unfortunately, that is not the position today and we need a significant reset. Too many people living in lower and medium-rise buildings have told us of feeling trapped in their properties, held back from selling their homes because of excessive caution in the lending, surveying, insurance and fire risk assessment markets. Understandably, this has caused residents to worry over safety and has led to unnecessary costs. I want to be clear that the vast majority of residents in all homes in this country, including blocks of flats, should not feel unsafe. Driven by these concerns, earlier this year I asked a small group of experts on fire safety to consider the evidence and advise me on the steps that should be taken to ensure a proportionate, risk-based approach to fire safety in blocks of flats. I thank them for their time and their expert advice, which I will publish later today.
The key finding of the experts’ advice is clear: we cannot and should not presume systemic risk of fire in blocks of flats. I quoted some of the statistics earlier, but let me repeat them. Dwelling fires are at the lowest point that they have been since we started to collect comparable statistics in 1981, despite the fact that in 2020 people spent significantly greater amounts of time in their homes as a result of covid restrictions. On that basis, the expert advice includes five significant recommendations to correct the disproportionate reaction that we have seen in some parts of the market. First, EWS1 forms should not be a requirement on buildings of less than 18 metres.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
If I may, I will finish this point. I am also conscious of time, as many Members want to contribute to the debate.
Secondly, in the small number of cases where there are known to be concerns, these should be addressed primarily through risk management and mitigation.
Thirdly, there should be a clear route for residents and leaseholders to challenge costly remediation work, and to seek assurance that proposals are indeed proportionate and cost-effective.
Fourthly, the Government should work with the shadow building safety regulator to consider how to implement an audit process to check that fire risk assessments are following guidelines and not perpetuating the risk aversion that we are witnessing and which in some instances are taking unnecessary costs to leaseholders.
Finally, fire risk assessors and lenders should not presume that there is significant risk to life unless there is credible evidence to support that. This will ensure that they only respond to the evidence and adopt a far more proportionate and balanced approach.
This advice is supported by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Institution of Fire Engineers. The Government support and will act on the recommendations. Delivering real change for leaseholders requires a concerted effort from all those actively involved in the market. The Government have in recent weeks been working intensively with lenders, valuers and fire experts in this regard. We welcome the expert advice and support the position that EWS1s should not be needed for buildings of less than 18 metres.
I am pleased that all major lenders have today welcomed this advice, with Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and others agreeing that the expert advice and Government statement should pave the way for EWS1 forms no longer to be required for buildings below 18 metres, which will further unlock the housing market.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will not.
I am extremely grateful to those in industry who have already engaged and shown the necessary leadership. This is a highly complex issue, but the Prime Minister and I expect that the appropriate next steps will be taken expediently. The market is shaped not only by the Government but by lenders, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the fire and rescue service, and fire experts. All of us need to act to achieve a market correction and relieve the pressure on homeowners. There can be no bystanders in this action. I am hopeful that other lenders will follow soon, and that RICS will rapidly reflect on the expert advice and update its guidance accordingly. This concerted cross-market approach will open up the housing market for the remaining affected leaseholders.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I regret to have to raise this matter as a point of order, but the written statement that the Secretary of State has laid makes no clarification about whether this approach applies to England only, to England and Wales, or indeed to the whole UK. Given that it is UK-wide and market-sensitive—there are many leaseholders who will be concerned in all parts of the UK—and given that it applies to UK-wide lenders, with significant financial implications, how can I get an answer from the Secretary of State for the leaseholders who will be watching this debate in other parts of the United Kingdom? It would be very helpful if the Secretary of State could just confirm that point or if he would take a simple intervention to clarify it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what I consider to be properly a point of order. The Secretary of State has most courteously explained to the House that the statement that is now forthcoming is market sensitive. I have had a chance to glance at it and I understand that it is indeed market sensitive, so I can understand, and I think the whole House will now understand, why the Secretary of State issued it at the point that he did.
I have to say to the House that there seems to have been some delay in the Vote Office and in the workings of the House, and for that, on behalf of the House authorities, I apologise to Members and to the Secretary of State. I thank the Opposition Whips for giving me a copy, since nobody else did—
I am still finishing my response to the point of order, Sir Peter.
I think there are some points in the statement that the Secretary of State will wish to clarify. I am not putting a time constraint on him, as I normally would, for finishing his Second Reading speech, because in addition to that speech it would be appropriate for him to take two or three questions on his written statement.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The written statement has the number HCWS228; an online search brings up one with a similar number from January 2015. Could the House authorities see whether they can get the statement online so that those Members who are participating virtually also have the chance to read it?
I shall come to the hon. Gentleman, but in answer to the question posed by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), my domain as Secretary of State on these matters is within England, but of course the lenders will apply practices at their discretion throughout the whole United Kingdom, so I think his question is probably better directed to the lenders who, following this announcement, will no doubt set out in the coming days how they intend to amend their lending practices in different parts of the United Kingdom. I do not think it is for me to explain the lending practices that they choose to adopt, other than in respect of the quotations that the lenders have given, which I believe will be published later today.
I shall take an intervention from the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) and then, if I may, I will conclude my remarks.
This is a very significant statement, and it is difficult to read it quickly and grasp it, but it says that EWS1 forms
“should not be needed for buildings less than 18m. This position is a significant step and one supported by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Institute of Fire Engineers.”
That is a significant step, so will the Secretary of State explain, if the form is not necessary for those buildings, whether he is saying that, in effect, apart from cladding removal, significant remediation works are not necessary on buildings below 18 metres? Is that what the Government are saying? Because that is a major step in this debate and the House needs a lot more explanation.
The expert advice that I commissioned has concluded that there is no systemic risk to life from purpose-built flats in this country and in particular—this was the question that I asked of the experts—from those flats that are low and medium-rise, meaning those of 11 to 18 metres. The experts’ advice, following on from that, is that they do not see a need for lenders to ask for EWS1 forms in the ordinary course of business. They also recommend that fire risk assessments are conducted in the usual compliance cycle, rather than on demand, in order to satisfy a market transaction such as purchasing or remortgaging a property. They do not conclude—as one would not expect them to do—that all buildings below 18 metres are safe. One can never say that, and there will be buildings that need remediation below that level, but because there is no systemic risk and the number of buildings is likely to be very small, it is not appropriate, in their opinion, which the Government have accepted, that lenders and other parties in the market should act as if there was a widespread and systemic issue. That is a subtle but important change of tone and one that I hope will lead—the initial support of the lenders suggests that this will happen—to a significantly different housing market.
On first reading, there are bits of this written ministerial statement that are very welcome, but it raises many questions. I put on record my regret that we have only had this chance to digest it. The Public Accounts Committee and our sister Committee, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, have been looking at this issue, along with hon. Members in this House for several years. We have been making recommendations along these lines. Our constituents have been paying for safety works and dealing with the fear and anguish created by the very issues that our Committees have raised as problems. What the Secretary of State has come to the House with is a start, but why so late, when this issue has been raised by Members of this House and the Select Committee corridor for some time? I am just puzzled by the late timing.
I do not agree with the hon. Lady in this regard. In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, advice was published by Government that sought to provide information to the market where there was a significant absence of expert opinion. The market in the years since then has reacted and taken what I have described as a safety-first approach.
In more recent times we have seen—Dame Judith Hackitt, our expert adviser, has used these words herself recently—extreme risk aversion, and that is leading to fear and anxiety above all for members of the public who have a sense of risk with respect to their homes that is not borne out by the evidence in terms of the number of fires or the likelihood of dying in a fire in a high-rise or a purpose-built flat. Secondly, that risk aversion is leading to other market participants, whether lenders, insurers, surveyors or assessors, seeking remediation of those buildings over and above what might seem to be absolutely necessary to achieve an acceptable level of life safety.
Earlier this year, as I have set out in my remarks today—Members will see this in the written ministerial statement, which merely summarises what I have already said to the House directly in somewhat more detail, which is why I chose to say it to the House directly, rather than simply via written ministerial statement—I asked a series of experts to conduct a serious review and analysis of this issue and to present their findings to me. That is what they have done today, and we are publishing them later. We have chosen to accept those and have worked very closely with as many market participants as we could, bearing in mind the market sensitivity of the issue.
I am pleased that a large number of those organisations have welcomed this step and have chosen in one form or another to support it. I do not want to overstate that, because this is a highly complex market and the Government are merely one player within it. It will now require all market participants to think carefully about what the consequences are for their own practices and organisations. I hope that in time they will strongly support the Government’s position, and that this will lead to a significant market correction to the benefit of all our constituents and the whole country.
I will conclude my remarks simply by noting a few other points within the written ministerial statement. With the Health and Safety Executive, we will explore ways to deliver a fire risk assessment audit process that ensures assessments are carried out in a risk-proportionate way, avoiding unnecessary and costly remediation works where they are absolutely not needed. We will explore options to provide a clear route for residents and leaseholders to challenge costly remediation work. That will be progressed alongside the steps we are taking to ensure a proportionate response to risk is embedded in the market, including: developing guidelines for fire risk assessors, such as, and principally, PAS 9980 and the withdrawal of the consolidated advice note; and launching a Government-backed professional indemnity insurance scheme for qualified professionals conducting external wall system fire risk assessments to help ensure there is sufficient capacity in the market to allow EWS1 forms to be completed in a timely manner, where they are necessary, and that those conducting them feel the confidence and security to be able to do so in the most sensible and proportionate manner.
Taken together, all these measures should provide a measure of reassurance to the market and to those living in blocks of flats of any height. I am hopeful that they will have a significant impact, but of course much depends on the willingness of the other market participants to show leadership and commitment and to work together through these complex challenges.
The fire at Grenfell tower was a terrible tragedy, and those who lost loved ones remain in our thoughts. The issues that became clear following the tragedy are multifaceted, and so our response must be as well. It is clear that the actions we have taken and will continue to take, and the world-class building safety regime delivered by this Bill, should deliver a robust but proportionate regime, meaning that people in this country should never feel unsafe in their home.
I commend this Bill to the House.
Before I call the shadow Secretary of State, and further to the point of order from the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), the written ministerial statement is now available on the House papers app, and it will very shortly be available on the Parliament website. I hope that means Members who are participating virtually will be able to access it. Again, I apologise on behalf of the House authorities for the shambles after the statement was put in the Vote Office, because it was not then distributed properly here in the Chamber. We cannot blame the Secretary of State for that, as I appreciate the timing was because of market sensitivity.
As I requested that the Secretary of State stay at the Dispatch Box rather longer in order to take points specifically on the statement, he has, of course, made a much longer speech than one would have anticipated and, therefore, the time limit for Back-Bench speeches will be not four minutes but three minutes. I hope Members feel that many of them have already had a chance to ask pertinent questions of the Secretary of State.
I do not think the shambles lies with the House authorities. I am afraid the shambles lies with the Secretary of State. It is just not acceptable. I think it is a contempt of this place that we are given a ministerial statement and a new announcement in his speech that are totally relevant to this Bill and the topics we are discussing today.
Members on both sides of the House have spent weeks scrutinising the Bill, scrutinising what it means and preparing what they are going to say in response, and then they are given this piece of paper halfway through the Secretary of State’s speech. Madam Deputy Speaker says that this is market sensitive. Maybe I am naive about these things, but I do not understand what is market sensitive at 3.10 pm or 2.30 pm that is not market sensitive at 3.30 pm. I thought the markets closed at 4.30 pm, but maybe I have that wrong.
I will come on to some of the things in the Secretary of State’s statement shortly, but I will make some progress because, not only has his shambles now made it hard for Members to properly scrutinise the Bill, but it has cut their time. He has probably lost a lot of friends on both sides of the House in the process.
The starting point of this Bill and of our debate today is the awful tragedy at Grenfell tower. Again, we remember the 72 lives lost and stand with the families, friends and community of Grenfell who are campaigning for change. I also put on record my admiration and awe, as homeowners and tenants across the country are dealing every day with the building safety scandal that engulfs our towns and cities. Their tireless campaigning under such very difficult circumstances is beyond impressive.
Of course, people had been ringing the bell about building safety long before Grenfell, including the residents themselves. By 2017, the Government already had two coroners’ reports on previous fires that called for reform, yet they did not act. In the wake of Grenfell, the Government commissioned a review of building regulations, the Hackitt review, and this Bill implements her recommendations. Given that her final report was published more than three years ago, why has it taken so long for this Bill to reach us?
The Hackitt report is damning, finding that the entire system is not fit for purpose. She concludes:
“The ultimate test of this new framework will be the rebuilding of…confidence in the system. The people who matter most in all of this are the residents of these buildings.”
Dame Judith’s conclusion is the test against which the Bill, and now the new ministerial statement, must be set.
It is far too simple and wrong to say that all this is the fault of “shoddy developers”, as the Government have recently asserted. The tragedy at Grenfell, the fires before and the near misses since have happened as a result of many years of deregulation, lack of enforcement and accountability, and a culture where sign-off and inspection can be bought. These issues have been brought to light in the shocking evidence heard by the Grenfell inquiry, which is ongoing.
We support the majority of what is in this Bill, which at last strengthens regulation of high-rise buildings, although it could go further. However, we have serious concerns about what is not in the Bill. It abandons those leaseholders already trapped in the building safety crisis and we will seek every avenue to provide the cast-iron legal guarantees that have long been promised.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation that leaseholders find themselves in compounds their ongoing and awful situation? They find themselves without leverage, with service charges that are often unjustified and with difficulty getting resolution for them. This has created much more uncertainty, stress and anxiety for hundreds of thousands of families across the country.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Leaseholders have very little recourse and, from the announcements today, their passage of recourse remains incredibly uncertain.
Let me start with what is in the Bill. The first major change sets up the building safety regulator, a key recommendation of the Hackitt report. The regulator will oversee “higher risk buildings,” which have been defined as essentially over 18 metres. The Select Committee raised questions about whether the scope should be extended. The Fire Brigades Union says that 11 metres or four storeys would be a safer threshold, as that is the threshold that firefighters can reach with their ladders. The Secretary of State himself said last year that we should not rely on
“crude height limits with binary consequences,”
that do not
“reflect the complexity of the challenge at hand.”—[Official Report, 20 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 24.]
The two-tiered system this Bill creates is particularly stark when we look at privatised building control, which will continue to operate below 18 metres. The Hackitt report recognised that choice over building control inspection is a major weakness in the current system, allowing cosy relationships to flourish between developers and the private inspectors they pay handsomely.
The regulator will be the building control body for taller buildings, but not for those under 18 metres, even where other risks could remain. The Government should think again about their arbitrary definition of high-risk buildings.
Secondly, this Bill establishes clear responsibilities for building safety throughout a building’s life, in a golden thread of information. Lack of transparency was a key issue identified in the Hackitt report. The Grenfell inquiry has exposed how some building owners belittled residents as troublemakers rather than keeping them informed about the safety of their homes. The new system must be fully open and transparent to residents and leaseholders.
The need for transparency extends to the testing regime, which the Hackitt report found to be opaque and insufficient. While the Bill sets a framework for the regulation of construction products, the Government have kicked the issue of product testing down the road. This must be re-examined.
Thirdly, the Bill sets up limited mechanisms to recoup costs from developers, through legal action and a levy. The principle of the polluter must pay should apply to the building safety scandal. Labour has long been calling on the Government to take stronger action against developers who cut dangerous corners.
Extending the period in which a developer can be sued is welcome, but residents in many buildings will not be able to take advantage. The relationship of leaseholders and developers is like David and Goliath. Legal action is uncertain, expensive and risky, requiring money that leaseholders simply do not have. It also requires that a company still exists to sue, yet many have disappeared. What is more, given what we know from the Hackitt report and elsewhere, in how many cases can all the blame be legally pinned on a developer, given the failures of the regulatory regime at the time? Very few, I would imagine.
Finally, the Bill makes some changes around the new homes and social housing ombudsmen. After significant delay, some social housing reforms have finally come through, but how will the Secretary of State ensure that the social housing regulator has real teeth?
Although there are things we welcome in the Bill that will improve building safety into the future, there are, as I am sure we will hear from Members across the House, serious concerns about what is missing and the way in which ruinous costs for remediation works will still fall on leaseholders. What began as a cladding scandal after Grenfell has now led to a total breakdown in confidence in most tall and multi-storey buildings. This has now become a building safety crisis affecting hundreds of thousands of people. Young, first-time buyers have gone bankrupt. Couples have put having children on hold. Marriages have broken down. Life savings and assets have gone. Retirements have been ruined. The mental health and financial toll is incalculable.
