Unsafe Cladding: Protecting Tenants and Leaseholders

– in the House of Commons at 3:38 pm on 1st February 2021.

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Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Secretary of State for Housing 3:38 pm, 1st February 2021

I beg to move,

That this House
calls on the Government to urgently establish the extent of dangerous cladding and prioritise buildings according to risk;
provide upfront funding to ensure cladding remediation can start immediately;
protect leaseholders and taxpayers from the cost by pursuing those responsible for the cladding crisis;
and update Parliament once a month in the form of a Written Ministerial Statement by the Secretary of State.

Buying your first home is a life-defining moment. It is exciting and scary. It symbolises security, and the time to start a family and build a future, but for so many what was a dream come true has become a nightmare. The Grenfell tragedy shed light on a crisis of building safety in this country, and hundreds of buildings have the same cladding that caused the Grenfell fire to be so deadly. Thousands have other equally dangerous cladding, and even more have other serious fire safety problems, such as combustible insulation, missing fire breaks and faulty fire doors. Millions of homeowners are caught up in the wider building safety crisis caused by the defects and are unable to sell, remortgage or buy a flat, freezing up 16% of the housing market and affecting possibly as many as 11 million people.

It can be easy to get caught up in the vast numbers, but it truly is a human tragedy. Many in this House will have read or heard Hayley’s story. Hayley was a first-time buyer in Leeds. She bought her flat through an affordable housing scheme designed to help people on low incomes take that first step on to the housing ladder. After moving in, Hayley was told that the roof of her building was covered in dangerous cladding similar to that used on Grenfell Tower, and further inspections threw up more problems with brickwork, insulation, balconies and possibly firebreaks.

Every month, Hayley faced an additional £300 in charges for what is called a waking watch—a 24-hour fire safety patrol that gives little confidence but costs dearly. That £300 a month was as much as her mortgage, and she just could not afford it. The terms of her mortgage meant that she could not move or rent our her flat. Facing mounting bills for the repairs, fire alarms and the looming threat of the costs of fixing the building, Hayley declared bankruptcy. A first-time buyer so recently, Hayley would now struggle to take out a loan to buy a car.

However, the crisis is not just affecting those at the beginning of their housing journey. I was written to recently by an elderly constituent who wants to move out of his flat and into a home that better suits his mobility needs. His block does not have dangerous cladding, but misguided advice from the Government means that he cannot get a survey to prove it. His home cannot be mortgaged, so he cannot get a buyer and so he cannot move into a home where he can be comfortable.

The situation is reflected across the country. People are being forced to pay more than they can afford for a problem they did not cause. Some are paying so much that they cannot keep their home: first-time buyers getting on the housing ladder to secure their future; people trying to move up and start a family; people approaching or in retirement wanting somewhere smaller; key workers such as NHS junior doctor Will, also in the media today, working on the covid frontline in Sheffield and facing costs of £52,000, a doubling service charge each month and skyrocketing insurance costs; housing associations, councils and their tenants; and everyone in between.

Everyone in this House, I think, agrees that this intolerable situation must not go on. People cannot continue living in unsafe homes. Leaseholders should not face mounting bills for a crisis they did not cause. Labour’s motion today expresses three simple principles that we hope will receive endorsement from across the House. First, the Government must urgently establish how much unsafe cladding there is, where it is and what danger it poses. It is extraordinary, three and a half years on from Grenfell, that we still do not have such basic information. Immediately after Grenfell, the Government could have done as Victoria in Australia did and set up a taskforce to establish the extent of dangerous cladding, prioritised by risk, and ensured enforcement against those who refuse to undertake the work. We are calling on the Government to do that today.

Many leaseholders are discovering that there is a shortage of engineers and fire safety specialists to carry out inspections and works. The Victoria taskforce manages the supply chain and ensures that it is directed first to the buildings that are most at risk. It has also prioritised safety by ensuring that the highest-risk buildings are fixed first, rather than the first come, first served approach that the UK Government are currently taking.

Secondly, people’s homes should be made safe as soon as possible. Where there is dangerous cladding on buildings or other serious fire safety problems, that must be fixed immediately. All the big players in this crisis have spent the past few years pointing fingers and avoiding responsibility, and the Government have called on building owners to do the right thing, but there is nothing to prevent building owners from passing on costs to leaseholders, and indeed they have a fiduciary duty to do so in many cases. Leaseholders simply cannot afford it, and they simply should not have to. If someone bought a new car that turned out to be dangerous, they would not expect to be told to take out a loan of tens of thousands of pounds to pay for it—often more than the price of the original car—but here we are talking about people’s homes. The stalemate we have now is leaving hundreds of thousands of people stuck in flammable buildings, and the only way to make homes safe is for the Government provide up-front funding to make that happen.

Finally, the cost of the work should not fall on leaseholders or taxpayers. Residents did not cause this crisis. They bought their homes in good faith only to find themselves victim to years of corporate malpractice, Government inaction and a broken leasehold system. Ministers have promised at least 15 times that leaseholders would not bear the cost, but recently the language has shifted to state that they should not bear “unaffordable” costs, and there is talk of loans. Labour’s motion calls on them to reaffirm and put substance behind their original promises to leaseholders.

Neither should the taxpayer carry the burden. The Government should pursue the dodgy developers, cowboy builders and manufacturers of flammable cladding through legal action—that is the “polluter pays” principle. Where laws need to be changed to make that easier, we should do so. There is precedent for that in Australia. Many councils and social landlords are being stung for the cost of the remediation. The Government have set them two impossible tasks: build to the building targets they have set, and at the same time carry out expensive fire remediation without passing on the costs to hard-pressed tenants. That must also change.

I am a Member of Her Majesty’s Opposition, but I am not here to score party political points. We know that at least 34 Conservative MPs agree that leaseholders should not pay for these costs, and I am sure there are many more who have not yet said so publicly. I commend in particular the work of the hon. Members for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) on the Fire Safety Bill. Their amendments sought to protect leaseholders and push the Government to take action. We have tabled our own amendments that build on theirs and fill in some gaps, but the Government have not said when the Fire Safety Bill will come back, and the end of this parliamentary Session is rumoured to be fast approaching.

The Government may say that Opposition day motions are not binding, but it is up to them if they choose not to be bound by the sovereign will of the country’s elected representatives in this House. Many people remember that when the Labour Government were defeated on an Opposition day motion on Gurkhas, they honoured the will of Parliament and changed the policy the very next day. I ask the Government to heed the will of this House.

Further delay and inaction is not an option. Building insurance will continue to skyrocket and the unaffordable cost of waking watch security guards will continue. On top of all that, the colossal cost for fixing buildings will fall on leaseholders. People will go broke. Mortgages risk going into negative equity on a massive scale as more and more flats become literally valueless. We need a solution to this crisis that fixes buildings and ensures that those responsible pay.

I pay tribute to the absolutely inspiring cladding campaigners. I have met some in my constituency of Bristol West and others from across the country along with my colleague, the excellent shadow Minister for housing and housing safety, my hon. Friend Mike Amesbury. Those residents just want to get on with their lives. It is a tribute to all of them that they keep campaigning. So many MPs tried to get on to the speaking list today that they could not all get on. I commend colleagues for standing up for lease-holders, whether they are able to speak today or not.

