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Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:09 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Housing 4:09 pm, 21st January 2020

My right hon. Friend anticipates the argument I was going to move on to. For such leaseholders, the situation he outlines assumes that they can sell in the first place and that the wannabe buyer can get a mortgage. Many are finding now that they are trapped in these blocks. Some of the steps the Secretary of State is now taking may help with this, but, fundamentally, there is a serious flaw in our leasehold legislation. In the particular circumstances we face here, we have the failure to match the legal responsibility that landlords or block owners have for the safety of those blocks with the financial responsibility for ensuring that they, not the leaseholders, pay for that. I have a proposal for the Secretary of State that requires Government action to deal with that problem and shall explain it in a moment.

First, though, a more general point. Since the fire, Grenfell survivors have seen three Secretaries of State and four Housing Ministers, all serious and sincere as individuals about the lessons to learn from Grenfell, but all fettered by the same flawed Conservative ideology and Government policy. They are too reluctant to take on vested interests in the property market; too unwilling to have the state act when private interests will not act in the public interest; and too resistant to legislation or regulation to require higher safety standards. Only the Government can fix the broken system of building safety. Only the Government can make good the cuts to fire services. Only the Government can renew social housing. Only the Government can make landlords meet their legal and financial obligations.

Here is a five-point plan for action for the Secretary of State. First, widen the Government-sponsored programme to cover comprehensive tests on all non-ACM cladding and publish the full results. Secondly, give councils the power to fine and take over blocks whose owners refuse to make them safe, in order to get the work done. Thirdly, pass legislation to end the injustice of flat owners paying for the costs of works simply to make their home safe, and bring in financial help for hard-pressed leaseholders billed by landlords for essential interim safety measures such as waking watches. Fourthly, set up a £1 billion fire safety fund, including to retrofit sprinklers in social housing blocks. Fifthly, establish a new national fire safety taskforce, reporting directly to the Prime Minister, responsible for auditing every high-rise and high-risk building and enforcing the replacement of all types of deadly cladding. If the Secretary of State will do that, he will have our backing.