Fundamentally, the Bill betrays leaseholders who will still face life-changing costs for problems that they did not create and who are trapped in unsellable, uninsurable and unmortgageable homes, notwithstanding some of the Secretary of State’s announcements today, which I fear will do little to resolve the situation. Two Prime Ministers, his two immediate predecessors and the Secretary of State himself have all said that leaseholders should not pay. I agree—I think we all agree in here—so why does the Bill not say it? On at least 17 different occasions in this House, they promised, even to their own Back Benchers, that they would protect leaseholders. We heard during the passage of the Fire Safety Act 2021 that the Building Safety Bill was the place to do so, so where is it? It is not in there.
What is more, legal advice on what is in the Bill says that the betrayal of leaseholders is even worse. As drafted, the Bill bakes in leaseholders’ potential liability. Our legal advice is that clause 124 provides very little additional protections. Their legal opinion is that this Bill in its totality, including clause 99, makes it
“more certain that remediation costs will fall under service charges”—
and be passed on. So on the Government’s fundamental promise to leaseholders, the Bill fails. No wonder they are furious, and bereft.
Of course, I welcome the building safety fund; it is a good thing, and it could provide a solution for many buildings. I have to commend the Secretary of State on getting £5.1 billion out of the Chancellor—he seems to have better negotiating skills than his boss, the Prime Minister. It is a lot of money and it could go some way to resolving the situation if it is properly used, but I do not understand why his financial commitment is not being met with the same zeal and determination to give it proper effect. His approach has so far been blighted by inertia and indifference and is now beset by increasing costs, relying on those in the industry who have created much of this mess to get us out of it. I have to tell him that it is just not working. Even his own Back Benchers accused him of “shocking incompetence”, and I feel that that view might be spreading after today’s shenanigans with his statement.
Let me explain: the scope of the fund is way too narrow and the deadlines for applying too tight, and yet it is being administered far too slowly, with just 12p in every pound of the fund allocated. At its current pace, it will be 2027 before the fund is even allocated. And because there is no grip on the wider issues, as we have been discussing today—such as risk, cost, work quality, accountability and sign-off—nearly all multi-storey buildings are now affected. Even when cladding is removed, a new, ever-growing list of additional seemingly necessary works are added. This means that innocent and drained leaseholders are constantly at the mercy of a system, with no accountability and no confidence in it, with an industry unable to take on risk, cornering a broken market for works, arguing over responsibility and unwilling to insure, mortgage or step up, all the while leaving leaseholders carrying the can. That is why this crisis is now affecting so many and costs keep going up. The truth is that all sense of appropriate risk has gone out of the system. The Secretary of State has talked about that today, and I have heard him say it many times before, but I am not sure what he is doing about it. Notwithstanding what is in his statement today, I still do not know whether this will provide the transparency, the recourse, or the scrutiny that leaseholders need. He says that there should be a clear route for residents to challenge. What would that route be? How would it work? What teeth would it have? He said that there will be more guidelines. What are they? When will they be published? Can we see them? Will this really have the effect that leaseholders need it to have, because time is a luxury that these homeowners simply do not have.
This is not just about the one-off high remediation costs that homeowners are facing today; it is that insurance premiums have gone through the roof, service charges are rocketing, and the waking watch, which we have heard so much about, and other costs are leaving leaseholders paying hundreds of pounds a month extra already.
Recent Government guidance has made the situation worse. Their advice note from January 2020 effectively brought all buildings of any height into scope of the dreaded EWS1 form. After today’s announcement, is that now scrapped? Does that guidance note still exist? [Interruption.] I do not know whether it is in the statement. I did not read it in there. The Secretary of State is pointing to it from a sedentary position. If it is in there, people need to know that now so that we can discuss it, and we should have known it before this debate; it is a very important thing to know. If he wants to come to the Dispatch Box to tell us whether that January 2020 advice note is now effectively scrapped, he can do so, because it is essential that people know that.
I am not completely positive, but it did say in the statement that the EWS1 form should not be required in buildings of 18 metres, which is a welcome change. Common sense seems to be prevailing in this debate now. I welcome that announcement. Does the hon. Lady agree that this is something that we have been campaigning on for quite some time and that it is a welcome change to the legislation.
Well, it is not actually legislation. The hon. Lady is wrong about that. Yes, of course, we would welcome that. The crucial words that she said there were “should not”, not would not, and that is a different thing entirely. We still need to know on what terms that will be enforced, what recourse would a leaseholder have, and to whom, and what teeth will they have in order to put that into effect. Is it legislation? [Interruption.] I think the Secretary of State is trying to tell me that it is going to be legislation. [Interruption.] Oh, it is just down to the lenders. I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman if he wants to explain.
I am fully aware what an EWS1 form is, thank you. Its scope and its effect came about from the advice note that the Government issued in January 2020. If it is a matter for the lenders, what recourse do leaseholders have? There is nothing in the Secretary of State’s statement about recourse and accountability and where the buck stops. That is my central argument here. In the vacuum of leadership, everybody from insurers to mortgage lenders, risk assessors and others are too concerned about their liability, leaving thousands of buildings with endless fire safety requirements, some of which are potentially life threatening, but others are an unnecessary symptom of this crisis in confidence. Who is it that says which is which? Where does that sit? With whom does that lie? The Government cannot leave this to industry and the private sector to sort out. The market cannot sort this, because it is completely broken—the Secretary of State said today that the market was completely broken as if this was news to him. Yet he says that he will not intervene in that broken market. The power is with him to intervene if he wanted to. That is why we have been calling for a building works agency. I am talking about a crack team of engineers and experts appointed by the Government, going block by block, assessing the real fire risk and what remediation works are absolutely necessary; commissioning and funding those works from the building safety fund; and then, crucially, certifying the building as safe and sellable. This rigorous approach would also keep costs down, and the agency can then go after those responsible for costs. It has been done before in Australia and it can be done again here—if the Secretary of State was prepared to step up, lead and intervene rather than leave it to the broken market he describes.
I keep reading this statement and I am not sure I am any clearer than I was at the beginning. The Secretary of State said that EWS1 forms are not needed on properties below 18 metres because there is no systemic risk across those sorts of buildings. What I am not clear about is whether the lack of systemic risk applies to cladding that is of limited combustibility. Is he now saying that there is no need to remove combustible cladding from buildings below 18 metres, or that there is a need? If there is, is not an EWS1 form needed as part of that process? If it is not, we still do not know who is going to pay for the work.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Of course, there are also many buildings over 18 metres that do not have cladding and are still facing the issues of fire remediation works, some of which may not be necessary. I am not clear whose job it is to decide whether they are necessary, and therefore whether a building can be mortgageable and insurable once again and people can move on with their lives. I am still not sure of that and I still do not feel that the Government are really providing the leadership and intervention that is necessary.
There is huge strength of feeling on these issues, as we can see from the number of Members wanting to speak in this debate. The toll of this crisis is immeasurable. Innocent homeowners want us to work together, and I will work with anyone to protect them from these costs. I am not interested in party political point-scoring, as it happens, but the Government have to step up on these issues.
Returning to the Hackitt test, her ultimate test of this new framework is the rebuilding of public confidence in the system. She says that the people who matter most in all this are the residents of these buildings. The honest truth is that, through the omission of cast-iron protections for today’s leaseholders, this test will not be met. It is not enough to simply will the ends; the means need real determination and focus too. We will work with all sides to protect leaseholders and meet the Hackitt test.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and welcome.
Paragraph 19 of the National Audit Office report says:
“The Department has acknowledged that only in a minority of cases would it be financially justifiable for building owners to bring legal action to recover money.”
But the building owners will only make a claim if they are indemnified by the residential leaseholders, who do not have the money, so it is not going to happen, and the sums that the Department has reclaimed are very low. What is clearly obvious is that they will not get money from leaseholders. That follows on from the report of a working party set up two weeks after the Grenfell fire by Ted Baillieu, the former Premier of Victoria in Australia, and an architect. It reported within two years. He gave a presentation to the all-party fire safety group and the all-party leasehold and commonhold reform group. As they will not get money from leaseholders, they have to find the problems, fix the problems, fund the problems and then see how to get the money back. We know that the Ministry of Housing has got just over £5 billion from the Treasury. It expects to get perhaps £2 billion back in tax and £2 billion back in levy. If £15 billion is spent, there will be £3 billion back in VAT. So the Treasury seems to make money out of this, and who is left with the £10 billion of funding? The residential leaseholders, who cannot afford it.
It is quite clear that the Government have to do two things: first, as I said to the Secretary of State during his speech, extend the Building Act 1984 so that people can make a claim within six years of knowing that there is a problem; and secondly, make sure that the insurance industry knows that it is ultimately liable for what the architects, designers, component suppliers, builders, regulators and building control groups have done and must get most of the money back by agreement. There is no point in having individual leaseholders, or groups of them, taking legal action; it will not work. I say to the Secretary of State: in this case, please listen to those who know and try to make sure that no examination takes place without leaseholders being part of the committee. They could have told the Secretary of State four years ago that his approach was not working.
We are grateful for some progress, but we need much more.
I want to come on to the written statement by the Secretary of State, which was delivered with breathtaking speed. Before I do so, I remind the House that my husband owns a property that might be affected by the cladding issue.
I want to focus on part 5, which includes provision to establish a new housing ombudsman scheme, with parts 1 to 4 focusing on matters applicable to England and Wales only. While housing is a devolved responsibility, consumer affairs are not, which creates challenges for the housing ombudsman scheme. There are benefits in delivering that scheme on a UK-wide basis, because there are concerns about the fact that 90% of new homes have defects and a quarter of those who move into a new home are unhappy with aspects of the property.
The existing new homes standards code is industry-led and voluntary, so it is welcome that it will be replaced with a mandatory, statutory code to ensure similar standards to those that developers are obligated to meet, topped by an ombudsman, which we hope will have teeth, with powers to require builders to resolve issues or face fines, which will give the code authority and credibility. It is important that the system is established on a UK-wide basis, because builders operate across the UK, so it makes sense to have a single body of rules and standards to ensure improvement across the board.
Because that uniformity across the board will benefit consumers across the UK it is important that Governments across the UK, and in all parts of the UK, are at the table and that their voices are heard. We all want a raising of standards in the building of new homes, so that is an eminently sensible way forward, and we expect that legislative consent would be requested from the Scottish Government. That consent would be granted if it were in the interests of the people of Scotland. Consent and dialogue with the Scottish Government must not be a box-ticking exercise—it must be genuine.
I want to say a few words about the written statement that was delivered breathtakingly quickly today. The Secretary of State said in his statement that addressing the risk in the cladding of properties should focus on “management and mitigation” instead of “costly remediation work”. We do not know what he means by “costly”, because people in some properties below 18 metres face costs for the stripping of cladding that are more expensive than the properties themselves. We are told in the statement that costly remediation work can be challenged, but there is no detail about how that can be done, so the content of the statement is quite vague. We are told that lenders have welcomed this advice, but we do not know how quickly those affected by the cladding issues will see a change in the behaviour of lenders and insurers.
Has the Secretary of State had specific talks with the insurance industry? Has he had discussions with the Association of British Insurers? We simply do not know, as the statement does not tell us. In February this year, the Secretary of State said:
“Insurers should be pricing that risk correctly and not passing on those costs or even profiteering”.—[Official Report, 10 February 2021; Vol. 689, c. 342.]
However, having read the written statement, it is not clear whether he had any dialogue with insurers before publishing it.
The statement says that there will still be repayment costs not exceeding £50 a month, so there is still no cap and we do not know what the final bill will be for those affected. I wonder whether the Secretary of State has actually been looking at or taking an interest in what is happening in Scotland. The Scottish Government have moved towards a single building assessment for properties that may be affected by the cladding issue, which will provide clear evidence of the total need for remediation. That allows the Scottish Government to identify the buildings that are at risk and inform their owners exactly what measures need to be taken.
That could release people from safety and mortgage lending concerns. It may, in the end, save homeowners hundreds of thousands of pounds that they might otherwise have had to pay for individual external wall fire review forms. The cost of the single building assessment is to be met by the Scottish Government, and once it has been established, remediation will be targeted to the buildings most at risk. That is an important innovation. I see echoes of it in what the Secretary of State has said today, but it was too vague for me to be sure.
It is interesting that today’s statement focuses on buildings below 18 metres. When we debated this very issue at the end of June, I challenged the Secretary of State, because The Sunday Times reported that a key civil servant was recorded telling fire engineers that 18 metres was the cut-off point in the first place because the Government
“haven’t got time to come up with a better number”.
I wonder whether the randomness of 18 metres is behind much of what we have heard today, but of course no one in the House, except the Secretary of State, has had time to properly digest it.
The new housing ombudsman in the Bill is welcome, provided that it is implemented in a way that is respectful of devolution and, in the future, prevents some of the shocking problems we have seen in the cladding scandal, which has turned so many lives upside down. It is important that we understand that the powers of the housing ombudsman will not be retrospective, so it offers very cold comfort for those living through the cladding and fire safety nightmare right now. I fear that the Secretary of State’s statement today has done nothing to properly address that.
For all those reasons, it is clear that more needs to be done to address the current safety scandal, which the Bill does not do. This scandal continues to blight the lives of those living in flats that they have been told are dangerous, but we are told today, “Well, do you know what? That might not really be the case. We’ll need to think about it a wee bit more and talk to the banks.” That is not good enough.
People are living in flats that cause them concern, we still do not have any answers on insurance, and we still do not have any proper insight into how the scandal will be resolved fully. The £5.1 billion that the Secretary of State likes to trumpet does not even touch the sides, and whatever else the Bill offers, it offers nothing to the people currently living in homes that are making them lose sleep and that they cannot sell.
Once again, I am here to ask the Secretary of State to provide support to protect leaseholders from the devastating mental and financial costs of historical fire safety defects. Leaseholders are drowning under mountains of debt in properties they cannot sell or remortgage, and they are going bankrupt right now, with devastating interim costs mounting up, insurance premiums up thousands of per cent., and waking watches that are not even regulated by the local fire service—and we are four years on from the tragic events of Grenfell.
Leaseholders have done nothing wrong, but in January 2020 the Secretary of State created a market failure, and we have a responsibility to clean it up. His written ministerial statement today could reverse some of the damage he did, but, as speakers have already suggested, it will need to be put into legislation to provide real, practical support to leaseholders and not just rhetoric. Today’s statement could be a huge victory for leaseholders in buildings under 18 metres, but only if it means that the Secretary of State is withdrawing the January 2020 consolidated advice note for building owners of multi-storey, multi-occupied residential buildings; otherwise, it is just weasel words.
I want to believe the Secretary of State, and I hope that the written statement has just reactivated the value of hundreds of thousands of properties that had no value earlier today. However, leaseholders need to know today whether it means that buildings under 18 metres are no longer required to undergo extensive remediation costs. What about buildings that have already had EWS1 inspections and are currently facing huge bills?
The Bill runs to over 200 pages, but only clause 124, totalling two pages, deals with remediation costs for lease- holders. That single clause is so weak that it is pretty much pointless—it could be considered to have been complied with by an email having been sent. We cannot continue to abandon leaseholders. We must support them, but the Bill does not do that, so I will seek to amend it with colleagues.
I repeat once again my desire for the Government to work with me and colleagues to help get this right. I would like nothing more than to see Government amendments to protect leaseholders on Report that I can support and bang the drum for. I do not want taxpayers to pick up the bill, nor do leaseholders or responsible freeholders want taxpayers to pay. We all want those who are responsible to pay. To help leaseholders, I will table amendments to apply the Housing Defects Act 1984 to cladding and fire safety defects. That would empower the Government and local authorities to help leaseholders and provide the funds.
Clause 57 sets out a mechanism for collecting levies. We could try to amend that so that the Government could set a separate levy on new house building, with that money redirected to fire safety defect remediation for existing buildings. I will table amendments that would provide for recovery of VAT on remedial works so that they are VAT-free and ensure that the Government create an indemnity scheme like Flood Re or the Motor Insurers’ Bureau.
Welcome to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is good to see you there.
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee did pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill—it is a technical Bill, which we went through line by line and made recommendations—and I think that shows how the House should operate. I thank the Government, and the Minister for Building Safety and Communities in particular, for taking it seriously, responding to all our points in great detail and talking to us about it.
The Committee still have some concerns and wrote again to the Minister the other day about what we think is missing. One thing, of course, is building control. Developers should not be able to appoint their own building control inspectors, because that is a conflict of interest.