There is cross-party consensus—agreement across both Houses and across the country—that we should put the needs of those first-time buyers, key workers and pensioners first. I am not asking Members to vote with the Opposition; I am asking them to vote with their constituents to show that they will always put their interests first. If Members agree with what is in the motion, they should vote for it. It is as simple as that.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:48 pm, 1st February 2021

There is a shared desire in Parliament to ensure that absolutely everyone in our society lives somewhere decent, safe and secure. We are united in that commitment, and our thoughts naturally turn to the still unimaginable tragedy of Grenfell Tower. It should not have taken such a deadly fire, with such a terrible loss of life and suffering, for us to face up to the failures of building safety that have built up over decades under successive Governments. We are determined to do our duty by those whose lives were changed forever that night, right the wrongs of the past, and bring about the biggest improvement to building safety in a generation.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

The Minister will know that cladding issues affect thousands of my constituents, as do the wider issues of fire safety and building safety. Will he make clear when the legislation will come forward on both fire safety and building safety? Will he also give us an update on the EWS1 forms? He told the House in November that there had been negotiations, through the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, with lenders, but many of my constituents say that they are still facing serious issues in acquiring those forms.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I shall certainly address the fire safety and building safety legislation as I advance through my remarks. With respect to the EWS1 forms, he will know that RICS has undertaken a consultation on the reform proposals, which ought to reduce some of the burden that some people face. That consultation closed on 26 January, and we await its results, but certainly as a result of the negotiations that we undertook with the industry and with RICS, some 450,000 people who might otherwise have been affected by the EWS1 forms are no longer obliged to complete them.

We know that, through no fault of their own, many leaseholders have found themselves in a most challenging, difficult and, indeed, agonising situation. Their situation is undoubtedly a complex one. Its roots extend over many years, and there are no easy answers.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that leaseholders will not be gagged by confidentiality clauses in any remediation contracts?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that question. He is absolutely right. Leaseholders will in no way be gagged by the standard contractual obligations between Government and applicants for Government moneys for remediation. We have written to anybody that has applied to the scheme to make it clear that if people wish to make comments about policy or about their own remediation situation, they should be allowed to do so. I say to my hon. Friend that should anybody from petty officialdom suggest that his or any other constituents do not speak out, they offer that petty official a good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon gesture in response.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I will make some progress; I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman later on.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate and to outline the decisive action that we are undertaking to remove unsafe cladding, to strengthen the regulations and to support leaseholders. We established our building safety programme within days of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Its aim has always been to ensure that residents in high-rise blocks of flats are safe now and in the future. We have worked intensively and extensively to ensure that buildings with dangerous cladding are made safe as quickly as possible and, backed by £600 million of Government funding, real strides have been made in removing this unsafe aluminium composite material—ACM—cladding. Last year, despite the pressures of covid-19, more high rises with ACM cladding were made safe—either their works were begun or they were made safe—than in any previous year, which is nearly double the number in the previous year, 2019. Last month, we reached a major milestone. All high-rise social sector buildings have either had their unsafe ACM cladding replaced or seen the work get under way.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

My constituents in Ipswich are very pleased that they will be eligible for the waking watch relief fund, but it is only £30 million and many are concerned that it simply will not go far enough in addressing all buildings that need a new fire alarm system. What would the Minister say in response to their concerns?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to my hon. Friend, who I know is a doughty campaigner for his constituents in Ipswich. I shall be addressing the issue of the waking watch and the support measures that we are putting in place as I move through my remarks.

I should also say that around 95% of all high-rise ACM buildings identified before the beginning of last year, across both the public and private sectors, are either fully remediated or have seen work commence on site. Indeed, all the buildings with unsafe ACM cladding in the constituency of Thangam Debbonaire constituency have at least seen works start, if they are not already fully completed. These figures bear testament to the progress that we have made, the pressure that we have successfully exerted and the action that we have taken over the last three and a half years to get this job done. Where funding alone has not been enough to increase the pace of remediation, the Government have not hesitated to direct expert support to projects. Where building owners have still failed to take action despite that support, we have backed robust enforcement measures, spurring them to act without delay. Indeed, there have been 57 enforcement actions so far, 19 of which have been supported by the Government’s joint inspection team.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I am very grateful the Minister. He refers to building owners. Clearly, where there is a contractual obligation for building owners to remediate, that is absolutely right, but does he accept that lots of building owners have no contractual obligation—no legal obligation—to carry out that work? At Nova House in Slough, for example, the building owner simply gave it back to the local authority, which then issued service charges to the residents because there was no contractual obligation for anybody else to do the work. Perhaps we need to look at a wider community, rather than just building owners, to provide a funding solution for this problem.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My hon. Friend puts his finger on the nub of the matter, which is the complexity of the situation with which we and those people who find themselves in this difficult situation have to grapple, and that is what the Government are doing.

The Government initially focused our efforts on ACM cladding of the type used on Grenfell Tower because it poses the most severe safety risk on high-rise residential buildings, but we recognise that other forms of unsafe cladding, although less dangerous than ACM, should never have been used. Although many building owners have taken action, some have not. Too many building owners and managing agents in the private sector have been slow in getting remediation work started, which is why we introduced the £1 billion building safety fund to remediate high-rise residential buildings with unsafe non-ACM cladding as soon as possible and protect the leaseholders from burdensome costs.

We received 2,840 registrations for the fund, and have been able to make eligibility decisions on a significant number of them that were fully completed. It is disappointing that, despite our requirements having been made clear from the outset, many building owners have been unable to provide the basic information needed to advance works, including information such as the height of their building, the EWS systems on their walls and even sample lease agreements. We have been engaging with registrants and the industry bodies to understand the challenges they have in meeting the deadlines, and have set a new deadline of June based on what we now know about the registrants and their readiness to be able to deliver.

Building owners should be in no doubt: it is vital that dangerous cladding is removed as fast as possible, and the Government will not tolerate unnecessary delays. If they can collect the service charges, they can get the remediation on their buildings done. That applies just as much to small blocks of flats as it does to large ones, and we have given clear expert advice on a range of safety issues for buildings of all heights. Public funding has rightly been focused on remediating unsafe cladding on high-rise buildings of 18 metres-plus. That reflects the exceptional fire risk that certain cladding products pose at that height, as Dame Judith Hackitt observed in her report into fire safety. However, our guidance is unambiguous in stating that building safety is the responsibility of building owners, irrespective of whether their buildings are above or below 18 metres in height. The Government will continue to ensure that building owners—the ones who are ultimately responsible for making sure that these homes are safe—do the right thing.

We have targeted remediation funding where it is needed most: removing and replacing cladding on high-rise residential buildings. Interim safety measures such as waking watch have in many cases been used to ensure that the safety of residents in buildings with unsafe cladding is maintained. However, we are clear that waking watch regimes should only ever be used in the short term, because they are an entirely inadequate substitute for remediation. Some building owners have been using them for too long and have been passing on costs, which are unsustainable to leaseholders and residents, adding to the emotional distress and financial strain that they already suffer. We have been clear that that behaviour is unacceptable and cannot continue, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in December a £30 million fund to pay for the costs of installing alarm systems in buildings with unsafe cladding, thereby reducing the need for a waking watch. The fund is available across England. It is now open and I encourage those eligible not to delay but to start their applications now, so that we can urgently distribute the payments.

It is wrong and unjust for leaseholders to have to shoulder unfair costs to fix historical safety defects that they did not cause. That is why the Government have already set aside £1.6 billion in funding for cladding remediation. The funding was put in place precisely to ensure that the most dangerous types of cladding were removed as quickly as possible without imposing crippling bills on leaseholders. However, public funding does not absolve industry from taking the responsibility for the failures that led to unsafe cladding in the first place by putting materials on buildings that should not have been there.