On risk, it is not height alone that makes buildings risky. A one-storey care home is potentially risky, and that must be taken into account in the role of the building safety regulator.
The Government are to come forward with proposals on the qualifications and training of everyone working on high-rise buildings. That is really important, because currently an electrician rewiring a flat in a high-rise development does not have to be qualified. Their employer must be part of a competent person scheme, but the individual does not have to be qualified anywhere in the building industry. Those matters need addressing now in the Bill.
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he does on his Committee. He made an important point about the independence of building control. Does he agree that it causes a considerable lack of confidence when people who have bought properties find they have no recourse and that there is a real question about the role of local authorities in building control?
There are major issues about the independence of building control not just on the highest-rise buildings but right throughout the building industry. The Select Committee report drew attention to that.
On product testing, we await the Government’s proposals. Hackitt identified that the product testing regime is broken and needs fixing, and the Committee stands by its view that if a product that has gone to testing and failed a test comes commercially to the market, that information should be made available publicly. That is important information. The Government rejected that recommendation, but I hope they might consider it further.
It is very difficult to make comprehensive sense of the statement published today. I hope that the Secretary of State will accept an invitation to come to the Select Committee after the summer recess and discuss the matter with us in more detail. Whatever the statement says, it still leaves out buildings over 18 metres that have defects that are not just about cladding. Even when cladding defects have been put right, people are facing bills of £50,000 that they cannot afford. Where is the help for those leaseholders? It is not anywhere in the Bill.
I turn to buildings between 11 and 18 metres. I do not understand how the Secretary of State can say that systemic defects were not found in those buildings. Where does cladding fit into that? Will the removal of combustible cladding from buildings between 11 and 18 metres no longer be required? If it is still required, who will pay for it? The Government floated the idea of a loan scheme, but there is no reference to that in the Bill. Has the loan scheme been ditched? We need clarification on these important issues because leaseholders need certainty that they are not going to have to face these bills.
There are important issues in the Bill. It is generally to be welcomed. There are still issues that we want the Government to go further on, but the explanation in this statement of who is going to pay for some of the costs that the building safety fund does not cover is still an essential matter that the Government need to think again about.
Welcome to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and perhaps I should declare an interest as a former firefighter and a former fire Minister.
I took the promise of the Housing Minister, who is a good friend and an honourable Gentleman, that the previous Bill, the fire Bill, was not the vehicle in which to bring forward measures to protect the leaseholders in my constituency. I tabled or signed some amendments as probing amendments, but then withdrew them, and I took a lot of flak from leaseholders in my constituency, who said I had let them down. I am not going to let them down with this Bill, because it was supposed to address their concerns.
Thousands of my leaseholders are trapped within their properties. Thousands of them have already paid unbelievably large amounts of money which they cannot afford, and even if they could afford to pay it is morally wrong in the first place.
I agree. There is a lot in it that is good. I did not have a chance to read it while the Secretary of State was still making his speech because I am not that brilliant at doing such things, but I have read it since the Secretary of State sat down and there are some good things in there. There are questions about it and I hope to serve on the Bill Committee; I hope those on the Treasury Bench listen to me on that, although that might be slightly difficult for Ministers.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), I agree with the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), and I agree with much that was said from the Opposition Front Bench as well. This should not be party politics; this should be about what is right and what is wrong. This is a homeowning nation, and that includes freeholders and leaseholders, and the party I am proud to be a member of is a home- owning party.
On Grenfell, I pay huge respect to the families who lost loved ones or whose loved ones were injured, and to my former colleagues who went in the right direction with their paramedic friends and the police when the rest of the public quite rightly got out of the way— the bravery of the firefighters at that incident is to be commended.
However, there are issues that are not addressed in the Bill. This is not all about cladding. It is about the remedial works people are being charged for and the fire watch. I have heard of situations where residents in one block—a fairly low-rise block, actually—were told they could not have any mats outside their front doors. As a former firefighter, I think that is bonkers. They were told to take pictures of the wall in the communal areas. That is not what went wrong at Grenfell; what went wrong at Grenfell was a systematic failure across the picture—including within the fire service, to be fair. I was trained on high rise and in high-rise fires we told residents to stay in their flats. We told them they were safe in the stairwell, but often they would not be.
There is one area that fascinates me. We have heard about insurance and keep talking about insurance premiums, but where are the insurance companies paying out on premiums paid by the developers and contractors? When I was a builder I could not walk on to a building site without having liability insurance.
We can do this; we did this as a Government when the mesothelioma Bill went through this House and we compensated people dying from asbestos who could not find an insurer or a contract. The Government intervened to compensate those families and loved ones, and that is what we will have to do here, too.
I will be joining my colleagues on amendments that we have signed, and if I cannot serve on the Bill Committee what a great opportunity there will be for me on Report, not because I want to be difficult, but because I want to get this right for leaseholders. I was promised the previous Bill was not the answer. This has to be the answer to put things right.
I very much welcome the fact that this House is acting to address the systemic problems identified in the Hackitt review. I also welcome a number of specific measures in the Bill—for example, the new standards proposed for product safety and for professionals involved in the design and construction of buildings.
What I cannot welcome and what I find particularly objectionable, given what so many have faced over recent years, is the financial cost this Bill will impose on leaseholders if left unamended. That imposition will be felt in part as a result of provisions set out on the face of the Bill. Whether it is the direct cost of the proposed building safety charge or the costs of duties imposed on principal accountable persons that will inevitably be passed on, this Bill will see leaseholders pay out billions of pounds over the coming years to finance the new regime it establishes. Imposing charges of that magnitude on already hard-pressed leaseholders cannot be right, and the Bill in my view needs to be amended to ensure a more equitable apportionment of the costs of the new regime.
This Bill will also impose costs on leaseholders as a result of what it does not contain. In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State cited the extension of the Defective Premises Act 1972, the limitation period changes and the provisions in the Bill that require landlords to take reasonable steps to recover remediation costs, but he knows as well as I do that these measures will only offer limited protection at best.
What the Bill singularly fails to do, despite, as others have said, the perfectly clear indications given by Ministers during the passage of the Fire Safety Bill that this was the legislative vehicle by which to do it, is to meaningfully protect all affected leaseholders from the costs of remediating historical cladding and non-cladding defects and associated secondary costs, irrespective of circumstance. It must be overhauled so that it does, because if not now, then when do we act to protect all those caught up in this crisis, and if not by this piece of legislation, then what other?
I have no intention of voting against the principle of the Bill today. We need a version of it on the statute book as soon as possible. But I say to the Secretary of State very plainly that without amendments to guarantee that all leaseholders are fully protected, he will not get this Bill through without a fight.
The very fact that we are legislating for a radical overhaul of building regulations and fire safety highlights just how flawed the present regime is. We cannot surely, in good conscience, ask any blameless leaseholder to pay to make good what is, after all, a failure of Government-designed regulation and of industry practice. So I urge the Government to work with Members from across the House to ensure that, come Third Reading, this Bill does right by each and every one of the victims of the building safety scandal.
For the avoidance of doubt, I refer the House to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests; I do not think this does affect me, but just in case and for the avoidance of doubt.
I really hoped that we would have resolved the awful situation for leaseholders during the passage of the Fire Safety Bill, but of course we all know that did not happen. During those many debates, the Government told us that the McPartland-Smith amendments to the Fire Safety Bill were defective and the Fire Safety Bill was not the place to deal with who pays for remediation. The Government said that the Building Safety Bill was the Bill to address those issues. We now know that the Building Safety Bill in its current form does nothing to address the fundamental issue: leaseholders should not and will not have to pay.
Too many issues have been deemed fire safety defects when they are not. The Secretary of State and his statement have referred to it, but it cannot be repeated often enough. Most people in high and low-rise apartments are safe. Most buildings are not dangerous. Not all cladding is flammable. I am not sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, what you would have to do to ignite a wooden balcony, for example. But people living in properties with those features cannot sell and have extortionate insurance bills. Some simple changes such as smoke alarms and fire alarms and a realistic reinspection would make the properties that are currently dangerous safe again. I hope that the written statement becomes legislation and will go some way to address that. If we look at the properties that should not be failing EWS1 and we remove them from the process, the remaining buildings could be remediated far more quickly. Most properties would then see their values restored and the market will again operate successfully.
There are of course other issues, and in summing up, I hope the Minister will explain why insurers have apparently been let off the hook. Every development has professional indemnity insurance. It is the law. As soon as there is a complaint, the insurers are informed. As soon as they are informed, they should start the process of settling any claims. Why are they allowed to remain in the shadows while innocent leaseholders pick up the tab? Is it not time for us to name and shame the insurers that covered the risk of development, but have not offered to put right the defects?
One solution is a levy, as house builders now accept. They know, as I know and everyone else knows, that that is the only way out, and they want out of this nightmare as quickly as everyone else. They are suffering reputational damage for issues that were no more their fault than the fault of the leaseholders; it was down to regulation and legislation, and the failure of the insurance companies, which have some way to go on that. Taxpayers should not pick up the tab, but they can underwrite the remediation not covered by insurance. The levy can then pay back the underwriting and everyone can go back to living in a safe property, which is what they deserve to do.
As others have said, the Bill represents progress in implementing the recommendations of the Hackitt review, but it will not come into effect until a full five years after the Grenfell tragedy. In those five years, hundreds of thousands of leaseholders have lived their lives under the fear of fire, under a threat to their own personal safety and under the fear of being trapped in unsellable, non-mortgageable properties and bearing costs that they are completely unable to fund. In a number of cases, those costs exceed the value of the property when they purchased it.
What we know—we will obviously be digesting the contents of the written statement as well—is that the Bill will not do enough to overcome the damage that has been done to leaseholders or to compensate them for the costs they have already borne and will continue to bear, and that further amendments will be essential before the Bill passes into law. I was particularly struck, during the Secretary of State’s opening speech, that the waking watch has now been dismissed, in many cases, as a scam and as being unnecessary. It is a bit rich of the Government to say that, when the waking watch has been the principal means of protection that has been relied on to ensure the safety of those living in high-rise properties. People who have been paying for such waking watches over these last years will listen with amazement to what the Government are now saying and to their glib dismissal of a scheme that they themselves have been relying on.
Even five years after Grenfell, there is still clear evidence that the necessary culture changes in the building industry have not taken place. As the London Fire Brigade says, there are still developers who are gaming the system and cutting corners, and there is clearly still not a level playing field to protect the interests of the only people—the tenants and the leaseholders—who are entirely blameless in this.
I want to make a particular point that does not get covered enough. Although the fire safety and building safety problems have been a catastrophe in terms of their personal impact on leaseholders, there are also significant implications for the social housing sector. Housing associations have faced remediation costs of £10 billion, and the consequence of that is a dramatic fall in the house building programme and in the investment that is necessary to deal with other safety, repair and maintenance issues in that sector. Those tenants and those people in housing need should not also be the victims of a crisis that they had no part in, and the social housing sector must be fully compensated for its actual costs in the months and years to come.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and welcome to the hot seat.
I want to highlight just one aspect of building safety that I do not believe has been covered either in the Bill or in the debate so far today. Safety on stairs might seem to be rather a niche issue compared with the many issues around fire safety that we are discussing, but it has to be more than just a case of “watch where you’re going”. As the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has discovered, falling on stairs is a significant cause of death, stretching into many hundreds per year. For every one hospital admission caused by a burn, there are 235 caused by falls.
The impact of these falls is felt disproportionately by older people, and even when a fall is not fatal, it is often the first stage of a persistent decline. Falls create fear, they impact on confidence and wellbeing, and they lead to people being moved out of their own homes and into care homes, in many cases never to return. I represent a predominantly elderly constituency and I am in no doubt about the importance of stair safety to maintaining independence in the home for as long as possible, but I am also someone with cerebral palsy, and I know that it is not just the elderly but people like me who have to be exceedingly careful when navigating staircases.
There is an existing industry standard, British standard 5395-1, regarding how stairs should be constructed, including rules on the dimensions of stairs and handrails. Stairs built to the British Standard lead to 60% fewer falls. Although it has been the standard since 2010, it has not, as yet, been enshrined in law, and is therefore often not used by builders. I have written to the building safety Minister asking for the Bill to include a mandate for the British standard to be applied in all new build homes, and I plan to propose such an amendment should he not give me sufficient satisfaction.
It is worth noting that this cause is backed by both private and social housing providers. It will create a level playing field in house building, but, more importantly, it will massively reduce the number of falls on stairs in the future, easing the burden on A&E and ambulances, and saving many families from unnecessary and premature tragedy.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I welcome you to your position.
I must declare an interest in that I am a leaseholder in an affected block, although, happily for me and for my neighbours, the developer who built the block is footing the bill for everything. I am surrounded by scaffolding, and cladding is being removed at this moment.
The Bill is welcome, but it has taken a long time to get here, and, as others have said, it does not solve the problem completely. I want, in my brief remarks, to acknowledge and reflect everything that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell). She summed up the challenges, while making it clear that for us this is not about scoring cheap party political points: we need to resolve the situation for all our constituents throughout the country. We recognise that legislation is one step along the way, four years on from the Grenfell disaster, but there is nevertheless a long gap—a long time lag—between legislation and action.
Let me give a recent example. The Public Accounts Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing, recently examined the work of the Office for Product Safety and Standards, which has only just assumed responsibility for product safety in this sphere and has not yet developed a methodology for its delivery. I am making no criticism of the OPSS, which has a job to do, but it has only just taken it on—and this is 2021, four years since the Grenfell disaster. That is an example of how a small delay in the Government can mean a very long delay for the thousands of our constituents who are really suffering.
The Government delay has further compounded the situation. From the beginning, a number of us have been talking about there being too few fire safety surveyors, and there has been confusion over the EWS1 forms. I have not enough time to go into the written ministerial statement, but I concur with what was said about that by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). The insurance and mortgage industries are adding to the costs and uncertainty by doing what they do, with no recognition from the Government that some of the statements they themselves have made have caused those problems, which they should have been better at predicting.
The pots of money are welcome, but they are smaller than what is needed. I think that the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), summed it up very well: we must get leaseholders off the hook, and then the Government must be very canny—and all of us will support them—in trying to secure the money from developers. We must also look at social housing. Support for today’s leasehold victims is at the cost of future housing for tenants and future leaseholders, at a time when housing supply is a Cinderella to the Government’s policy of fuelling demand.
Today’s extraordinary written statement came so late that I hope the Secretary of State will agree to appear before our sister Committee, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. There are important questions to be asked, and I think that all our inboxes will be flooded over the next few days. We still need skills to do this work, and I urge the Minister to look at delivering that as well as this legislation. We also need clarity on the levy, and on legal action, which is out of the price bracket of most of our constituents on top of the bills that they are already paying.
This situation needs to be tackled. The Bill is a start, but there are many people still living in limbo.
There are measures to be welcomed in the Bill, but a great deal more is required. I am pleased that the Government have listened to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which recommended that the Bill be amended
“to explicitly exclude historical costs from the building safety charge.”
However, it appears that the Government do not believe that the Bill will completely protect leaseholders from remediation costs. The explanatory note states:
“The Building Safety Bill does not make leaseholders liable for the cost of undertaking capital works, for example removing unsafe cladding.
However, where existing leases allow for these remediation costs to be passed on, the Building Safety Bill will bring forward measures to protect leaseholders, by placing additional duties on the building owner to explore alternative cost recovery routes before passing costs to leaseholders.”
Costs can still be passed on if building owners can show that all other avenues have been exhausted. Consequently, the Bill is focused on constructing and maintaining new buildings, rather than fixing safety issues in existing blocks.
I welcome the Government’s decision to extend the limitation period of the Defective Premises Act 1972 to protect future leaseholders, but it is not particularly viable for others given the inherent difficulties of taking legal action against well funded developers who are likely to continue to argue that buildings met regulatory approval at the time of their construction. The Government are fully aware that potential defendants in some cases no longer exist or are insolvent, and that the legal costs of taking action are likely to outweigh the costs for remediation works. That is in addition to the stress and time it would take for legal action to conclude.
The Bill contains no detail on the forced loan scheme for leaseholders in medium-rise buildings and no help whatever for those in low-rise buildings. I understood that details of the cladding tax loan scheme would be forthcoming in the March Budget. However, now the guidance is that we will have to wait until September for an idea of how the scheme will work. Finally, there has been no real movement on the urgent and expensive issue of building insurance premiums and the unaffordable costs people are being forced to pay right now for interim measures.
However, the Minister will be pleased to learn that I will be voting for the Bill today on Second Reading, as it is the only lifeline available to my constituents who are facing financial despondency, but I will be looking for amendments in Committee and on Report. Many people have bought these properties, whether as their first property or as subsequent later properties, and have invested not only their lives but their savings and their financial future on the basis of bricks and mortar. We cannot allow demands to be sought against them that will fundamentally bankrupt many of them. It is a Conservative principle that we encourage people to buy their own homes. Now these people need our help and support, we must not leave them failing.
I am not sure what is worse for leaseholders: the fact that they are in constant fear because their homes are not safe, the fact that they cannot afford to make them safe and are being harassed by greedy managing agents, or the fact that they are trapped in their flats without any easy option to sell and move on with their lives. Today’s statement and the Bill do not fundamentally change that for all the reasons the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), set out in his brief but excellent speech.
During the passage of the Fire Safety Bill, Ministers promised that these issues would be addressed in the Building Safety Bill. Lord Greenhalgh said:
“it is unacceptable for leaseholders to have to worry about costs of fixing historic safety defects in their buildings that they did not cause”
“building owners are responsible for ensuring the safety of residents”,
and he said that they should
“protect leaseholders from the costs of remediating historic building defects.”
I do not know what the correct term in Parliament is for someone who make promises that they do not keep, but I know what they call them on the streets of Brent North: they call them a Government Minister.
Extending the scope and duration of the Defective Premises Act 1972 in the Building Safety Bill shows that the Government do not understand the extent of the problem. I ask the Minister to explain to my constituents who live in the Wembley Central development how it will help them. The original developer of their homes, St Modwen, has washed its hands of these defective properties. It sold them to an offshore company in Jersey in 2018, following the introduction of the new building regulations. It was in partnership with Sowcrest, which is now in a very convenient liquidation. So who exactly does the Minister think my constituents can chase here? What are the Government prepared to do about buildings with obscure corporate ownership?
I first contacted St Modwen in 2017, immediately after the Grenfell tragedy. It repeatedly assured me that the buildings were safe and in 2018 confirmed in writing that no fire safety defects had been identified. I am now told that the cladding on this building is the same as that used in Grenfell Tower and the fire safety report has identified fire stopping defects throughout the construction process. In May this year, St Modwen agreed to a takeover bid of £1.2 billion from Blackstone. Can the Minister tell me how this Bill will make them accountable for their actions? It was not the leaseholders who decided to use flammable cladding or to leave out fire stopping in voids or cut corners—developers made those decisions. My constituents have neither the deep pockets nor the legal expertise to fight these corporate chameleons, who start off in London and end up in Jersey as a different company. This Bill shows that the Government either do not understand or do not care. The companies can afford lengthy litigation; leaseholders cannot.
Finally, the Minister must explain why there is so little progress on the building safety fund. I wrote to St Modwen on 23 June. I still await a response. I have written to Fidum, the new managing agent for the new owners. I asked it about its application to the building safety fund for the removal of unsafe cladding. I have received no response, but Fidum now tells residents that it missed the closing date of 30 June for the second application because it is still waiting to have eligibility—
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement that the EWS1 forms should not be required for buildings below 18 metres; lenders were insisting on EWS1 forms, despite buildings not meeting the proper criteria in the new guidance, so it is a welcome announcement. I also welcome the announcements in the written statement on working towards market correction with regard to the total risk aversion that we are seeing in the market from lenders and surveyors, and the absolute stagnation in the market.
However, I echo the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and by the Father of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), regarding leaseholders and the issue of clause 124. I would like to see much greater levels of legislation to support leaseholders. I am speaking on behalf not just of the leaseholders, but of the parents of leaseholders in my constituency—parents in Beaconsfield, Marlow, Flackwell Heath and Iver who have given their life savings to help support their child to buy their first home, usually in London. The children of my constituents are now stuck in homes that they cannot afford to move out of because of the spiralling cost of insurance and the cost to the leaseholder that has been incurred because of the building safety regulations.
I ask that we consider how to help leaseholders. These are Conservative voters and the children of Conservative voters, who are now frustrated and angry that they cannot move up the housing ladder. We need to consider a way forward for them and remember that they have done what we Conservatives say that we always want to do: enable people to buy a home and get on the housing ladder. We are blocking them from moving forward. I ask the Secretary of State please to consider further action to help and support leaseholders.
I welcome you to your place, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate and to follow colleagues from across the House.
The Bill is a step forward. However, I have very serious reservations. I will build on the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and other colleagues across the House, including the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley).
First, it is important to focus on the single most important weakness of the Bill, which is that many thousands of existing leaseholders will not benefit from it. They are going to be penalised with exorbitant costs —far above what they could possibly pay off—due to the way in which the Government are tackling this deep crisis and the insufficient funding to make good the very serious problems with leasehold properties around the country that have become more and more apparent in the four years following the Grenfell disaster. It is simply deeply unfair that people who bought properties in good faith, in Reading and across the country, should have to pay enormous sums of money to make those properties fire-safe and to deal not only with cladding, but with a range of other issues that I will address in my short speech.
There is also the serious issue of properties under 18 metres. In my area, many blocks are under 18 metres high. I am sure that colleagues across the House will have the same issues in their constituencies. The residents in those blocks deserve to be treated much better by the Government and the industry. Let me give colleagues a small example by describing a desirable, beautifully designed block with an attractive foyer that is central to the town and next to one of the rivers in Reading—a great place to live in many ways, but in the case of a fire potentially a dangerous rabbit warren of small corridors, from which it would be difficult to escape. The block contains a huge amount of fire safety problems and residents may have to pay £150,000 each to get them put right. The problems include: issues with fire doors and with the doors into flats; a lack of internal partitions, meaning that a fire could rip through a block that contains more than 100 separate flats; and a whole range of other difficult problems. Those issues are not addressed by the Bill and they need to be.
I wish briefly to mention the confusion about the EWS1 form and lack of information until the very last minute. There are serious issues with getting the forms and it is right that the Government look into them, but it surely cannot be right to present that information as a written statement on the eve of the debate. I ask the Secretary of State and his colleagues to reflect on that, because it caused a great deal of confusion and concern today and was perplexing.
Let me say equally briefly that there is already a model for how to resolve this issue, and that is the Australian model, as mentioned by colleagues from all parties. Ultimately, it is a question of leadership from the Secretary of State.
As a member of the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government, I had the opportunity to spend many hours scrutinising the draft Bill as we conducted pre-legislative scrutiny. I am delighted that the Government have adopted almost all the recommendations that we made, but there are concerns.
One issue is that some of the language used in the Bill is not exact enough. It is clear that what will matter is the regulations that underpin this extremely complicated and complex Bill, which will need to be ironed out over the next 18 months before it becomes operational. Of course, that gives rise to further problems. There will be no excuse whatsoever for a developer that is currently developing a new high-rise building or, indeed, planning one in future not to abide by the rules and regulations that will be introduced when the Bill becomes law. They will have to do that. However, there is concern about the historical elements of fire safety defects, as well as the remediation of unsafe cladding.
We have to split the issue into a number of areas. There has clearly been much progress on the remediation of unsafe cladding, which is welcome, but fire safety defects have been excluded from almost everything on offer from the Government thus far, and developers are trying to wash their hands of the matter. As right hon. and hon. Members from all parties have said, leaseholders are being presented with huge bills right now. They do not have 18 months to wait to resolve the issues, so we need urgent action. We were promised that the details of the fourth loan scheme would be introduced at the time of the Budget. I assume that we will have to wait for the autumn Budget as opposed to the spring Budget, because so far we have not seen the details of how that will operate. That detail is vital for people so that they can know how to plan.
The reality is that the people in the middle of this—the innocent parties, we have to remember—are the leaseholders. The building owners and the people who developed the buildings in the first place are the ones who put the buildings up. The one excuse to which they can cling is to say that they adhered completely to the rules and regulations that were in place when they put the buildings up perhaps five, 10 or even 20 years ago. If that is the case, the Government have to find a way to fund the remediation, because the Government were responsible for putting in place the regulations. If the regulations have been blatantly ignored, it is clear that the building owners and developers must remediate the buildings and fire safety defects without any charge to leaseholders whatsoever.
The Bill is a good start to the process and I welcome it. I welcome its going into Committee, and we must get it through to safeguard leaseholders.
I welcome the fact that the Bill will give residents and homeowners more rights and make homes throughout the country safer. It seeks to improve the whole fire safety regime from start to finish.
In my constituency in 2019, we had the terrible fire at the Beechmere retirement complex that destroyed the building, leaving more than 150 people without their homes and with their belongings destroyed. I pay tribute to Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service for its work in battling the blaze and I thank the local heroes who helped residents to evacuate. What happened at the building is, of course, at the front of my mind. We are still to find out the cause of the fire, and I have met Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service regularly to push it to conclude its investigations so that people get answers.
Although the focus of this debate has rightly been on external cladding and high-rise buildings, we must ensure that we use this moment of fire safety reform to act on risks across the board. I want to focus on asking the Government to go further and be more prescriptive with those buildings that use timber or that house or are used by vulnerable people, irrespective of building height. What I wish to talk about relates to approved document B and building bulletin 100, but I am sure the Minister will understand my raising those issues in the context of the Bill.
On the issue of timber, the Beechmere building was timber-framed and what happened seemed to reflect what has happened at many other fires in similar buildings. There is a wealth of long-standing concerns about the use of timber, and not just in relation to external frames. There are particular concerns about how in a timber building post-completion works and modifications can easily destroy fire safety measures. We must ensure that that risk is properly addressed.
On the second issue, we must think more carefully about restrictions based on what a building is used for. It is proportionate to make specific mandated additional requirements for buildings such as schools and care homes, which house people who will struggle to evacuate. An example of such a requirement would be for sprinklers. I and my colleagues on the all-party group on fire safety and rescue have highlighted that automatic fire sprinklers are compulsory in new care homes in Wales and Scotland but not in England—the same is true in respect of schools. Research conducted by the National Fire Chiefs Council found that in almost 1,000 fires over five years in buildings where sprinklers were fitted they controlled or extinguished blazes in 99% of cases. Automatic fire sprinklers save lives and allow children back into the classroom sooner.
I know that the Secretary of State wants a dynamic, responsive system that is not overly prescriptive, but at this stage, when we cannot yet know what a whole new regime is going to deliver in terms of better decision making on a building-by-building basis, we should be more cautious and risk adverse, and have an approach that mandates specific measures such as sprinklers for certain building types and additional measures for certain building materials such as timber, regardless of height. I welcome the Bill and the reforms it will make to building control and building regulations, but it is vital that the Government go further and provide additional protections to certain buildings, so that we can all be confident that the buildings we live, work and learn in are as safe as possible.
There are two ways to look at this Bill: we can look at what is in it, and we can look at what is not in it. I welcome the proposed building safety regulator and the move to finally establish the principle that there must be an accountable person, but there is much where the Bill is seriously and dangerously lacking. The Bill still uses height, not risk, as the primary criterion for where regulation kicks in. The arbitrary and discredited 18-metre cut-off must be dropped, and risk factors must be taken into account, especially in schools and care homes.
On public registers, in the Bill Committee for what became the Fire Safety Act 2021 I proposed that the Government create a register of qualified fire risk assessors. The Minister for Crime and Policing assured me that he was working with the industry to introduce such a register, and so I withdrew my new clause. So where is that measure now? Will the Secretary of State table an amendment to create that register, as well as a register of safe building materials?
On the EWS1 form, I do not even know where to start on today’s rushed announcement. I was asking about this for buildings last September. Some of my constituents have put their lives on hold for the best part of a year and now it transpires that they may not even need that form.
Finally, we were promised that the plight of leaseholders would be addressed in this Bill. We were assured time and time again that the Fire Safety Act was not the right place for things because this Bill was coming down the track. Leaseholders do not have the deep pockets or legal expertise to pursue giant corporations as the Government are suggesting. The Government just need to stump up the cash, make homes safe and then use their power to make polluters pay. It is really simple; it has been done in Australia and it is an off-the-shelf solution that has been shown to work. Surely the Government realise that they must now bring forward protections for the tens of thousands of leaseholders who were promised by the Prime Minister that they would not be made to pay for fire safety defects not of their making, because if he does not, Members of this House will fight tooth and nail, working across the House, to deliver justice for building safety victims.
The telly has been showing horrific scenes of flooding across the globe recently. What is infuriating is the more overtly man-made mini-flooding that my constituents in Holden Mill and Astley Bridge have been exposed to. We are talking about water ingress where what were once penthouses have become unwanted pools, decompartmentalisation leading to fire risk and issues associated with cladding, all of which are liable to increase costs for the tormented people living there. With today’s Bill, this Government, this Secretary of State and this MP have the chance to put things right for the people of Holden Mill.
The proposed reforms are welcome, particularly the extension of the Defective Premises Act 1972 and the limitation period. However, clause 124 is unlikely to be in place for at least a year and leaseholders risk having to pay ruinous costs for months to come. The only real route of redress against culpable parties is usually through costly litigation, so will the Department outline the provisions in place to help cash-strapped leaseholders and management companies pay for legal action involving extensions to the limitation period?
Some 20% of residents in the Cottonworks, a mill that has been converted into dwellings in my constituency, are affected by water ingress due to poor conversion by the developer PJ Livesey. Despite insurance cover with the National House Building Council, my constituents are facing a potential shortfall in excess of £1 million. These residents are living in torrid circumstances, and leaseholders have already had to pay into a levy, on top of service charges, to cover temporary measures concerning PJ Livesey’s alleged failings in relation to fire compartmentation. The timing of the levy could not be worse, and it is vital that these future costs are not passed on to innocent leaseholders.
How do we ensure that responsible and culpable parties do not abuse the statute of limitations by simply running down the clock? Some 280 leaseholders at the Cottonworks could face further levies, and they fear not being able to fund legal action. These companies—I am sure there are many such cases across the country—have slopey shoulders regarding poor workmanship, ping-ponging my constituents from company to company. I will be voting with the Government, standing shoulder to shoulder with these residents in Astley Bridge and across the country.
Finally, the intention to create a system of duty holders throughout the design, construction and occupation of high-risk buildings is welcome, but can the Minister and the Department assure my constituents that this will be applied retrospectively, finally providing residents with the power to make someone—
I begin by paying my respects to all those who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower disaster, and to their family members and relatives who continue to campaign to protect others in our country. I also pay tribute to all those in my constituency who have been campaigning, as we have a large number of blocks with ACM cladding and other safety risks.
Although I support many aspects of this Bill, it is clear that the Government are missing an opportunity to protect the hundreds of thousands of people who need protection. That is why it is important that, although the building safety fund is welcome, the Government should look to provide additional funding for those blocks that are not getting the funding they urgently need. The companies that are responsible should pay. As I have argued time and again over the past four years, it should not be on our residents to have to go after the companies. The Government should be going after the companies. The Government have not done enough; they need to do much more.
When the Grenfell Tower disaster happened, the then Prime Minister said that we should “do whatever it takes” to protect our people. Yet, year in and year out, many of us on both sides of the House have campaigned and are still arguing about funding and support for our constituents.
Despite what the Secretary of State said today, the Fire Brigades Union has said that the building safety fund completely ignores unsafe buildings beneath the arbitrary 18-metre limit. As he admitted, there are still people at risk. He mentioned 10 people who have died, and that is 10 too many. It is important that this Government do not create a trend of callous disregard for human life. Our constituents have had to live in fear during lockdown in dangerous ACM-clad properties.
In Poplar and Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, we saw a fire in a block with ACM cladding in May, and it was described by The Sunday Times as being
“‘minutes’ away from being another Grenfell Tower.”
In our borough there are 291 buildings at risk, which is why we need the Government to take action, to improve the Bill and to accept the Labour amendments and other sensible amendments that have been proposed.
In Claremont Court, Tower Hamlets Community Housing has applied to the building safety fund, like other housing associations in other blocks. While some have received some funding, others have been rejected for no good reason. I hope that the Secretary of State will look at those cases again.
Last Saturday, I attended a demonstration at Leeds Dock in which my constituents—leaseholders affected by the scandal—talked about the anxiety, the stress and the potentially crippling financial costs they face if they are asked to pay to fix their homes. They really feel that nothing has changed. Now, had they been able to see Ted Baillieu from Victoria state speak last week, as referred to by the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), they would have been blown away by his direct, no-nonsense approach. Those three words—“find, fix, fund”, and then go after the people who are responsible —should be the guiding light of the Government’s approach. My question to Ministers is: when will we see in the UK the kind of comprehensive approach that we are seeing in Victoria in Australia?