We have seen many developers and building owners rightly taking responsibility for correcting those defects. They have done so in more than half of the high-rise private sector buildings with unsafe cladding. We absolutely expect developers, investors and building owners who have the means to pay to do the right thing and cover the costs of remediation of other unsafe cladding themselves without passing on the cost to leaseholders. However, in many cases, building owners or their managing agents have simply passed on significant remediation costs to leaseholders without regard to the affordability of those measures. That is why we have been accelerating the work to develop a financial solution to protect leaseholders from such costs. There is no quick fix. If there were, we would have done it long ago. It is complex and it involves many parties: leaseholders with different leases, developers, warranty holders, the insurance industry, the mortgage lenders, and the owners themselves. We have to find a solution that is right and proper, that demands of owners and developers that they put right the problems and defects they caused, that is fair to leaseholders who should not have to carry unfair costs for problems that they did not cause or envisage, and that is fair to the taxpayer, who is already shouldering a significant burden in remediating many buildings.

I can assure hon. Members that we will be making a further announcement on this important work “very shortly”, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at PMQs last week. We must recognise that Government funding alone cannot solve some of the deep-rooted issues surrounding building safety. As Dame Judith Hackitt concluded in her review, it is vital that we reform the entire building safety regime, and that means a fundamental change in the regulatory framework, in industry and in its culture.

We are committed to bringing forward the most significant building reform in almost 40 years, with two landmark pieces of legislation: the forthcoming Building Safety Bill that will create a more accountable system, and the Fire Safety Bill, currently before the House, which clarifies the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Taken together, these measures will improve the safety of residents in blocks of flats of all heights.

It may be worthwhile if, before I conclude, I commented on some of the amendments tabled to the Fire Safety Bill, particularly those by my hon. Friend Stephen McPartland and by my hon. Friend Royston Smith, who is in his place. We fully understand what our hon. Friends are attempting to achieve in their amendments. We entirely understand that they want to remove or reduce the burden on leaseholders, and we wish to do the same. However, having looked at their amendments closely, it is clear to us that their scope, as currently drafted, would mean they would apply only to residents and leaseholders who have had a fire risk assessment undertaken, and not to residents who have suffered an incident or had works done for any other reason.  Nor are the amendments drafted in such a way as to allow them to be introduced without significant change to the Bill, both to the primary legislation and to the secondary legislation that must follow. As a result, the amendments would significantly impair the Bill’s progress through the House—they would delay it—and so, having looked carefully at my hon. Friends’ amendments, I encourage them to withdraw them.

The Building Safety Bill is the best mechanism to achieve my hon. Friends’ aims, which are to introduce a new and stronger regulatory regime for building safety in buildings of 18 metres or more in height, and for all construction products. The Bill will establish a new building safety regulator in the Health and Safety Executive, sitting at the heart of the reformed building programme. It will place clear legal duties on those who build and manage buildings in scope of the new regime to manage any risks that they create and, crucially, it will enable the regulator to enforce those laws.

In conclusion, high-rise buildings in this country should never have been fitted with dangerous or unsafe cladding. Successive Governments have failed to confront this issue, but it is this Government who are resolving it once and for all, making homes safer and protecting the residents from crippling costs, and at a pace that the severity of the situation demands. That is what we have already achieved: almost 95% of buildings identified at the beginning of last year with unsafe ACM cladding have now completed or are in the process of completing their remediation; we are advancing applications for the building safety fund; we are appointing specialist consultants to increase the pace of remediation; and we are introducing our additional landmark legislation. We will not let up. This work will be going on long after this Opposition day is over and long after the Leader of the Opposition has issued his tweet. We will not let even the pandemic, which is affecting our country and the world, slow us down. We will work to restore the inalienable right of everyone in this country to live somewhere that is decent, secure and, above all, safe—a place that they can rightly and proudly call home.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 4:07 pm, 1st February 2021

The Grenfell fire of 2017 was a catastrophic event and its devasting consequences are still being seen even today, with the public inquiry revealing new information each week. I want to take a moment to remember all those who died in the fire—all those lives so needlessly lost. I also want to pay tribute to the tireless campaigning by their families. It is vital that the victims of the fire and their families receive the justice they deserve through the inquiry. It is my hope that, because of the work of the Grenfell inquiry, serious measures will be put in place to prevent another catastrophic event such as Grenfell from ever happening again.

However, when we look at how the UK Government are currently tackling the cladding crisis, we see that their policies fall short. For example, the fund provided by the UK Government is not enough to cover all the properties with dangerous cladding, leading to a first come, first served approach and many people still living with unsafe cladding on their properties. Obviously, housing and local government is a devolved issue, but the UK Government’s building safety programme will undoubtedly have consequences for Scotland. Despite the building safety programme applying only in England and Wales, its advice is being used by insurance companies and mortgage providers in Scotland to guide their decisions. The EWS1 form currently applies only to properties in England, but the Glasgow Times has reported that inspectors are using the form and granting homeowners a certificate of safety. Without the EWS1 being law, homeowners are looking towards England’s cladding situation as guidance.

While these decisions by the UK Government are positive for improving safety, they have meant that many property owners in England are unable to remortgage, sell or insure their properties, as insurance and mortgage providers refuse to accept the risk of external cladding. Residents are not legally responsible for the external cladding and do not have the money to remove it, which has left huge numbers of people completely stuck and unable to sell their properties.

Guidance is now even affecting properties below the 11-metre and the 18-metre mark. Again, while this currently applies only to England and Wales, insurance companies in Scotland are also following these recommendations, thus affecting Scottish homeowners and tenants. Surely the UK Government and the Minister can see that it is completely unfair that residents and leaseholders are burdened with the costs of removing cladding that they had no say in installing. There are certainly reports of residents in England facing huge and very unfair repair bills, while the housing firms that own the at-risk buildings are having their costs recovered.

I recently heard the story of Sophie Grayling, a mother who was so proud to buy her first home in 2017. However, the flat that she bought was part of a building clad in ACM cladding—the exact same type, as we know, used on Grenfell Tower. Ms Grayling’s building is under the 18-metre threshold for the fund offered by the UK Government to remove the cladding, and with cladding remaining in place she has seen the sale of her home fall through, is facing a bill of thousands to fix the block’s issues and, most importantly, every night puts her child to bed with the knowledge that her building is covered in the same material that saw 72 lives lost in the inferno at Grenfell.

It is clear that that is unjust. Homeowners like Ms Grayling now face a Catch-22 situation: they either pay out of their own pocket to fix a problem that is not their fault or stay stuck in an unsellable flat that risks their safety. That story is not unique. More than 1 million people are still unable to remortgage or sell their properties because of the cladding. However, the frustration does not even end there: the UK Government are attempting to silence homeowners currently waiting for support, demanding that they do not speak to the media.

Homeowners applying for the fund to help to pay to remediate buildings will not be able to talk to a journalist. I know that the Minister said earlier that people should not listen to petty officialdom, but in order for petty officialdom to come to the fore at some point a Minister was not doing their job in terms of signing this off. People who are stuck in that incredibly tough position—unable to sell their house and facing massive bills because of the UK Government’s policy—must be able to speak to the press and expose the reality of how the cladding scandal is being dealt with.

In Scotland, cladding has been handled differently. As I said, housing and local government are devolved, so the removal of cladding is within the remit of the Scottish Government. That has enabled Scotland to require buildings to be constructed in a way that aids in the prevention of fires, which has contributed to Scotland having only a handful of properties—albeit, in my view, still too many—with Grenfell-style cladding compared with more than 450 in England.

However, even with that lower number, the Scottish Government are avoiding being complacent on cladding through the building standards futures board, and are continuing to improve building standards across all of Scotland. They are looking at other issues related to fire outside of cladding, such as holistically addressing high-rise buildings to make them safer, leading to requirements that will soon be introduced for sprinklers to be installed in new-build social housing and flats.

The UK Government should similarly address the cladding scandal by placing a focus on those who own and rent properties with unsafe cladding. The people most affected by the dangers of cladding should be at the centre of the discussion. Instead, the UK Government are burdening them with huge costs and the inability to sell or remortgage their flats.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

The hon. Member has obviously been very critical of the UK Government and full of praise, as usual, for his colleagues in the Scottish Government, but he will be aware that the press reports in Scotland are highly critical of the high-rise inventory and how the Scottish Government have managed it. Furthermore, the group set up by the Scottish Government to allocate the almost £100 million fund that was designed to support people having to deal with cladding issues has not met since April last year. I would like to hear his comments on those points, please.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention. Speaking as someone who has 10 tower blocks in my constituency—I do not know how many there are in rural Scotland—I am very familiar with the issue, and I assure him that the conversations that I have on a regular basis with the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, Kevin Stewart, indicate that it is a very high priority for the Scottish Government. That is precisely why they have taken that action. I am none the less very grateful to the hon. Member for making what I am sure is not a party political point on what I think we all agree is a very serious issue.

The English fund covers only around one third of the costs to remove cladding in England, and with its being first come, first served, it will exclude some of the buildings in the most dire need of remediation. The UK Government should invest the money necessary to ensure that all at-risk residences in England can have remedial action carried out on them. The UK Government should also follow Scotland’s example of targeted support for the most at-risk buildings to avoid the first come, first served approach.

Instead of the UK Government’s policies targeting the companies responsible for the dangerous cladding, they are burdening homeowners and leaseholders. When we look at preventing further fires caused by cladding, it is important that we keep renters and homeowners in mind, such as Sophie Grayling and her young son, both of whom are stuck in an unsafe flat facing huge bills. We should consider the impact on homeowners and renters who already feel unsafe in their own homes. It is time for the UK Government to step up and truly tackle the cladding crisis, and help those in the most vulnerable position.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons 4:15 pm, 1st February 2021

It is on record that I am a leaseholder, and I face no problems of these kinds. I have been working on leaseholders’ problems for well over 10 years, with the support of the campaigning charity Leasehold Knowledge Partnership.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister and to the Secretary of State, who are now showing that Government understand a large part of the scale of the problems. I believe that it is better if we do not have a vote today. We should look on this debate as a “take note” one. We are all trying to face the problems of our constituents who are living in homes that are unsafe, unsaleable and unaffordable. I pay tribute to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, and I look forward to hearing the Chair, Mr Betts, speak shortly. Its reports on the situation of leaseholders even before we knew about this tragedy and its subsequent reports about the Fire Safety Bill are important.

I wish Michael Wade well in trying to advise Government on finding ways forward, and I commend the then Prime Minister who, on 27 June two and a half years ago, said that the Government do not rule anything out. What needs to be ruled in are, first, making the money available so that buildings can be made safe; secondly, challenging the insurance industry, which is putting premiums up at rates that I think should be investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority to see whether they are fully justifiable; and, thirdly, making sure that in the end, and as we know from court actions and inquiry results we can anticipate, the people who are responsible for this chaos—dangerous chaos—will actually have to pay. I do not think the taxpayer should necessarily have to do it; the Government have to make themselves responsible for finding the way forward.

Those who are responsible—not all, knowingly—include the developers, the builders and the present landlords, some of whom were the developers. They include local building control possibly, national regulators certainly and the component manufacturers. Those of us who have been speaking about the problem for the past three years—and I wish that some of the other advisers to Government on leasehold issues had been saying the same thing rather more clearly—think that this has to be tackled in a way that cuts short waiting for court actions that may take 10 years and provides the money now, by the end of the year, so that work can be started and finished as soon as possible and so that people have homes they can stay in or leave safely, and are affordable. I would trust those on the Select Committee most to work with Government to make sure that we find the solution, and I would hope to know that we have done that before we have got another few months further forward.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 4:18 pm, 1st February 2021

I begin by thanking the Father of the House for his very kind comments. Certainly, we have worked together on these issues. I congratulate all the members of the Select Committee as well. We have looked at the issue of building safety, particularly cladding, on a number of occasions, and we have produced a number of reports, all of them unanimously. It is to the credit of all members of the Committee—I notice that the next speaker will be Bob Blackman, who is an important member of the Select Committee—that we have done so on a cross-party basis.

I will quote one or two of our very clear recommendations. In 2019, we said that the Government should provide funding to remove

“any form of combustible cladding…from any high-rise or high-risk building”, regardless of height. In our 2020 report, we recommended:

“The Building Safety Fund will need to be increased to address all fire safety defects in every high-risk residential building—potentially costing up to £15 billion.”

Then we did pre-legislative scrutiny of the Building Safety Bill, and we said:

“The Government must recommit to the principle that leaseholders should not pay anything towards the cost of remediating historical building safety defects”.

We have been very clear on all those matters: leaseholders should not pay. They should not pay some unidentified, affordable amount or fair amount, and neither should we get into a position of offering them loans to pay off the debts, because what do loans do but put leaseholders in more debt? At the same time, loans would put many of them into negative equity.

The leaseholder should not pay, and we know that developers and others eventually should be held accountable, but as the Father of the House has just explained, so many potential organisations could be held accountable and the legal arguments will go on and on. Many of the developers have gone out of business and do not exist anymore. Yes, we should pursue them, but in the meantime, the Government have to stand up and commit far more funding than is in the Building Safety Bill, which simply does not cover anything like the £15 billion of potential costs. Eventually there might need to be an industrial levy to pay part of it, and it is for the Government to come forward with recommendations, if they so choose.

The issue is not just about high-rise buildings over six storeys—I think the Minister has accepted that point. It is about all buildings where people could be at risk, including residential homes, care homes and so on. It is also not just about cladding, but about all potential fire risks in buildings, such as dangerous balconies, faulty fire doors, missing firebreaks and faulty installation —all the things together that need putting right to make the buildings that people live in safe.

Finally, we talk about numbers, but in the end behind all these numbers are individuals and families living in potentially dangerous buildings with debts around their neck that they cannot afford to pay, unable to sell their homes if they so wish. We owe it to them to get action on this issue immediately.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 4:22 pm, 1st February 2021

It is a pleasure to follow the Chairman of the Select Committee, who spoke about the inquiries that we have done—seemingly endlessly—over the past six and a half years. Three and a half years after the Grenfell tragedy, we still have leaseholders living in unsaleable, un-mortgageable, uninsurable, unsafe properties, and that is a disgrace that we have to put right. Progress on remediation has unfortunately been slow. It picked up last year, which is good news, but it has been slow and we still have buildings with unsafe cladding, which makes the homes almost impossible to sell, should someone so wish.

This is a complicated debate and a complicated issue, because we have ACM and non-ACM cladding and we have other fire safety issues, to which the Chairman of the Select Committee has referred. The Government, however, are responsible for two things that are important in this process: first, the testing regime, which is not fit for purpose and needs fundamental reform to ensure that cladding and other things that are put in buildings are safe; and secondly, the building regulations that control them.