I appreciate—we all do—the money that the Government are putting in, but there are so many other faults in buildings apart from unsafe cladding that replacing the cladding will not make them safe. To take one example, the Richmond House fire was just under two years ago. It was below 18 metres, yet we are told that it was the absence of proper cavity barriers and fire breaks that allowed the fire to spread. I say to Members: watch the video. It is absolutely terrifying.
Luckily no one was killed, yet it is precisely fire defects of that sort, which we know are being discovered on countless buildings, that are not covered by the Government’s funding offer, because the Government are funding the removal of dangerous cladding. Ministers know—we have told them time and again—that lease- holders do not have the money to pay to fix those defects. If the defects are not fixed, those buildings will remain classed as unsafe. Presumably if they are a serious risk, they will continue to have waking watch and insurance bills, which will drain the accounts of innocent leaseholders.
My second point is: where is the plan to manage the most dangerous buildings first? At the moment, the order in which they are fixed depends on the speed with which managing agents and freeholders either pay for it themselves or apply to the building safety fund. We do not actually know the full extent of the problem; there is no comprehensive list. Offering 15 years instead of six is fine, but useless, because not a single leaseholder I have spoken to will be able to put the money up and take the risk of suing someone when they might lose after seven years and face another bill. They have enough to worry about at the moment.
I look forward to working with others on a cross-party basis to support amendments to the Bill, so that finally my leaseholders can look at the Bill when it is finished and say, “Right. We have a plan to deal with this”. Then all our constituents can get on with their lives, because that is what they want and what they deserve.
Technically speaking, the issue that I wish to highlight—the need for the more widespread fitting of sprinklers—does not fit neatly within the currently narrow scope of the Bill, but with some amendment it can and, quite frankly, the matter has been ignored for far too long, and it is appropriate to highlight it on the Second Reading of a Bill on building safety.
Ten years ago this month, the Wessex Foods factory on the South Lowestoft industrial estate was burnt to the ground. Fortunately, no one lost their lives, but 150 people lost their jobs, surrounding businesses were seriously disrupted, and it took 10 days to fully extinguish the fire, during which every firefighter in Suffolk attended the scene. Some 52 million litres of water was used, much of it finding its way in a contaminated form into nearby watercourses.
That turmoil would have been avoided if the factory had been fitted with sprinklers. If it had been, the firefighters who first attended the scene would have spent just four minutes on site. In the intervening 10 years, what has been done to promote the greater use of sprinklers? In previous Parliaments, we have had good debates, ably led by our former colleague, Jim Fitzpatrick, and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), but nothing has been achieved. In fact, we are going backwards, as the Government are proposing changes to the “Building Bulletin 100: Design for fire safety in schools” guidance that will mean automatic fire sprinkler systems will be required in only a very limited number of schools—far fewer than intended under the current BB 100.
Despite urban myths, the case for sprinklers is compelling. They save lives and jobs, and they prevent environmental degradation. Some people may worry about their cost, and I do not deny that in some circumstances retrofitting will present challenges, but making their use mandatory will unleash innovation, through increased manufacturing and the enhanced design and layout of buildings.
A small, but significant, step to achieving the more widespread use of sprinklers is to use this Bill to amend the Building Act 1984 and the 2010 building regulations, so as to give the Secretary of State the power to make regulations to facilitate the protection of property. I urge the Government to seriously consider this when the Bill is in Committee.
Sadly, this Bill is deficient in many areas. It focuses on higher-risk buildings, currently defined as those over 18 metres, leaving the safety of residents in buildings under 18 metres unclear. Does today’s EWS1 announcement now mean that combustible cladding under 18 metres should be ignored?
The issue of funding is still not adequately addressed. As the Government well know, the building safety fund only covers unsafe cladding, yet 70% of buildings surveyed have non-cladding fire and safety defects. Providing cladding remediation funding for buildings over 18 metres, yet forcing leaseholders in buildings under 18 metres to pay, is simply unjust. As Inside Housing has previously reported, even the minority of leaseholders who could apply for loans potentially face waiting for years.
As for social landlords, the National Housing Federation has stated that, “Social housing providers will be forced to draw money from improving tenants homes in communities to fund remediation.” This is staggering.
To address these inequities, the Government plan simply to extend limitation periods to 15 years, but that will still require leaseholders and social landlords to stump up the initial cost themselves, if they do not qualify for the building safety fund. Legal processes for the recovery of such funds could take years and be very costly, if the developers and contractors even still exist.
This proposal would not help leaseholders in my constituency at Transport House, who face bills of more than £100,000 each, as they fall shy of the 15-year period, and nor would it help the tenants and residents of Sovereign Point.
Aside from the unsafe conditions such residents are forced to live in every day, the mental strain takes its toll. In a survey by UK Cladding Action Group, 90% of leaseholders said their mental health has deteriorated and a fifth—a fifth—have had thoughts of suicide and self-harm.
Let us be clear: the only way to protect both leaseholders and tenants from the unfair costs of the crisis they did not cause is for the Government to provide upfront remediation funding, then recoup the cost from those responsible for those safety defects. As we have heard, they managed to do that in Australia, so this Government can manage to do it here.
Since last October, the all-party parliamentary group for fire safety and rescue, which I chair—and I am delighted to see so many of its members participating in the debate—has responded in detail to four Government consultations on various aspects of fire and building safety. A further consultation was launched by the Department for Education on 27 May in relation to the revised fire safety design guide for new schools. In a nutshell, that proposes to remove in the future the requirement for automatic fire sprinkler protection for all but a very few new schools. This is not acceptable and I am delighted that it was raised at Prime Minister’s questions today.
We are suffering from consultation overload and we could really do with a road map as to how all these pieces of work fit together. Last Thursday was my third meeting with the noble Lord Greenhalgh on fire and building-related issues since 23 June. Only last week, during a joint meeting that I chaired with the all-party parliamentary group for disability, we heard a most distressing account of a disabled resident trapped on the 23rd floor of Grenfell Tower whose son carried her down through the smoke and flames at 2.30 am, one and half hours into the fire. Her husband tragically perished, having jumped from the building.
One significant issue raised by both the APPG and the National Fire Chiefs Council in their previous responses to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 consultation was that there remains a fundamental disconnect between the non-worsening conditions of building regulations and the expectations of continuous improvements through the fire risk assessment process set by the fire safety order. Regulation 4 of the Building Regulations 2010 states that where the work did not previously comply with schedule 1, the new work, when complete, should be
“no more unsatisfactory in relation to that requirement than before the work was carried out”—
meaning that the general fire precautions may never get improved to modern standards. This runs contrary to the principles of prevention outlined in the fire safety order—that premises’ risk assessment should adapt to technical progress and reduce overall risk within buildings.
Non-worsening provisions are resulting in lost opportunities to improve building safety. An example is the refurbishment of Lakanal House following a multiple-fatality fire. The London fire commissioner told the coroner that automatic fire sprinkler protection would have prevented the death of six residents who died if it had been installed. Subsequently, the coroner recommended to the then Secretary of State that he should encourage social housing providers in high-rise blocks of over 18 metres to consider retrofitting automatic sprinkler protections. I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister: we must never make the same mistakes again.
My warmest congratulations, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think everybody welcomes the new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety in the Bill, but, as many Members have stated, I am equally concerned about the action that is needed now to make existing homes and products safe and to stop leaseholders from being hit with catastrophic bills from building owners to fix historic failures. I also want to put on record my concerns about a statement being issued in the middle of an opening speech presenting the Bill. I think it is absolutely appalling.
Moving on to Dame Judith Hackitt’s report, she concluded that it was the construction industry’s prevalent culture that was undermining building safety. She referred to procurement regimes that were not fit for purpose. In relation to building safety, she added that
“unhelpful behaviours such as contract terms and payment practices which prioritise speed and low cost solutions, exacerbate this situation.”
She concluded that poor procurement and payment practice
“provide poor value for money”
and produce “poor building safety outcomes.” She recommended that contracts’ payment terms and practices should be recorded as part of a proposed digital building safety file. I could not agree more with her conclusions.
There is a toxic culture in too many parts of the construction industry, where fly-by-night firms benefit by accepting the lowest-price jobs achieved by poor payment practices to their supply chain. This Bill provides a unique opportunity to deal with not just the scandal of unsafe buildings, but the scandal of the manipulation of late-payment practices by large, unscrupulous construction companies. Evidence given to Committees of this House following the Carillion collapse revealed the appalling abuse of tier 1 contractors such as Carillion. In spite of my Bill in 2019—the Public Sector Supply Chains (Project Bank Accounts) Bill—to tackle the misery that so many small construction companies continue to face and to protect them from becoming insolvent, as nearly a thousand did after Carillion’s demise, absolutely nothing has been done.
Almost six years on from the Business Department reviewing the practice of retentions that harms thousands of small businesses by depriving them of much needed cash flow, it has sat on its hands. Based on figures provided by the Department in October 2017, every day, almost £1 million-worth of retentions is lost by firms—mainly small businesses—because of upstream insolvencies. Today, according to insolvency specialists, almost 100,000 firms in the industry are under severe financial stress. Small construction firms are having to grapple with the massive cost pressures of their base and many are facing the issues that I have talked about. If an industry is free of the widespread and egregious treatment—
I welcome the Bill. It will be very important in transforming our regime of building safety and in putting residents and high rises at the forefront of that regime. Building safety is incredibly important to me. The tragedy of Grenfell Tower happened in my constituency, and London is home to 55% of all high rises and intermediate buildings, many of which lie in central London.
I hope the Bill will also change the culture of the building industry and the building products industry. I have been shocked by some of the revelations coming out of the Grenfell inquiry: how the system was gamed and how it was pushed to the nth degree. We need to change that culture; residents and safety must come first.
I warmly welcome many parts of this Bill, including the building products regulator and the ability of that regulator to take building products off the market and to prosecute those who try to sell products that do not meet the mark. I also welcome the fact that the time period to sue for defective premises will go from six years to 15 years, and the announcement that we heard this afternoon on EWS1 forms will be critical.
Clearly, there are details on which we need confirmation. RICS guidance will be important. It will be important to have confirmation that the consolidated advice note will be withdrawn, and we also need clarity as to what will happen to EWS1 forms that have already been issued. Will they stay or will they not? Potentially, this is a very significant development for leaseholders.
There are issues on which we need to work across the House. We need to agree the scope of the measures. Yes, they currently apply to buildings above 18 metres, but the Bill has the capacity to increase that scope, so we need to focus on that. Very importantly, we need a taskforce within the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that will look at buildings case by case, because there are so many buildings that are throwing up very unique circumstances that we need to deal with. One is Collier House in my constituency.
I wish to speak briefly on a few issues that affect my constituents.
First, I heard the intervention earlier from the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), who asked about the quantum of Barnett consequentials for Wales. The Secretary of State said that the Welsh Government have not devised a scheme for existing consequentials yet. This becomes a bit of a strange paradox, because it would be daft for a Government on a fixed budget to commit to spending more than they have, and they cannot plan for that. If a devolved Administration were to establish a scheme without the certainty that the money was coming, they would then be considered irresponsible. Therefore, it needs to be made clear what those additional consequentials are for the devolved Administrations.
The Scottish Government have proceeded on the basis of the £97 million allocated to the Scottish Parliament and have set up the Scottish Government single building assessment scheme, which prioritises by risk. I pay tribute to Kevin Stewart MSP who, as Minister, spearheaded much of this work. There have been more than 100 expressions of interest in the scheme, but in order to ensure that it reaches as far as it can, the consequentials have to be made absolutely clear so that the problem can be tackled.
Let me take the opportunity to pay tribute to those in my constituency who have championed their fellow residents, including Lisa Murray of the Verde Residents Group and Hector Thomson and Barry Cooper of the Lancefield Quay Residents Association. Hector and Barry told me of the difficulties that they have had in obtaining building insurance for the development of which they are a part. There are hundreds of flats in that development and their insurance was suddenly withdrawn on 23 December 2020, leaving them very worried over the Christmas period about what would happen.
Contrary to what the Secretary of State has said, there is a failure in the market. He mentioned Aviva, but my understanding is that it has a limit of £50 million, whereas for Lancefield Quay it is £75 million. I understand that Aviva also has a bar on commercial property as part of that. Sure enough, there is an Indian restaurant at the bottom of Lancefield Quay, which will be exempted from securing coverage if that is indeed the case.
I urge the Minister to solve that problem. People are being offered insurance that is comprehensive but entirely unaffordable—or just about affordable, but not for everyone; at Lancefield Quay there are some people who cannot afford the insurance payments—so they do not have the comprehensive coverage that they think they need. There are implications if someone proceeds without adequate coverage for their mortgage, I understand, so that their property is not properly insured. The Minister needs to look at those issues and find a solution, because this is not working at present, and the Bill does nothing to address that. I also urge the Minister to look at issues with VAT and building materials, because at the moment, the Government are profiting from the work that is being done and residents are not.
First, I believe that the Bill is the right measure to deal with the cladding issue, and I fully appreciate the reasons why the Fire Safety Act 2021 was not necessarily the right vehicle. There is plenty to celebrate in the Bill, and we must recognise that. I particularly welcome the announcement in the House from the Secretary of State on the use of EWS1 forms not being required for buildings below 18 metres. I know that people would like clarification on cases in which EWS1 forms already exist and whether they will be voided, so we would like to hear more about that. The clarification that there is no systemic risk for buildings under 18 metres and that the market is now expected to act is normal, leading to a market correction, is welcome.
Extreme risk aversion has caused some of the problems, as Dame Judith Hackitt referred to, and we can now begin to address it. It is encouraging to hear from the Secretary of State that lenders welcome the clarification, and making sure that we take with us other players in the market, including insurers, is the next logical step. As the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, mentioned, we thank the Secretary of State and his Department for responding to the points that the Select Committee made and acting on the vast majority of the recommendations, taking our comments into account. One principle that we have always held is that leaseholders should not pay.
The building safety fund is welcome, and £5.1 billion will go a long way in tackling many of the problems. The £30 million waking watch fund is a great help, although I think there are still problems that some people would regard as unresolved. It is important to recognise that the Bill is about far more than cladding. We have already announced new, robust legal requirements for builders and the materials that they use, which is very much needed and follows the recommendations from the Grenfell inquiry. Giving homeowners the right retrospectively to seek compensation for shoddy construction for up to 15 years will benefit a great number of people, as will doubling the period in which residents can bring legal claims against developers for substandard workmanship.
No one should be left living in an unliveable home. While the Building Safety Bill cannot solve every problem on its own—I am sure that there will be many further discussions—I support it, and it is a fundamental step in the right direction.
I first place it on the record that I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform with the hon. Members for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and for St Albans (Daisy Cooper). Ably assisted by the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, we have been looking at issues surrounding building safety for some time. We had an informative meeting last week, alongside the fire safety and rescue APPG, with Ted Baillieu, who co-chaired the Victoria cladding taskforce and gave a frank and compelling account of his experience when his state dealt with many of the issues covered by the Bill. Put simply, we take his advice that Government have to take a far bigger role in sorting this out than currently envisaged, and will have to dig far deeper into their pockets. It is better to learn from his experience and bite the bullet now, rather than let things drift unsatisfactorily for a few more years before coming to the inevitable conclusion.
I say that partly because the biggest concern is not the expense or the uncertainty but the time it will take to get any kind of restitution. It could be years, and leaseholders—the young couple who cannot start a family; the professional in fear of bankruptcy—cannot wait that long. Too many lives are on hold, and we must not underestimate the mental toll on someone of knowing every day that they are living in a potential death trap and there is nothing they can do to get out of it. These people cannot wait.
Although the Bill is step in the right direction, it feels that, for many, resolution is still years off, and it may yet come with a heavy price tag. The only certain winners from this legislation will be the lawyers, who will have a plethora of new legal avenues to argue over.
Let us start with the extension of the limitation period. On the face of it, that is a positive thing, but it does not create any new rights; it only extends existing ones. As the Bill makes clear, the 15-year rule is available only if it somehow does not impact the developer’s human rights. Of course, developers are always going to claim that it will, so the first field day for the lawyers will be arguing over that.
Critically, of course, the extension is available only if the developer is still in business. As we know, many are not. Even if the extension does increase the number of people who can take legal action, they will still face the same hurdles of expensive litigation. If the developer is still in business and worth suing, it will be in a far stronger position to fight the action than the leaseholders. The inequality of arms in litigation will be immense.
Despite the Government’s repeated promises in recent months, there are no guaranteed means of forcing regulators and developers, who are the architects of this crisis, to be held to account. The inquiry into Grenfell continues, but it is already clear that the materials used there should never have been used. Some of those materials were certified as safe at the time but never should have been. Cladding systems had been designed by architects, planners and fire engineers, costs were knowingly cut, and safety concerns were ignored. Leaseholders are the only truly innocent party in this mess, but they still face the biggest burden to fix it, and that is wrong.
I rise in support of the Bill, which introduces a number of crucial safeguards for residents while reforming the building safety system so that appropriate checks and balances are strengthened. Notably, the Bill brings forward recommendations from the Dame Judith Hackitt review, and it adds to the progress made by the Fire Safety Act 2021 and the greater clarification of rules concerning the use of EWS1 forms.
I very much welcome the written ministerial statement that was provided today about buildings under 18 metres no longer requiring an EWS1 form. Although it is probably slightly overdue, it is extremely welcome news, and it will go down very well with my constituents.
The Bill has many positive elements, which I would have liked to touch on. However, due to the time limit, I will have to skip over them, because I do have a couple of concerns about the Bill. The first relates to clause 124, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) first touched on.
I agree with the principle that landlords must take cost recovery avenues to avoid passing on costs directly to leaseholders, given, of course, that leaseholders bear absolutely no responsibility for cladding being put on their buildings in the first place. However, there is currently no legal obligation on landlords to seek cost recovery for remediation before passing the costs on to leaseholders. Although the Bill acknowledges that, it is insufficiently clear as to any potential remedy. Clause 124 stipulates that the landlord must seek other cost recovery avenues before passing those costs on. What happens if they are unable to obtain such funding? What happens to the leaseholders then? What protections will be in place for them? The Bill does not clarify that sufficiently.
The London Fire Brigade has highlighted a further issue, which has potentially huge significance. Developers often open a subsidiary company when they are building new developments or refurbishing existing projects. When those projects are complete, standard practice is for the subsidiary company to be closed down by the parent, and the parent company rarely retains legal liability for the premises that have been remediated. There is a danger that that will leave leaseholders liable for all costs resulting from negligent work by developers and their contractors.
Having said that, I believe that those issues can be addressed as the Bill proceeds through the House. Indeed, I hope that the Minister will be able to provide clarity on them in his closing remarks today. In totality, I believe that the Bill takes great strides in improving building safety, and I will be supporting its Second Reading this evening, albeit with the hope that it may be strengthened as it proceeds.
Despite repeated promises to make buildings safe and protect leaseholders, and four years on from Grenfell, hundreds of thousands of people still live in unsafe homes and millions are caught up in the building safety crisis. Leaseholders are facing costs of hundreds of pounds a month for service charges, insurance premiums and waking watch, before even getting into remediation costs. The Government’s building safety fund excludes buildings under 18 metres, it is not distributed on the basis of risk, and just 10p or 12p in every pound of the fund has been allocated. There is also uncertainty about who will cover the cost of other fire safety defects and interim safety costs.
I appreciate that this debate has been very technical, but we must ensure that the voices of those leaseholders trapped in dangerous buildings are heard, and I want the Minister to hear testimony from people in Luton South. Tom, who lives in the Point Red building, says:
“We are left with terrible uncertainty, unable to move on with our lives, not knowing if we are going to be bankrupt and homeless by the end of the year. We sleep in a death trap every night.”
This afternoon’s statement and the added issue around the EWS1 forms is yet another layer of uncertainty, as it stands. Tom is a primary school teacher and his partner works with vulnerable children. The key workers we have relied on over the past 15 months have been forced to the edge of ruin month after month due to the life-ruining costs of fixing a problem they did not create. Will the Minister respond to Tom and his partner? How does he propose that they raise money to pay the remediation costs that are not covered by Government funding? It may be a shock to Conservative Members, but we do not all have trust funds or multiple assets to fall back on.
The mental health of innocent leaseholders has severely deteriorated, and the Government should ensure that they can access free support to reduce some of their anxieties and worries. The Bill needed to include explicit legal protections to ensure that millions of pounds of building safety remediation costs are not passed on to innocent homeowners and tenants. I support Labour’s call for a new building works agency that would go block by block to identify which works need doing, and then fix, fund and, crucially, certify them as safe and sellable at the end to allow leaseholders to finally move on with their lives.
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s report stated:
“It would be unacceptable and an abdication of responsibility to make them contribute a single penny towards the cost of remediating defects for which they were not responsible.”
This should not be the leaseholders’ burden to bear. It is developers that created the crisis by putting profit before protections. How can it be that property developers, who make millions each year, are protected, while teachers, nurses, shopworkers, transport workers, carers and pensioners are left to pick up the bill?
I very much welcome this Bill, which is an extremely important step towards ending the anxiety that has particularly affected very large numbers of private leaseholders of modest means. I welcome, in particular, the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) about the challenge posed by subsidiary companies.
Let me turn to a couple of other points that are important to make in the context of the passage of this Bill. Local authorities, on the whole, have moved extremely swiftly to remediate any risks that they could through measures such as waking watches and physical changes to buildings. On the whole, the public sector has been very responsible in its role as a landlord and in ensuring that the finance was there so that the work that was needed could be done. The private sector has been a much more mixed picture. Some developers deserve praise for taking responsibility, even if it was not their fault and they had acted in good faith, for putting right problems that posed risks to leaseholders, but clearly others have chosen to walk away by putting businesses into liquidation.
While Government cannot know the risks that are posed by the inside and the outside of every building and structure in the country, I urge Ministers to be as clear as possible, particularly with the finance and the property industries, about what the requirements are to fulfil the expectations of this Bill. The situation that some of my constituents faced with EWS1 forms, for example, was a result in many ways of a lack of clarity and understandable caution on the part of that industry in going for the belt-and braces option, even though it was not required in the vast majority of transactions that were undertaken, which had the double effect of gumming up the system and ensuring that people who really needed the work to be done could not find appropriately qualified professionals to do it. So can I urge that we are really clear about what is required and also what is not required?
I would also ask Ministers to consider the representations from councils such as my own in Hillingdon and Harrow, which have in many cases outstanding local authority building control departments, so that we can ensure that the recommendations for practical change outlined in the Bill to ensure that building control work is done to the highest possible standard learn from the best practice already there in the market. We must make sure that those things only government can do are done correctly and appropriately by government, and also that those at the sharp end like local authorities have the powers they need. But, overall, this is a big positive step in the right direction.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds). I agree with everything he said, and also with the observations of my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon).
The importance of getting these details right is absolutely critical. I hope, first, that, while welcoming the changes to the EWS1 forms, we can have clarity as to when they will come into force, because at the moment many contractors are sending people on RICS courses, but will that be needed? Secondly, what broader cultural change is going to be achieved within the sector?
There is lots to welcome in the Bill, and I shall support it on Second Reading. In particular, the establishment of a modernised framework of fire safety and regulation in building safety overall on the back of the Hackitt review is an important and welcome reform. However, as has been pointed out, there are areas where, frankly, the Bill will require improvement. The issues around clause 124 and the protection of leaseholders, especially where there are historical defects, remain critical.
Although much work has been done—I recognise that—and much money has been put in by Government, the problem is actually growing as more and more instances of substandard workmanship come to light. I have referred to Northpoint in my constituency on a number of occasions in this House, but to that now I can add residents in Iconia House and Azuria House on Homesdale Road, where defective cladding is now coming to light; and two new builds—recent work—in Ringers Road, William House and Henry House. So this is a scandal, frankly, of poor workmanship that will not go away, and the Government are going to have to grasp the nettle even more ambitiously than they have so far.
Where there is clear evidence that a developer has failed to build in accordance with the then extant regulations and in accordance with proper practice, of course they should be pursued and should pay. But there are problems in that practically, because we have to have a solvent developer to go after in the first place, and in many cases, as has been pointed out, we do not. Where it transpires that buildings were built in accordance with the then regulations, and those regulations were not themselves adequate or fit for purpose, I have to say to the Minister that Government are the corporate owner of those regulations, so Government must bear the costs of meeting the undeserved loss to leaseholders, who have acted entirely in good faith through all of this. There may be ways to try to recover that in due course, but cash flow they do not have, particularly as they have unsellable, un-mortgageable properties and are already up to the eyeballs in debt because of the cost of waking watch. So still more has to be done to the Bill to improve the protection of leaseholders, and that is the message I think we need to give tonight.
Since 2018, I have raised the issue of dangerous cladding on at least seven different occasions in the House, but for hundreds across my Slough constituency, I am frustrated by the lack of progress that has been made on ensuring we never have a repeat of the horrors of Grenfell and that our building safety regulations are overhauled. So I welcome the Second Reading of the Building Safety Bill and its return to the House, and its inclusion of steps that regulate and strengthen the quality and safety of building homes.
Sadly, it is what this Bill omits that concerns me most —namely, the lack of concrete protections for leaseholders to ensure that they will not be responsible for fire safety costs. So I stand here today to repeat desperate pleas from residents in Slough and beyond to a Government who do not appear to be listening. On behalf of the occupants of West Central, Rivington Apartments, Lexington Apartments, Nova House, Kingswood House, Foundry Court and Ibex House, I implore the Government to pay attention, because protecting leaseholders is not only the right thing to do—it is what has been repeatedly promised to them. Seventeen times Government Ministers have reassured leaseholders that they should be shielded from fire safety costs, with the Prime Minister just last year noting that
“no leaseholder should have to pay for the unaffordable costs of fixing safety defects that they did not cause and are no fault of their own.”—[Official Report, 3 February 2021; Vol. 688, c. 945.]
So my question to the Minister is: where will these legal protections actually come from? As it currently stands, leaseholders could still be liable for costs after the building owner has
“explored alternative cost recovery routes.”
Characteristically, the Government response is delayed, limited and inept. We need a national cladding taskforce to truly establish the extent of dangerous cladding, supported by a building works agency to certify work as safe so that flats can become sellable and action is taken against those who caused the crisis in the first place. Leaseholders and local councils such as Slough Borough Council should not be responsible for remediation costs; leaseholders did not build their homes or clad them in dangerous materials, and they certainly did not approve them as safe. Their only crime is saving tirelessly in fulfilling their dream of home ownership, and how have they been rewarded? By going to bed at night in fear for their lives, with an ever-growing bill to simply make their homes fire safe, and the looming risk of bankruptcy and the loss of their jobs as a result. So I call upon the Government to act with urgency for the hundreds of thousands still suffering. We need to definitively end this nightmare for those in Slough and beyond in our country.
It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I worked in construction over several years, during which time I was involved in the construction of purely retail buildings, houses and flats, and I have also worked on oil rigs. I should note for the Register of Members’ Financial Interests that I am also a landlord, so ensuring homes and other buildings are safe is very real to me.
My experience has given me some insight into building safety, and fire safety in particular, and I have often witnessed a disconnect between policy makers, developers, building inspectors and home buyers. Day-to-day practicalities can show up well-known policies to be out of touch, and it is home buyers who always face the consequences of this reality.
The Minister will know of my support for what the Government are trying to achieve, and it makes complete sense to target remedial activity at buildings posing the highest risk, but there remains a question of fairness, which is quite separate to risk. A careful balance needs to be struck as both taxpayers and leaseholders have no fault in what has happened, yet it seems that both may be suffering financial consequences.
While small buildings generally face lower safety risks, this should not mean that leaseholders should be financially worse off for living in them, compared with those in higher-rise properties. Developers, specifiers, inspecting bodies and insurance companies should be paying up. That is why it is so important that the Bill seeks to tackle bad practice head-on, especially by the introduction of retrospective action on substandard homes.
Inspections have highlighted further building faults such as missing fire breaks, wooden balconies and combustible insulation. The repair costs alone could be more than £25,000 per flat. There is no provision for support with these repairs, which would be required before a fire safety certificate could be issued—unless of course this has changed due to today’s statement. Home buyers would not be privy to these liabilities as the conveyancing process would not have highlighted the possibility of these risks even existing at point of purchase. I raised the question of risk awareness at the conveyancing stage for all manner of risks in my ten-minute rule Bill.
We need a Bill that will deliver a more robust regulatory system that will ensure all homes are built to the highest safety standards, so no one is ever left feeling unsafe in their home again, and the regulatory system must itself be accountable.
Four years on from the Grenfell disaster, hundreds of thousands of people are still in unsafe homes and trapped in blocks, unable to move or to sell their properties—in ongoing chronic uncertainty with the added trauma of thinking that they could be consumed by fire. This is not their fault. They are not able to fund the works and they are not able to recover the costs. The answer is clear: only the Government are in a position to assess the work, fund it, fix it and then recover the costs in a systematic way, as appropriate, from insurers and developers, and to fund the residue from taxpayers. Individuals are not in a position to do that.
If the total cost was, say, £15 billion, much of it would be recovered. The cost of that in the first instance would be the interest of around £150 million a year. This year, the Government are saving £14 billion in interest costs on debt because of lower interest rates, so that cost—the £150 million to fund the £15 billion to fund everything—basically represents 1% of the savings they have made this year. It is therefore completely wrong and unnecessary that they should dither and delay. People’s lives have been blighted, their finances have been torpedoed, their mental health is in tatters and it is completely unnecessary.
The Government subsidised second-home purchasers with stamp duty in England to a total of something like £5 billion. That was completely unnecessary, because interest rates actually went down during covid and there was no need to prop up the housing market. So much for levelling up! If the Government are serious about levelling up, they should put their money where their mouth is. They should support first-time buyers, low-income buyers and the low-income homeowners who have been left in this paralysis.
The Government should immediately evaluate this situation, as the Welsh Government are doing in Wales. They should find it, fund it and fix it, and then recover the cost from the developers and insurers. There is no excuse for delay. Justice should be done. People are rightly angry and I would be happy to join them outside Parliament in protest before that becomes illegal in the autumn. Let’s get moving and get people sorted out on this tragic issue.
I welcome the Bill, which requires a fundamental overhaul of our building industry’s attitude towards the quality of new homes. For too long, the biggest five builders have squeezed out smaller local home builders, whose reputation for quality is central to their business. The Bill makes build quality central to everyone’s business. First and foremost in the debate today, however, we need to speak up for those who have been impacted by the building industry’s current fire safety regulatory failure. Those directly affected by the tragedy at Grenfell are always in our minds, but so are the people who own homes in high-rise flats. They continue to shoulder the worry resulting from construction work that has failed fire safety tests.
The Government have acted rapidly, and many residents have already benefited from the Government’s £5 billion fund for remedial works, particularly the waking watch relief fund. Building operators have also been able to get in-principle agreements for significant fire safety remedial works, but the worry for residents remains because some building owners might be cautious about starting remedial works without clear sight of what happens if additional problems are discovered. I do not think that the Government can write a blank cheque, so what additional assurances can the Minister give, because this legislation is not explicit in stopping freeholders passing on the cost of remedial works to leaseholders?
Back in 2017, residents raised concerns with me about domestic fire alarm systems in high-rise buildings and the lack of understanding among residents about how they worked, so I am really pleased to see reflected in the Bill today my ten-minute rule Bill of March 2018—the Fire Safety Information Bill—which required residents of high-rise buildings to be provided with far more fire safety information.
My constituents have raised other issues such as how complex building ownership structures can be dealt with, particularly when they allow owners to be disconnected from fire safety in the buildings they own. Could that be referred to the building safety regulator? Disabled and vulnerable people need to be able to visit a building and to leave it if a fire occurs. Is the Minister looking further at personal evacuation plans and whether they are up to scratch?
I very much welcome the new homes ombudsman, which was called for in 2015 by the all-party parliamentary group for excellence in the built environment in a report that I co-chaired following my constituents experiencing problems with build quality. I really support the Bill, but residents need us to recognise the worries that they still have. By putting in place a £5 billion fund to cover remedial works, the Government are clear that they do not want the costs to fall on the shoulders of leaseholders. What more can be said to make that clearer?
The Bill is both welcome in that we have waited for it for so long and totally unwelcome in that we all know it will not solve so many of the problems. On behalf of so many of my constituents who have been locked in an absolute nightmare, I am incandescent with rage about the Government’s utter hopelessness, and I am not the only one.