We have a problem with building ownership, which is complex and unclear, with many buildings owned by offshore trusts and other organisations. We have to deal with those particular issues, but it is fundamental that leaseholders should not have to pay a penny piece towards the cost of remediating unsafe cladding.

The Government have rightly come forward with the Fire Safety Bill and the Building Safety Bill, and I sat through the pre-legislative scrutiny on the Building Safety Bill. The problem with the Building Safety Bill is that it will take a very long time before it comes into law and is actually put into practice. If the Government are against the amendments to the Fire Safety Bill tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), they are honour bound to come forward with alternative amendments that meet the fundamental principle that leaseholders should not pay.

The key is this: what do we do for the people who are in this position? Surveys cost an enormous amount of money. The industry cannot have the capacity at the moment to rectify all the damage that has been done. What is clear is that we need to ensure that the building owners and those responsible foot the bill. We have to end self-certification of buildings. It is unacceptable that building developers can just self-certify that their buildings are safe and are within the scope. We have to make sure that the Government extend the building safety fund into next year, increase the amount of money available, and make sure that the work is done—if necessary, taking over these buildings, remediating them, and then turning them into commonhold so that the leaseholders know that they have a safe building and are not paying a penny.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking 4:25 pm, 1st February 2021

It is a pleasure to follow Bob Blackman.

In June 2019, Samuel Garside House, a block of flats in Barking, was consumed in a wild inferno, going up in flames in seven minutes. It is a miracle that because the fire occurred in daylight, nobody died, but many residents, mainly leaseholders, lost all their possessions. In Barking, leaseholders are families who a generation ago would have been housed by the council, but with the shocking lack of affordable social housing, their only option is to stretch their finances to the absolute limit by buying a lease. They live on the edge from one pay cheque to the next, and they cannot even afford household contents insurance. They, and thousands of others in my constituency, certainly cannot afford to pay for putting right the mistakes of others. They are locked into an absolute nightmare in unsafe homes, unable to sell, unable to remortgage, and facing mounting bills to fix a crisis they did not create. The Government’s response today had little basis in reality. They have, in truth, shunted this into the “too difficult to tackle” box and abandoned leaseholders,

In three minutes I have three issues. First, the Government must act to protect all multi-occupancy buildings. Fire does not discriminate between one height and another. Samuel Garside was below 18 metres but it was a lethal fire trap. Arbitrary height thresholds do not work. All leaseholders must be covered and existing buildings must also be remediated.

Secondly, I have spent months of research trying to identify the owners of blocks in Barking. Ownership is often hidden. The properties are sometimes held through companies located in tax havens. Freeholders who make easy money by charging a ground rent are getting away scot-free. Freeholders must contribute towards the massive remediation costs, alongside developers, contractors, suppliers and regulators.

Thirdly, the Government must solve the spiralling cost of building insurance. Some are struggling to find any insurance cover at all. Residents of one block are facing a 900% hike in their building insurance. The Association of British Insurers told me that the Government are simply not engaging in a realistic dialogue to produce a scheme where risks are shared between the taxpayer and insurance companies. They have done so on covid issues but they have singularly failed where people are living in danger in their own homes.

I have not forgotten my constituents, but the Government have failed them. Those living in the Ropeworks, Academy Central, Spring Place, Samuel Garside, Central House, Benedicts Wharf, Rivermill Lofts, 360 Barking and Spectrum Building are all being left behind, abandoned by a Government refusing to—

Photo of Royston Smith Royston Smith Conservative, Southampton, Itchen 4:28 pm, 1st February 2021

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I say that just for the avoidance of doubt, as I do not think the leasehold property that I own is included in this matter.

The cladding and fire safety crisis has blighted too many lives for far too long. Leaseholders bought their homes in good faith. They would have trusted the developer to build a safe home and they would have trusted the Government to ensure that it conformed with the law. Most would have needed a valuation for a mortgage and nearly all would have used a solicitor to ensure that everything was legal. Governments have encouraged them to buy by offering them incentives to do so. Buyers had every reason to expect that our building regulations were sound and could be more than forgiven for believing that modern flats built in Britain would be safe. However, the events of the past few years have shown that this is not the case. Leaseholders have had to wake up to a sobering reality that the dream of home ownership has turned into a living nightmare as they face huge bills and bankruptcy.

Let me make something clear: the Government are not to blame for this situation. This is not the fault of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State or the Housing Minister; it is a failure of building safety regulation over many decades, involving many Governments. Regardless of what happens today, the Government have an opportunity to sort this out once and for all. They can give leaseholders the certainty and security they deserve and let the unwitting victims of this crisis once again sleep soundly in their beds at night.

The Government may feel that our amendment to the Fire Safety Bill is defective. Perhaps it does not do what leaseholders would like or it would slow the progress of the Bill. There is a simple solution, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend Bob Blackman: accept our amendment, tidy it up, and ensure that it does protect innocent leaseholders.

The shadow Minister for Housing and the Leader of the Opposition said in interviews today that we should put party politics aside and work together. I could not agree more. Labour has had seven weeks to sign our amendment—seven weeks of victims of this scandal begging it to join us—and what has it done? It has done as it always does—ignored the opportunity and instead jumped on a passing bandwagon. Labour has led the victims of the cladding crisis up the hill, and now it is going to abandon them at the top.

There are options for the Government, and I know that they are working hard to find one that works, but today I ask them to accept our amendment and once and for all tell the leaseholders that it is not their fault and they will not have to pay.

Photo of Ellie Reeves Ellie Reeves Shadow Solicitor General 4:31 pm, 1st February 2021

It is shocking that, almost four years on from the Grenfell disaster, the Government have failed to get a grip of the cladding scandal. Despite repeated promises that leaseholders would not bear the cost of fixing this problem, there are countless families living in flammable buildings facing colossal bills for repair work and increased service charges to pay for interim safety measures.

One of my constituents living in Austen Apartments in Anerley is expecting her second child in March. She and her partner, along with their one-year-old daughter, had been hoping to move from their current two-bedroom flat to a bigger family home, but in October they were told that their property was covered in dangerous cladding. That meant they were unable to sell their flat, effectively trapping them in a fire hazard with no ability to move out. The estimated cost of removing the cladding is £30,000. Meanwhile, they face the prospect of increased service charges for a fire marshal and have received a notice from the building owner that the installation of a new alarm system costing £81,000 will be billed to residents.

My constituent told me:

“We live in a state of crippling uncertainty. Our plans to move are on hold indefinitely. We have no choice but to raise our young family in a small flat with no garden that is also unsafe. And we face the prospect that all the money we have worked extremely hard to save in order to buy our first family house will instead be spent on paying for remediation works or steep mortgage fees—through no fault of our own.”

Another constituent from the same building wrote to me:

“I am a single parent with two young children. I am currently not in employment and in receipt of Universal Credit. So, to now be potentially facing astronomical fees on top of already costly service charges is having a real negative effect on my mental health.”

Those testimonies are deeply worrying. While the £1.6 billion building safety fund has been set up to pay for remediation of unsafe buildings, it does not go nearly far enough, and buildings such as Austen Apartments are not even eligible for the fund because they are below 18 metres.

Sadly, Austen Apartments is not an isolated case. Another building in my constituency, in Forest Hill, also below 18 metres, no longer conforms to fire safety standards. Residents have contacted me saying that they are likely to have to split the remediation costs of £350,000 between 11 flats.

My constituents bought their flats in good faith, only then to find out that their homes are a potential fire hazard and that they face huge costs to make them safe. The Government should be doing everything possible to protect leaseholders from these costs and pursue those responsible for the cladding crisis. For the sake of my constituents and thousands like them, I hope that the Government will finally take meaningful action to resolve this injustice.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle 4:34 pm, 1st February 2021

Last May, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee heard from Alex Di-Giuseppe, the co-founder of Manchester Cladiators, who told us how it felt to live in an unsafe high-rise building. Describing the fear of residents of buildings where a fire could happen at any point, who faced unaffordable bills, he said:

“It is the fear of living in the unknown…It is the feeling that we are trapped;
we cannot sell and we cannot move.”

At the end of last year, ACM cladding remained on more than 160 buildings in England. Although progress on cladding removal is welcome, every night spent in an unremediated block is potentially a sleepless and fearful one, so it is important that we move at pace to fix these problems. Responding to the Select Committee report on cladding remediation, the Government were clear that

“there can be no more excuses for inaction” from building owners, and they backed up that stance with a £1.6 billion fund for cladding removal, but clear targets are still needed if those building owners are to take their responsibility seriously and fix this problem.

Since the Grenfell fire tragedy claimed 72 lives in June 2017, fire defects have been discovered in thousands of other buildings. We know that the removal of dangerous ACM cladding was far from the end of the nightmare, as inspections uncovered non-ACM cladding and other failures, including missing fire breaks and other serious defects. Again, the Government stepped in with a £1 billion building safety fund to help meet those costs, but the costs are rocketing and leaseholders are being forced to pick up the bill. Although there is agreement that taxpayers should not foot the whole bill, we should consider expanding the fund to ensure that building owners can properly manage the costs associated with remediation, and not pass them on to leaseholders. In too many cases, leaseholders have been asked to pay huge bills to rectify a problem that is not their fault. They face waking watch charges, vastly increased insurance costs, worries about external wall system certificates and a massive loss of property value. They should not be facing those costs.

The Minister made it clear to the Select Committee that leaseholders will not be bankrupted by the remediation costs, but unfortunately that is setting the bar far too high and many have already reached that threshold. We should be ready to step in and stop leaseholders being unfairly penalised by freeholders who pass on costs, and the Government should be leading the effort. We need to take the action necessary to ensure that all our homes and buildings are made safe from fire and the fear of fire.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Conservative, Kensington 4:37 pm, 1st February 2021

I pay tribute to my constituents—the Grenfell bereaved, the survivors and the wider community. I was shocked by several of the recommendations that came out of the Grenfell inquiry in November and December, especially those relating to building products, their testing and their marketing. It is clear that there have been regulatory and corporate failures. I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has announced a new regulator for construction products and will start a review of the testing process.

I think the whole House would agree that we need a comprehensive and speedy solution to the leaseholder situation. Leaseholders are in this dilemma through no fault of their own, and as colleagues have said, in many cases they are sitting on unsaleable properties that are potentially dangerous. I welcome the fact that the Government made available £1.6 billion for cladding remediation, and I am glad to hear in particular of the progress on ACM cladding remediation. However, I suspect that £1.6 billion will not be enough. Today, I call on the Government to put together a substantial and comprehensive package such that we can remove all dangerous cladding on high-risk buildings. I agree with colleagues that we must ensure that freeholders, insurance companies, warrantee holders and developers pay their fair share, but I do think the Government need to put together a comprehensive package.

I was delighted that the Secretary of State and the Chancellor took time last week to hear me make the case for more Government money. I am glad to hear the Minister at the Dispatch Box say we will make important announcements in the short term. It is now three and a half years since the Grenfell tragedy in my constituency. We need to make urgent progress, so I look forward to hearing the Government’s announcements over the next few weeks.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment) 4:40 pm, 1st February 2021

The Government’s handling of the cladding crisis has lacked any sense of grip or urgency. Almost four years on from Grenfell, it is heartbreaking to see the pain that families are going through. I thank The Sunday Times for its campaign.

Residents are facing lockdown in inflammable buildings with potentially huge bills for repair work, higher insurance, and interim safety measures such as waking watch. They are also unable to sell their flats. An estimated 4,000 residents in Hounslow alone are affected. My hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury has also supported many affected constituents. They include young couples, now with children, trapped and unable to upsize to a home big enough for their growing family.

The situation is now not just about cladding. There is also a worrying lack of transparency and speed from housing associations such as A2Dominion and FirstPort. They were slow to undertake the survey work needed on fire safety, despite residents asking for clarity a year ago. With permission, I will share part of a letter that my constituent Pamela Canales received last week from A2Dominion. It reads:

“We wrote to you in June 2020 to let you know your building needed an ‘intrusive survey’. Our fire safety contractor carried out an intrusive survey in several different areas of your building…The results showed that there are issues with timber cladding, insulation inside the masonry walls with incorrectly installed cavity barriers between flats and cavity closers”.

It goes on to say:

“If you would like to re-mortgage or sell your flat, the mortgage lender involved will probably ask for an (EWS1 form). Your building received an ESW1 rating of Option ‘B2’—confirming combustible materials are present and remedial work is required. It is likely a lender will ask for more information about what work is needed, the likely timescales and the costs of carrying out the work. Unfortunately, we don’t know that information at this stage.”

On who will pay for the remedial works, it says:

“At this stage it is too early to say. We fully understand this is a key area of concern for residents and this is a top priority for us. We do not wish to pass cost onto leaseholders and will only do this as a last resort.”

A2Dominion and others do not have a good track record on transparency of costs for leaseholders. This morning, residents told me:

“We don’t know how much this is going to cost us. We don’t know if we will have to vacate the building. It’s time for us to have answers. It’s stressful enough already with the pandemic. We can’t go on like this.”

We need a Government-led plan now to fix the cladding crisis that does not burden leaseholders with the cost. Those responsible must pay.

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee 4:43 pm, 1st February 2021

I would like to pay tribute to UK Cladding Action Group and End our Cladding Scandal for the massive work they have done, along with the Select Committee and my hon. Friend Royston Smith, to raise the profile of this issue and help millions of leaseholders.

I am sorry that the Labour party, the official Opposition, has played a little bit of politics today. We are very close to having the support in the House of Commons to force our amendment into law. Sadly, the vote today makes no difference whatever to any leaseholders. However, what we can do is focus on the amendments to the Fire Safety Bill, as those votes do make a difference. I say to the Minister that we are very close to having the support in the House of Commons, and we have the support in the House of Lords to keep sending the amendments back. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen and I therefore urge the Minister to work with us to ensure that leaseholders do not have to pay.

I believe that the Department has been incompetent throughout this saga. It has created a whole host of problems, especially with the consolidated advice note published in January 2020. Buildings over six storeys or 18 metres were already involved in this crisis, but the note then involved any building of any height, taking the number from around 1,700 buildings to well over 100,000. On top of that, buildings under 18 metres can still be built with combustible cladding.

We must also focus on fire safety defects. I hear the Minister when he says that the Fire Safety Bill is not the right place for this, but I remind him that the Bill builds on the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which tried to clear up two ambiguities around cladding and front doors. The Fire Safety Bill also ensures that costs can be recovered from leaseholders, which puts that cost on leaseholders in law. The Building Safety Bill is not in front of us, but it will also ensure that leaseholders are liable. That is not acceptable to me, and it is not acceptable to leaseholders. We have been very clear that leaseholders do not have to pay.