MPs across the House will have had the same conversations and same site visits. A couple of years ago, for me it was Berkeley Homes and its hugely expensive properties in the centre of Cambridge. They were lovely looking properties but catastrophically poorly constructed—so much so that they literally had to be taken apart. As that was done, it revealed the slapdash built on the cavalier. There were joists hanging in the air not connected to anything, pipes not connected, and waste water expected to run uphill. When exasperated purchasers looked to those who had made a fortune out of them to offer some help, they were met with a wall of denial and obfuscation—the only reliably sound wall. What about the National House Building Council and other organisations supposedly there to provide redress? They were partners in crime. Unbelievable, one might have thought. Where was the local building control? That had been outsourced, too. Rip-off Tory Britain, complete with massive bungs from those developers.
We used to think that other countries had corrupt systems. I am afraid that is what we have here—a corrupt, broken system. The question is: do the measures in the Bill give any hope for the future? The new homes ombudsman has been awaited for almost as long as I have been in this place—goodness knows how many times it has been promised—and if it is finally going to happen, that is good, but there is nothing here to address past failures.
I named one developer in Cambridge, but frankly I could name most of them. Barratt, Countryside, Bovis—it is a lost list of shame. Twice in the past few weeks I have been in Trumpington with distraught residents looking at sloppy work and areas left unfinished. The skate park got the developer its planning permission, but now the kids have to scramble over fences and fight through weedy undergrowth and past dead trees—they were never watered—to get to it. No one ever takes responsibility because everything is subcontracted. How convenient. The only problem is that the unfortunate residents cannot subcontract living there. Maybe we should arrange a house swap with some of those who have made such rich pickings.
There is so much more to be said, but let me make one observation raised by the Local Government Association on the provision for duty holders to choose their building control regulator. As the LGA says:
“By requiring regulators to remain in competition with ‘approved inspectors’ for the majority of buildings, the Bill leaves in place one of the root causes of the current crisis.”
Absolutely it does that. It beggars belief that that should be allowed to continue. The LGA goes on:
“Compliance with regulation cannot be a commodity and local authority building control should not be left to tackle non-compliance in buildings over 18m while simultaneously having to compete with private businesses for work in out of scope buildings, often owned by the same developers.”
Let us think about compliance with regulations as a commodity—it really is absurd. I want independence. It really is not complicated. The fact that the Conservative party cannot grasp that simple fact goes to the heart of why it is totally unfit to be in charge.
I am pleased to speak in this long-awaited debate on such an important Bill. I put on record how disrespectful it was both to Members of this House and to leaseholders that the Secretary of State chose to release details of a major policy shift just minutes before the debate began, making proper scrutiny impossible. Will he urgently clarify whether his announcement on EWS1 forms for buildings under 18 metres will apply retrospectively?
Since I was elected 18 months ago, I have raised the issue of dangerous cladding with fire safety Ministers in this House on 14 separate occasions. Each time I have raised it, the Government’s answer to my question has always been the same: wait for the Building Safety Bill to come to Parliament.
I welcome the elements of the Bill that strengthen the fire safety regime for high-rise buildings, but I am afraid that the legislation before us today is woefully short of what is required to address properly all the issues facing leaseholders. It fails to protect them from extortionate charges for interim safety watch. It fails to ensure their homes are mortgageable, so that they have the basic right to move. Instead of rescuing leaseholders from this financial nightmare, it enshrines in law additional costs in the form of a new building safety charge estimated to cost leaseholders up to £42 a month— £42 a month that many of them simply cannot afford. That is why my question to the Secretary of State is urgent and needs clarification. Home ownership is an aspiration to be applauded, yet leaseholders who bought their homes in good faith have simply been hung out to dry.
I would also like to echo the comments made by the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) about fire evacuation plans for disabled leaseholders. Where will that be addressed? I hope the Minister will reflect on all these injustices and take time over the summer to relax. Unfortunately for a number of my constituents, they do not have the same luxury. They are still living in dangerous buildings wondering how on earth they will address that and pay for these costs.
Ministers promised that the Building Safety Bill would finally address the cladding scandal. I urge them to think again and end this cladding scandal nightmare for our leaseholders.
Four years on from the Grenfell fire, a fire that killed 72 people and shone a tragic light on the reality of how race, class and inequality shape the lives of working-class people in our country, we are still yet to see the changes needed to make housing safe. Four years later, hundreds of thousands of people are still living with unsafe cladding and other fire safety problems. Millions are caught up in the wider building safety crisis, yet the Government have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to make any small steps forward in the Bill—a Bill riddled with major flaws. It must be amended as it passes through this House.
The Bill, together with the statement that the Secretary of State has published today, is as it stands a betrayal of those who needed the Government to step in and support them following Grenfell. Despite the promises of Conservative Ministers, many leaseholders are still having to pay. Without decisive Government action, they will pay more in the future. Legal advice for the Labour party found that the Bill will make it more likely, not less likely, that leaseholders would have to pick up the costs of fixing cladding issues.
Four years on from Grenfell, what explains the inadequacies of the Bill before us today? What explains the four years of foot-dragging and the four years of refusal to deliver the protections that leaseholders need? This year, dodgy contracts have been exposed and the stench of corruption has grown ever stronger, with polls showing that most people see this Government as corrupt. Well, those people will not be reassured by the fact that developers who build flats with unsafe cladding have donated £2.5 million to the Conservatives since Grenfell and that Conservative MPs have then voted time after time after time to block amendments to protect leaseholders from the cost of removing dangerous cladding. Nor will they be reassured that, according to the anti-corruption body Transparency International, £1 in every £5 donated to the Conservative party since 2010 came from those with substantial interests in the housing market. And, of course, we have a Housing Secretary who admitted to unlawfully signing off a £1 billion housing project which saved a Conservative party donor millions of pounds.
Tory MPs and the Government, if they want, can show that they are not in the pockets of developers by backing amendments that will come to ensure that the cost of building safety remediation is not passed on to innocent homeowners and tenants. It is remarkable that if the Minister himself were not here, not a single Conservative MP would be on the Conservative Benches today—not good enough. Members should back the amendments to improve the Bill.
The tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire exposed serious failings on fire and building safety, and I echo my colleagues’ concerns that four years after that devastating event the Government still have not learned all the fundamental lessons.
My chief concern is that this Bill makes absolutely no provisions that prevent existing and new buildings under 18 metres from using the same flammable cladding materials that were used on the Grenfell Tower. As 18 metres is about six storeys high, if this Bill passes in its current form any building under six storeys will be able to use dangerous flammable cladding that would wreak devastation upon its occupants if there were a fire. In my constituency, most new homes would not be protected from fires caused by unsafe building materials, and neither would most school buildings, care home buildings and small businesses. All the Government have chosen to do is advise that dangerous, highly flammable materials be removed from these buildings. As I am sure we are all aware, Government guidance without any legal backing or funding is completely toothless, so I urge the Government to reclassify all buildings with dangerous cladding as high risk, not just the high-rise buildings in our big cities.
This Bill also does far too little to protect leaseholders from the financial burden of making their homes safe. Right hon. and hon. Members have repeatedly asked the Government to draft protections for leaseholders caught up in the cladding scandal. Just last year, the Prime Minister stated that he was
“determined that no leaseholder should have to pay for the unaffordable costs of fixing safety defects that they did not cause”.—[Official Report, 3 February 2021; Vol. 688, c. 945.]
Where, then, is that determination today?
Despite years of promises and reassurances from this Government, they have not gone nearly far enough to protect leaseholders. Instead they have done quite the opposite. For example, they have pointed triumphantly to their policy of extending from six to 15 years the period in which a leaseholder can sue for wrongful costs under the Defective Premises Act. However, the National Audit Office published a report last year that stated that the Government have
“acknowledged that only in a minority of cases would it be financially justifiable…to bring legal action to recover money.”
In other words, the Government have already acknowledged that this new policy, supposedly designed to protect leaseholders, will protect almost nobody and make almost no difference. I ask the Government to put their money where their mouth is and protect leaseholders from footing a bill that they have unfairly inherited.
I rise on behalf of every leaseholder in Putney, Roehampton and Southfields who is living in an unsafe building, paying the price for the irresponsibility and incompetence of others, and feeling let down by the Government and this Bill, which is so late and so flawed. I stand here on behalf of those at the Riverside Quarter, the Swish building, the Filaments development, the Radial development, Hardwicks Square, Whitelands Park, Mill Court, Norstead Place and the rest of the 25 developments in Putney and Southfields in my constituency currently on the wrong side of the building safety scandal.
I stand here on behalf of those whose lives have already been ruined and those whose lives will be ruined in the future unless the Government get this Bill right. Dreams of home ownership have turned into an absolute nightmare. People are furious in my constituency, and I have met so many of them. The way in which the victims—and they are victims—have been treated is a disgrace. One block in Wandsworth that has unsafe cladding has been turned down by the building safety fund and each leaseholder is now facing a £37,000 bill for remediation for the cladding. What will this Bill do for them? Behind the speeches, briefings and legislative noise are millions of leaseholders trapped in unsafe homes, suffering unimaginable stress, anxiety and emotional anguish, and they still feel totally abandoned.
The building safety fund is a mess. Just 12p of every pound of that fund has been allocated. At this rate it will take until 2027 to allocate the fund, and meanwhile people are living in fear. I recently asked the Government how many applications they have received for the building safety fund. That is a simple question, and the answer was that
“it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period.”
They do not know how many applications have been received, yet applications are being serviced on a first come, first served basis.
This Bill is a step in the right direction, but it is very late and there need to be some serious changes. The Government need to take much more of a role. They need to take action to stop the ever-increasing waking watches, insurance premiums and service charges resulting from building safety mismanagement. There need to be no more costs and no building safety charge, which is in this Bill. There needs to be explicit legal protection to ensure that all leaseholders in unsafe buildings, regardless of height—no 18-metre rule—will not have to pay for their remedial works.
This Bill should not be so reliant on residents having to take up legal action to make their building safe. That is too high a barrier to result in the changes needed. There will be inequality and it will leave unsafe buildings staying unsafe. The building safety fund must be increased. Applications must be based on fire safety risk rather than be first come, first served, and they must be speeded up. As other Members have said, we must learn from the Government of Victoria and have a building works agency. My leaseholders should have a Bill that does not have a devastating effect on so many people’s lives and that makes future buildings safe.
The debate on this Bill is framed by the Prime Minister’s promise that
“no leaseholder should have to pay for the unaffordable costs of fixing safety defects that they did not cause and are no fault of their own.”—[Official Report, 3 February 2021; Vol. 688, c. 945.]
Let me dissect that pledge. There were no conditions on the height of the property, none on when it was built and no limit to the nature of the defects.
The Prime Minister was right to make that pledge because, along with the developers who built them, those who live in these unsafe properties have been let down by comprehensive regulatory failure. The failure of successive Governments, as the Prime Minister said, is no fault of leaseholders. The Government are responsible for the problem and must take responsibility for resolving it, which this Bill does not do.
Throughout this crisis, I have regularly met affected leaseholders across my constituency. I pay tribute to Sheffield Cladding Action Group, which has done so much to raise their concerns. I met the group shortly after the Fire Safety Act 2021 was passed without amendment. They were understandably upset that it did not put an end to their misery, but they looked to the Building Safety Bill for a solution because the Building Safety Minister, Lord Greenhalgh, and other Ministers had said that this Bill would offer the “correct legislative approach” to fulfil the Prime Minister’s pledge. But clearly it does not.
Since the publication of the Bill, constituents have been in touch to point out how little it does to protect them from historic costs. They have said that making it a legal requirement for building owners to exhaust “all other avenues” before passing on costs fails them, too, as it gives building owners a free pass to avoid costs so long as they find an excuse. The problems they face include issues other than cladding. That was part of the Prime Minister’s promise, but it is not covered by the Bill.
Extending to 15 years the period within which people have the right to sue developers does not help many of my constituents whose homes were built earlier, such as the one who pointed out that he was 14 years old when his building was completed. Those who will get the opportunity to pursue developers say that the Government know it is not a real option for most leaseholders. How can they take on the legal costs and, with their resources already depleted by all the bills they have faced, tackle the corporate lawyers of the major developers? And what of the companies that have been wound up?
Let us remember the reason for this Bill. It is not just the lives that have been destroyed or the people who have been bankrupted, although they have been, but the thousands of buildings that have been found to be unsafe. By putting unaffordable costs on to thousands of leaseholders, those buildings will remain unsafe. The Government must face up to their responsibility, make buildings safe and then use the full resources of the state to recover the costs from those responsible. If they will not do so willingly, this Parliament needs to force them to do so by amending the Bill over the weeks ahead.
I welcome that the UK Government have accepted all the findings and recommendations of the independent review of building regulations and fire safety, and I am glad to see the Bill establish the Health and Safety Executive as the new building safety regulator and a more stringent regulatory regime for higher-risk residential blocks. However, I draw the UK Government’s attention to the recommendations of Zurich Insurance, which notes that limiting the scope for regulation to just those blocks risks missing a generational chance to improve the regulation environment overall.
To ensure that tragic disasters such as Grenfell never befall us again, we need a culture change in the building industry, with clearer lines of accountability and responsibility—a more responsible building industry at all levels, from design through to construction, management and refurbishment. I will focus on the specific aspects where greater responsibility is needed and where the Bill does not go far enough—the construction product testing process.
In the Bill, we find a much-needed renewed focus on construction products, and their regulation and testing, as had been signalled by the Hackitt report. The aim of the Bill to create a statutory list of defined safety-critical products is welcome, but it should be accompanied by an associated examination of safety-critical applications and product systems. The Hackitt report criticised the product testing and marketing regime for being too “opaque”, which could be resolved by making the results of some product tests publicly available. A system of reliable third-party certification and accreditation for those performing construction product testing would also go a long way to ensuring greater trust in the system, and would prevent the risk of testing being carried out by those not competent to do so. This third-party certification should benefit from an extensive oversight process, including an impartiality committee at a national level to ensure an even playing field and even application of certification across schemes.
The Bill takes important steps at last to make the changes to building regulation that we have long awaited since Grenfell, although it is important to note that many of the changes stipulated by the Bill will take until the year 2023 to take effect—a delay of frustrating length to these much-needed reforms. I hope that the Government continue to engage with the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group, of which I am a member, with the aim of ensuring a future regulatory regime that is efficient, gives residents a greater voice, and enjoys the trust of communities and industry alike.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this important debate.
Time and again, we have heard Members across the House relay the nightmares that hundreds of thousands of our constituents are facing—trapped in a building safety crisis that was not of their making, forced to pay astronomical bills, and suffering significant mental health problems and the ever-present fear of living in an unsafe home. In Liverpool, 10% of buildings are still covered in dangerous cladding and there are 30,000 leaseholders in Liverpool, Riverside who are facing bills for things other than cladding to make their homes safe. On top of that, they are facing increasing insurance premiums of up to 500% and are being forced to foot the bill for a situation that they did not create. This will have a particularly serious impact on the social housing sector, with councils and local authorities forced to divert scarce resources in order to address fire safety failures.
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service has lost more than a third of its funding in the past decade and the same proportion of its firefighters. A decade of Tory austerity and deregulation has created this building safety crisis. Let us call it what it is: a criminal dereliction of responsibility by those in power, who are more concerned with putting money in the pockets of their developer donors than with protecting the people they serve—putting profit before people.
One pensioner living in my constituency told me that he has been sent a bill of nearly £20,000 and has no savings and no way of paying. Two doctors who have worked tirelessly to protect and care for our community throughout the pandemic tell me that the crisis has trapped them in a flat that they cannot sell, unable to start the life that they had planned elsewhere and fearing being faced with a mountain of further debt and/or bankruptcy.
I have asked this before, and I will continue to ask until justice is served and the safety and future of my constituents and the people living in this crisis across the country is secured: can the Minister look me in the eye and tell me how he sleeps at night, knowing that his Government’s deregulation programme has left hundreds of thousands at risk in their homes? I ask him what it will take for this Government to act to fix historic failures, and alleviate the unbearable financial pressures caused by their deregulation and the greed of developers.
It is the Government’s responsibility to assess and identify the buildings that are unsafe, and to make the necessary changes with the utmost urgency. This Bill is not only a missed opportunity, but an absolute betrayal of every single one of the residents who are now at risk in their own homes. The statement issued by the Secretary of State this afternoon does nothing to allay any of the fears of leaseholders; it is entirely inadequate, and it lets those leaseholders down.
In the final minutes of the debate, perhaps I can provide some time for the words of one of my constituents. The latest email that I have received says this:
“The impact of the Fire Safety Scandal on leaseholders’ mental health is considerably underestimated”
by the Government.