The Government must provide a safety net. They must step in and help leaseholders. I will not accept loans for leaseholders. If the Government announce that, I will vote against it. We cannot have leaseholders pay 90% mortgages of £150,000 and then maybe have to repay a loan of £75,000. Building societies and banks will say that they can offer mortgages only if they are affordable, and having such a debt on a property is not affordable. I urge the Minister to work with us to deliver for leaseholders and to ensure that they do not have to pay.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Labour, Leeds Central 4:46 pm, 1st February 2021

I am pleased to follow Stephen McPartland, whose amendments to the Fire Safety Bill I have signed. I will speak on behalf of my constituents in Leeds—they include Hayley Tillotson, whose story has moved us all—who find themselves in desperate circumstances not of their making. They saved up. They bought what they thought was the home of their dreams. It has now turned into a nightmare as the outer layers have been peeled back on each block to reveal the full horror underneath. Their homes are firetraps. They are worthless. They cannot borrow against them. They cannot sell them. They are trapped by waking watch bills, trapped by rising insurance, and trapped by the fear that they will be told they must pay to fix this, even though they are not in any way responsible.

The impact on the mental health of my constituents is enormous, because every day they wake up and are reminded of this nightmare with no apparent way out. Today’s debate is so important, because we, together on both sides of the House, need to give them hope by calling on the Government to draw up a plan to sort the situation out.

Ministers know that the building safety fund will not deal with the problem. Why? Because the cost of making every home safe is way in excess of the money allocated so far, and we know that Ministers are looking at a loan scheme. I am not opposed to a loan scheme in principle, provided that leaseholders are not required to pay the loans back. After all, they did not fail to put in the firebreaks or cover the blocks in unsafe cladding, so why on earth should they have to pay?

This is a story of monumental regulatory failure and of flats being built as cheaply as possible—in many cases without even complying with the building regulations. Like the Minister, I applaud those freeholders and developers who have taken responsibility and sorted things out, but I deplore those who have tried to walk away and claim that it is nothing to do with them. Those who developed and constructed the buildings should pay, the industry as a whole should pay, and the Government should pay because they allowed it to happen. We all have a responsibility for that.

The most important thing of all, however, is that we act now to bring this crisis to an end, because that is what the leaseholders I represent and Leeds Cladding Scandal, which has done such a great job, want. More than anything else they just want to feel safe and secure in their homes once again, so that they can get on with their lives. We have a responsibility to make sure that that now happens.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon 4:49 pm, 1st February 2021

The coronavirus pandemic is all-consuming for many Members of Parliament, but for my constituents in Hendon, another issue is equally as disruptive: the connected problems of external cladding, demand for the EWS1 form, and the potential liability of leaseholders for the removal and replacement of fire hazardous materials in their buildings.

I have spent countless hours working on this issue. Two weeks ago, I asked the Government for a commitment to accept an amendment tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) to the Fire Safety Bill. The amendment would ensure that leaseholders are not liable for remedial works, and I have put my name to it. That cannot be said by everyone speaking today. Given that this issue has been largely ignored by some Members, it is astounding that this motion has been tabled today. It is as though those on the Labour Front Bench did not know about the problem and have ignored the amendments to the Fire Safety Bill. By seeking to push this debate to a vote, Labour Members are pretending to show how much they care, even though they know that Opposition-day debates are not binding on the Government, unlike amendments to the Fire Safety Bill. That is where those on the Labour Front Bench could have shown real leadership, but there has been none.

Two weeks ago I voted against the Government on an Opposition-day motion about universal credit. That was an opportunity for me to show the Government the strength of my feeling, and indicate what I want to see in the Budget in March. Today’s debate is not the same. This is a cynical opportunity for Labour Members falsely to raise the hopes of leaseholders and try to gain some popularity that they think they will translate at the ballot box. My constituents are not that naive, so today I shall be abstaining if there is a vote. I will be spending the rest of my afternoon helping my constituents, and not jumping on a bandwagon.

Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 4:51 pm, 1st February 2021

I have spoken a number of times in Parliament about these issues, because Manchester Central has one of the highest numbers of private blocks that are now deemed to be dangerous. I thank the Manchester Cladiators—a fantastic committed group of residents who have been working tirelessly to raise these issues locally and nationally.

The toll—both financial and mental—facing those living in a building now deemed dangerous is heart-breaking, devastating, and simply wrong. It is a national scandal, and as we have heard, it is absolutely no fault of leaseholders. It has also created a completely broken housing market for millions more people. At a time when we are being asked to stay safe at home, living in a dangerous building has particular resonance, not to mention the added uncertainty faced by those on furlough, by the many key workers living in those flats, or by disabled residents such as Georgie Hulme in Hulme Life Buildings, who are anxiously worrying about how they might escape.

Although it is not the Government’s fault that we got here in this way, their response has been inadequate, slow, and unresponsive. The ACM building fund is too small and narrow in scope for nearly all affected buildings in my constituency, including those under 18 metres, such as Hulme Life Buildings, which is unable to apply, despite its residents facing bills of £115,000 each. Buildings with non-ACM cladding or with wooden balconies or walkways, such as Albion Works and St George’s Island, are unable to apply. Buildings where the cladding’s exterior façade is brick effect, such as at Leftbank, and those where work has already begun, such as the skyline buildings, are also out of scope. For those buildings that do meet the tight criteria, the process is too slow and decisions are not forthcoming.

Taken together, all those issues, as well as the lack of accountability for leaseholders in the system, is leading to a broken market. Too many players have stepped away from taking responsibility for building safety, leaving millions of residents in homes that are uninsurable, unsellable, uncertifiable, and with negative equity. The fund needs urgent reform so that more buildings are eligible, and we need a comprehensive taskforce to look at the whole range of issues such as insurance, mortgage lenders, liability and so on. We must fix this broken market and stop a whole generation of homeowners losing everything they have.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble 4:54 pm, 1st February 2021

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker. Turning to more serious matters, let us be in no doubt that the issue of building safety is a vital one. It emerges from a tragedy that unfolded before horrified eyes just a few years ago. ACM cladding is dangerous, unsafe, and should never have been used. I understand that through the Government’s £600 million fund, work has at least started on all of the buildings whose owners have given the required information, as well as those in social housing, and interim safety measures such as waking watches are in place. All building owners should take responsibility and progress the work to put in their fund bids now.

In remediating this safety problem, knock-on issues arise, which many Members have articulately raised already. As the Minister said in his opening remarks, leaseholders should not bear the brunt of correcting these problems. I have heard from my constituents Sally Smith and Maureen Wareing, both of whom have relatives in London who are incredibly worried about facing big bills for remediating cladding in their flats. They are uncertain and worried. No one should be put in this position; I can only imagine the fear I would have felt in my 20s, or even my 30s, receiving a letter suggesting that I had a liability for tens of thousands of pounds that was not my fault. I call on owners to do the right thing, and I seek to amplify the comments my right hon. Friend the Minister made in his opening remarks.

Although this Government are putting in extraordinary efforts to make the biggest improvements in building safety in a generation, this is no quick fix, but a really integrated picture. It is technical and complex, and gets really messy quickly, with multiple types of cladding and lots of different people and organisations involved: residents, leaseholders, renters, building owners, building developers—some of which are not around or not in business any more—as well as mortgage providers and insurers. If, as a Government, we rush this, we risk not addressing the problems completely, so to my mind, the worst thing we could do is rush through a suite of measures that does not resolve the issues. What Sally and Maureen’s families need is certainty. Let us get this right first time, and make sure our mantra is “never again” so that we never have another tragedy, and we have a long-term fix for all our residents.