“From the many messages on Twitter and Facebook, there are millions of devastated lives and souls in the country. Many families and young adults had to live through not just the pandemic during the last 18 months, but also the added anxiety of the unfolding and ever growing Fire Safety Scandal.
It is a triple hit for so many leaseholders: the pandemic, then losing jobs or being furloughed on smaller salaries (with the constant threat of losing their jobs if their employer would go bust) and then the ever increasing costs of the Cladding scandal. This government has totally ignored the cries of its citizens for help.
Knowing that there is a ready solution to the issue in Australia—which could easily be adopted in the UK as well…shows that the Government is simply not interested in fixing the problem for innocent leaseholders. The contempt—with which they treat their citizens—is truly shambolic.”
I received that email from one of my constituents this week, and I think that it reflects the views of hundreds of them.
In opening the debate, the Minister mentioned Ballymore. I am dealing with Ballymore; I have dealt with Ballymore since it first submitted a planning application to build apartment blocks in my constituency. I welcomed the news of developments that would provide homes for local residents, but not a single one of the planning gains that Ballymore promised has been delivered. It went bust, and was then bailed out by the Irish Government.
Subsequently—and since this scandal has hit us—Ballymore initially refused to meet and seriously discuss with residents the problems that they were facing. My constituents demonstrated, so Ballymore is now meeting them and having proper discussions, but it threatened them that if they demonstrated again, it would end the talks. Now it has applied for the building safety fund, but will not give any assurances that it will cover the full costs of what my constituents are facing until it knows what resources from the fund are available to it.
This continuous blackmail—and, indeed, emotional blackmail—of my constituents is simply unacceptable. As the email from my constituent made clear, it is having a direct impact on their mental health. We are facing a pandemic of mental health problems because of the covid crisis, but this adds to it. It requires Government intervention which is serious, which takes responsibility, but which then pursues the developers to ensure that they are held accountable as well.
You are most kind, Mr Deputy Speaker. Thank you so much. I will share the time with anyone who wants to intervene.
I am very pleased to be able to speak in this debate. To be No. 53 in the call list and to get in is quite an occasion. I sat in the Chamber for two days at No. 53 in order to speak on the second day of that two-day debate, but this time we have done it all in one day.
I spoke about this topic not so long ago, and I am proud to be here to speak briefly in a Second Reading debate. I welcome the commitment of the Government and the Secretary of State, having had discussions with him and the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes). I know the Minister personally, and I value his friendship. I am very pleased that the Government are making an honest-to-goodness attempt to address these safety issues. Others have mentioned what has not been done and what does not appear in the legislation, which I think is rather unfortunate.
I wish to make some comments about electrical safety, an issue in which the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and I have a particular interest and on which we speak whenever the occasion arrives. This necessary piece of legislation needs proper scrutiny and time to be debated, because people’s lives depend on its content. The Bill is a real opportunity to protect lives and property by reducing the number of fires caused by electrical sources of ignition in higher-risk residential buildings.
The clauses on electrical safety have been removed from the Bill. I spoke to the Secretary of State and he told me that he was not aware of this issue, so I ask the Minister to reassure me that those clauses have not been removed or, if they have, that safety is paramount and will not be affected in any way.
The Bill allows for a new regulator with the aim of implementing a new scheme for high-risk buildings, over- seeing the performance and sustainability of all building controls and supporting the competence of those who work in the industry, which is crucial as confidence can be knocked by previous tragedies. A crucial element of the Bill that needs to be reinforced is in respect of resident engagement strategies that aim to educate residents and make them accountable for compliance action. We always wish to see anything that improves the co-operation, partnership and relationship between a tenant or an owner and the landlord. This makes them aware of the risks and allows for communication between builders, contractors and residents. The Bill is not perfect, but we hope that we can move a stage further to making it better tonight.
The charity Electrical Safety First is worthy of a mention as it highlights the importance of sustainable electrical safety. In England, 54% of all electrical dwelling fires are caused by electrical sources of ignition. Three examples are Grenfell Tower, Shirley Towers in Southampton and Shepherd’s Court in London. Those tragic events show the fatal risk that electrical incidents pose to people in their own homes. More time must be committed to the prevention of electrical fires, and I am keen to ensure that the Government move in the correct way and ensure that we make that happen.
The Government need to address the issue of external building safety precautions and internal building issues such as damp, mould and efficient air-conditioning. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), and I have spoken on this issue on a number of occasions. I am chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on healthy homes and buildings and know that the issue of air conditioning and the need to address mould and damp in houses is so important. We should take all necessary and reasonable precautions to ensure that homes and buildings are safe for families and people.
I finish with this: the Bill will introduce a much-needed overhaul of building changes, including the revamping of flammable cladding, the investigation of inappropriate materials and a central safety-lane approach. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, progress has been made on accelerating building safety measures. I wholeheartedly welcome this step to improve building standards—and I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the Christmas present as well.
It is an honour and a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) as the 54th speaker on the call list.
I thank nearly every Member from all parts of the Chamber—Members have spoken powerfully and with insight in this Second Reading debate. I put on the record that I found the last-minute publication of the written statement both discourteous and disrespectful to Members from all parties. That point was reiterated as a point of order and Madam Deputy Speaker raised her concerns as well.
As the shadow Secretary of State for Housing, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) argued eloquently and powerfully, this is an occasion that requires the best of all parliamentarians, and that we put any vested interests aside and step up to respond urgently to the building safety crisis. Our concerns are focused on what is not in the Bill, rather than the new regulation landscape it creates for building safety with the Building Safety Regulator, the new housing ombudsman and improved standards, which are all very welcome. We will certainly support those measures, although in some cases we may amend them as we go forward in the journey of the Bill.
The Executive—the Government and Ministers before us—must listen not only to the Opposition, but to those voices on the Government Benches that are growing in number. Ministers must listen to all stakeholders, who will provide evidence throughout the Bill’s journey over the coming months in both this House and the other place. We all have a shared goal of providing a voice and justice for the millions of leaseholders and residents across all our areas and of making buildings and, vitally, people safe more than four years on from Grenfell when 72 people tragically lost their lives.
Those leaseholders include people like Will from UK Cladding Action, who spoke recently on the TV about the many complexities of his personal experience of the building safety crisis, which the measures contained in the Bill must have an impact on. He referred to the pressures in terms of mental health. Indeed, that point was eloquently raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) in regard to his constituents.
There are key questions to ask. Does the Bill help Will from UK Cladding Action as a leaseholder to pay an invoice for £30,000 that recently arrived through his letterbox? My hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) spoke about constituents in her patch who have just had bills for £100,000. Unfortunately, the plain answer is no. Will the Bill deal with the horrendous and astronomical rise in insurance premiums that Members from all parts of the Chamber have highlighted in today’s debate? Again, the answer is an unequivocal no.
Will the Bill change the size and scope of the building safety fund to help constituents in places such as the Decks in the Runcorn part of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg)? One part of the development is below 18 metres but still at risk, as it contains all the toxicity of the building safety crisis, and the other is above 18 metres. The Bill definitely will not help the likes of Julie and those constituents in Runcorn.
In fact, speech after speech and case after case from the 42 members who got in to speak today has shone a light on the open and painful wounds of what is missing from the Bill. To give some examples, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) highlighted the dreadful impact of the EWS1 system. We are still having flats valued at zero, unsellable and un-mortgageable. Today, at the very last minute, we get a written ministerial statement claiming that the Government are going to change the marketplace. In fact, lots of the content seems to be recycled and reproduced from a statement that was spun some months ago, but I will ask the Minister a number of questions.
Will the guidance note issued in January 2020 be withdrawn? It is essential that it is. Will the matter be legislated for? Do those buildings below 18 metres, which now seemingly do not require an EWS1 form, have to have cladding removed? Do they have to have remediation for all the other things, whether that is missing firebreaks or inappropriate construction, such as the use of timber, as some Members have mentioned? We need answers to those questions. It is very important. Leaseholders need answers to those questions.
Some hon. Members referred to the black hole of the building safety fund. Martin from the excellent Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, who the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), knows very well, referred to the application process as tantamount “to knitting fog”. Indeed, “Inside Housing” today highlights the case of a building in Wandsworth that meets the height threshold but has been rejected by the fund. I urge the Minister to correct this wrong. While the Minister and his team are at it, why do they not make sure that more than 12p in every pound of that fund is getting out of the door?
The Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has made a strong and consistent point about the need to include social housing providers within the scope of the fund, a point echoed by the Local Government Association and the National Housing Federation. The much-trumpeted £5.1 billion for cladding remediation would not have come about if it were not for those brilliant campaigners at the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign, who were not going to be ground down or quiet in their quest for justice. There were 17 promises made by Ministers, including the Prime Minister, that people would not have to pay historical remediation charges. That promise has not come to fruition in the 217 pages of this Bill.
We are also yet to see the details of the unwanted loan scheme, which has failed in Victoria, Australia, let alone a bold and just “polluter pays” approach directed at many of the Government’s friends and donors in the big developers community.
In opening the debate, the Secretary of State referred to clause 124, purporting to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to protect leaseholders from costs relating to historical defective work, a point highlighted by the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West. It simply reasserts the status quo of requiring the landlord to pursue insurance, public grant and warranty claims that have not worked so far. Like much of the Bill, it makes reference to secondary legislation to follow, with no details or protection for leaseholders.
The Secretary of State also referred to the inclusion of section 38 of the Building Act 1984 and the retrospective changes to the Defective Premises Act 1972, a legal remedy to bring an extension from six to 15 years and the right to bring actions against developers responsible for shoddy building work. It sounds great in theory, but will the Minister highlight how many times this David and Goliath approach has been successful under the current six-year regime?
Will the Minister also advise the House of how leaseholders will pursue the special delivery project vehicles set up and closed down by developers, or where they will get the millions of pounds to pursue claims? How long will the counter-claims by developers, which will follow and be made under human rights legislation, take? It seems that the Minister has designed a job creation scheme for lawyers, a frenzy of litigation and further delays.
As my hon. Friend the shadow Housing Secretary asserted, we need a cast-iron legal guarantee to protect leaseholders from historical remediation costs. We will be working on a cross-party basis for amendments to achieve just that.
Finally, we are calling for the establishment of an interventionist building works agency, not dissimilar to that in Victoria, Australia, to get a grip on the crisis through assessment of risk, from building to building, from start to finish, with a crack team of experts in this field. It is find, fund, fix and recover, with a “polluter pays” principle. The hundreds of thousands of leaseholders trapped in this living nightmare deserve nothing less, and they require all the willing to step up and do the right thing. Let us make good law together beyond Second Reading.
This is the first and I trust the last time that I will have to speak from the virtual Dispatch Box, but I am afraid that self-isolation rules allow me no other option.
I begin by thanking all right hon. and hon. Members across the House for their contributions to this debate. I know that this is a highly emotive subject, and understandably so. I particularly want to pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), for Bolton North East (Mark Logan), for Waveney (Peter Aldous), of course for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), and for Dudley North (Marco Longhi), my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and the Father of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), for their thoughtful contributions.
Mercifully, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his introduction to the debate, the spread of fire in high-rise buildings is rare, and it is becoming more rare, but as he also made clear, it is all too clear what can happen when those responsible for designing, building and managing those buildings fail—tragedies such as Grenfell can happen. That is why it is this Government’s absolute priority to make sure that such a tragedy never happens again. The contributions from across the House firmly reiterate just how important it is to pass this Bill to restore confidence—confidence among residents in their own safety and confidence in the wider housing market. Safety is our paramount concern, and I can assure the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) of that.
We see this as a landmark Bill. It represents the greatest improvement to building and fire safety in a generation. It is flagship legislation that will spearhead our wider safety programme to ensure the proportionate management of risk in buildings. It will require building owners to manage safety risks to the same high standards as the best do—it will be a system where there are clear safety responsibilities for those responsible for the design, construction, completion and occupation of high-rise buildings, where they must demonstrate that they have effective and proportionate measures in place to meet those responsibilities, and where they are accountable to the regulator and to their residents.
A number of colleagues across the House have made some very important points and, in the short time that I have, I would like to address a number of them. The first is proportionality, which was discussed by my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith), for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith) and for Orpington (Gareth Bacon), to name three. It is hugely important that we take a proportionate approach to the safety of tall buildings and all buildings. The industry must take note that risk aversion is causing unnecessary financial burdens to homeowners. Remediation works should only ever be undertaken where absolutely necessary. We must not spend taxpayers’ money where it is unnecessary to do so, or ask hard-pressed leaseholders to pay for works that do not need to be done. Our Bill takes a proportionate approach. It rightly focuses on mitigating and managing risk and targeting activity only where action is needed.
The new building safety regulator is being established in the Health and Safety Executive, precisely because of its experience overseeing safety case regimes and its record of delivering robust yet proportionate regulation. The requirements of the Bill will help to ensure that proportionality is embedded in its operations.
Building owners and managers, along with lenders and insurers, need to ensure that they, too, take a proportionate approach to risk in blocks of flats whatever the height. In line with the expert evidence that we have published today, EWS1 forms should not be a requirement on buildings below 18 metres. Lower-rise blocks should not need them, and lenders should not ask for them. The consolidated advice note, which was born out of the need for safety information in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire, will now be retired.
Any concerns that do exist about existing buildings should be addressed primarily through risk management and mitigation. For many thousands of people, the “computer says no” approach to risk and valuation has been hugely unfair and distressing. It must become much more proportionate. That is what our measures are intended to do—to get the market moving again, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) called for. I hope that they will also address some of the concerns raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning).
I want also to assure the House that the Bill in no way absolves the sector from responsibility for paying its way. Indeed, it will place more and greater duties and responsibilities on developers, construction companies, building owners and managers than ever before, embedding the principles of safe design and construction right from a building’s inception. The new regulator will have the skills and resources to pursue those who refuse to meet their responsibilities. We will strengthen criminal penalties throughout the Bill, making offences imprisonable for up to two years, and making directors and managers criminally liable if they decide that their companies should act unlawfully.
Those who can pay must pay. Through the Bill, we will further cement developers’ contributions to the cost of remediation, as well as increase the ability of building owners and leaseholders to seek redress. Specifically, part 3 of the Bill contains a provision to introduce a levy, which will apply to high-rise residential buildings and will be paid by developers. That complements the residential property developer tax that the Chancellor will bring forward. Together, those will contribute more than £2 billion for remediation.
I also want to respond to concerns raised by Members including my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton North East regarding the right of homeowners to seek redress. The Bill will give millions of homeowners new rights to seek redress for shoddy workmanship, extending the period during which they can claim from six years to 15 years. It will empower building owners, leaseholders and homeowners to take legal action, clamping down on rogue developers and their owners.
I urge all who have fallen victim to shoddy work to use the newly extended liability period to consider whether litigation is right for them and to explore who, or which group of them, can best take action. I trust that the Bill will also encourage developers and freeholders, aware of the new additional rights of their customers, to act responsibly and quickly to deal with concerns before they reach the courts.
As well as redress, the Bill will provide residents with a greater voice. It will strengthen the voice of residents and leaseholders through a statutory residents panel, while a formal complaints process will give residents the confidence to raise issues and escalate them where needed, including to the building safety regulator.
I am conscious that it is nearly 7 o’clock. I am conscious, too, that there will be plenty of opportunity in other debates in the House, in Committee and on Report to debate the Government’s proposals further. So let me conclude by saying that we are leaving no stone unturned in our pursuit of a regime that is both proportionate and comprehensive. We have tested, we have consulted, we have analysed and we have done it all at considerable length, and we have now produced a Bill that I believe we should all support—a Bill that will confront the building safety issues that no Government have dared to tackled before, and a Bill that will force industry to take collective responsibility for the safety defects that they have created and support a change in culture so that residents’ concerns are listened to, problems are identified and dealt with early, and tragedies such as Grenfell never happen again.
I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate and all those who have contributed to the development of the Bill. I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
BUILDING SAFETY BILL (PROGRAMME)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Building Safety Bill:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 26 October 2021.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(David T. C. Davies.)
Question agreed to.
BUILDING SAFETY BILL (MONEY)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Building Safety Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:
(a) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State, and
(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(David T. C. Davies.)
Question agreed to.
BUILDING SAFETY BILL (WAYS AND MEANS)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Building Safety Bill, it is expedient to authorise:
(1) the charging of fees, charges and levies under or by virtue of the Act; and
(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.—(David T. C. Davies.)
Question agreed to.