Ultimately, our measures need to give people surety about their safety, give value back to their homes and let people get on with their lives. There should be no mortgage prisoners and no sale prisoners. Let the Building Safety Bill later this year address these points and others. Let us do it once, and let us do it right.

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 4:57 pm, 1st February 2021

The topic of this debate is an incredibly pressing one, and I am glad to have the opportunity to speak because it affects so many of my constituents. The ongoing scandal surrounding the replacement of cladding has two main components to which I would like to draw attention by using an example in Poplar and Limehouse: building safety and remedial costs.

New Providence Wharf in my constituency is a development owned by Ballymore housing. The building is covered in ACM cladding—the same sort of flammable cladding that was wrapped around Grenfell Tower. Representatives of the residents’ association at New Providence Wharf have been in touch with me for some time now, but the most recent update I had from them is perhaps the most shocking. Currently living surrounded by flammable cladding, these constituents have told me that remedial work on the building has now been pushed back to May. Those who bought properties in developments such as New Providence Wharf in good faith now find themselves in a nightmare scenario. These leaseholders bought a property under the reasonable assumption that it was safe to live in, but not only are they now struggling to sell or remortgage their homes, they have been left stranded, having to foot the bill for remedial works.

The recent update I have received about New Providence Wharf is that the remediation costs are set to be between £12.5 million and £25 million. These are astronomical figures to fall on the shoulders of those living in the development. With only £5,000 offered by Ballymore, this could mean that each leaseholder would have to pay up to £50,000 in remedial costs. How can this possibly go on?

That is just one example from my constituency of the effects that this scandal is having on so many people’s lives. Residents in dangerous developments right across my constituency are not being supported by their building owners. At New Festival Quarter, leaseholders are being left in the dark about how safe their building is; at Indescon Square, residents have been charged hundreds of thousands of pounds by Galliard Homes for the cost of inspection works; and at New Atlas Wharf—constructed by Britain’s most profitable housebuilder, Persimmon—residents are facing costs of up to £66,000 per flat. But, of course, in this whole debacle buck passing has been the order of the day. The unsafe conditions that such residents are living in will only be made worse by the trajectory of outsourcing and deregulation that the Government continue to follow as they attempt to avoid culpability for the poor housing conditions that so many in this country face.

It is a disgrace that anyone should be living in the same cladding that we all saw burning on Grenfell Tower. Safe housing should not be a privilege for the few; it should be a basic right. The Government need to front up to the mistakes made in the past and work quickly to undo them. The onus must not in any way fall on those currently living in flammable buildings through no fault of their own.

Photo of Andrew Lewer Andrew Lewer Conservative, Northampton South 5:00 pm, 1st February 2021

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests regarding my role as vice-president of the Local Government Association.

For 12 years I served as a member of planning committees on councils, and on my election to this House I founded the all-party parliamentary group for SME house builders. Last year, the APPG produced a report on the future of planning, which made it clear that building regulations are planning regulations’ most important partner. Building regulations maybe did not receive as much attention until 2017, and since have—for the most tragic of reasons. We need a resolution to this that protects public safety and means that we have an efficiently functioning property market regardless of property type.

Cladding has blighted the housing sector, and the concern has been illustrated by many, including the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform, the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group, and the all-party parliamentary group for the private rented sector, which I chair. We are well aware of the impact that this crisis is having on the sector, including on buy-to-let landlords, who have been left trapped, as a result of EWS1 forms, with properties that are not safe, not sellable and not remortgageable. Cladding will remain a standing item on the agenda of the APPG for the private rented sector and we will draw on the expertise of those groups.

As a National Residential Landlords Association quarter 4 survey outlined last year, of those respondents who were required to carry out an EWS check on their property, 42% were unable to secure an EWS report, stagnating movement on their property. Although I recognise the good intentions of these checks, a lack of availability is a problem, as Ministers are aware. Despite the Government’s hard work to rectify the outstanding issues, these forms continue to hamper the movement of property, squeezing a market already facing an uphill battle.

As the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s report outlined, every property agreement differs in who it allocates responsibility to and for what issues. Solutions are hard, but they are needed. Requesting that the Government front up the money first and then determine liability places a heavy burden on the taxpayer. Suggesting that leaseholders take out loans means that millions would be paying for a problem that they did not create and often cannot afford to fix. Northampton only has one 18 metre-plus tower, and Northamptonshire Partnership Homes was quick to check that everything was safe. Northampton does, however, have a number of 11 metre-plus properties, and the Government’s forthcoming measures on those will be hugely welcome and provide peace of mind. It is abundantly clear that that announcement is needed sooner rather than later for tenants, developers and the housing market as a whole.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:03 pm, 1st February 2021

Strip away all the technical complexity, and the cladding crisis has always been about two fundamental issues: how can we identify and quickly make safe dangerous buildings; and who is going to pay for them? Both issues haunt those affected by this crisis, but in the long term it is the issue of liability that is in many ways the more terrifying, because leaseholders fear that it is they who will ultimately be forced by the Government to pay the lion’s share of a bill that is projected to rise to over £16 billion. They have good reason to be alarmed, because although we may not know the detail, the broad contours of the proposals developed by Michael Wade that Ministers are considering ahead of the Budget are an open secret—minus an unknown, but almost certainly tokenistic, annual contribution from developers. He recommends that remediation is funded up front by long-term loans attached to individual sites, with the building owner or responsible person then recouping that loan from its leaseholders over a period of decades. In the brief time that I have, I want to draw the attention of the House to what that would mean in practice. First, unless leaseholders were deliberately to be protected from any form of repayment until the point of sale, they would be hit by significant service charge increases.

Even assuming an interest-only repayment model with modest interest rates—say 1% or 1.5%—on remedial works bills at the lower end of the scale, say £30,000, leaseholders would still be looking at an extra £60 to £100, or perhaps more, on their monthly bills, depending on the length of the loan period. What on earth makes Ministers think that leaseholders can manage such costs, and what do they think those additional charges will do to mortgage affordability calculations?

Secondly, the attachment of a loan to a site will immediately devalue the properties within it, instantly creating a two-tier property system and placing a significant proportion of affected leaseholders, particularly in areas of lower property values, at risk of negative equity and bankruptcy. Who is ever going to purchase—willingly—a flat with one of those loans attached, at least unless the leaseholder discounts their total liability from the asking price, with all the consequences that that implies for the housing market and mortgage lenders? The fact that Ministers are even contemplating a proposal of that kind is utterly reprehensible, given the commitments made by many Secretaries of State and Ministers of State at the Dispatch Box that blameless leaseholders in privately owned blocks would be fully protected from cladding costs in all circumstances. If the Government plough ahead with Mr Wade’s recommendation or any variant that punishes leaseholders they will make a colossal mistake.

There are other solutions that can provide up-front funding to accelerate the pace of remediation and that would protect the general taxpayer as well as leaseholders. All that is required is that Ministers give them serious consideration and, more importantly, that they steel themselves finally to confront the vested interests that created this problem in the first place.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne 5:06 pm, 1st February 2021

I am pleased to contribute to this debate, very much remembering those who lost their lives and those who lost their loved ones in the Grenfell fire. The scale of that loss and the sorrow are still unimaginable.

In the wake of that tragedy, much important work on building safety has been done, and much ground covered, across the country and in my constituency of Eastbourne. For too many local leaseholders, however, the nightmare of towering costs still looms large and is a source of everyday stress. Up to 40 buildings in my town have been identified as being at risk. ACM cladding is part of that, but in the mix is a raft of historical safety defects that require costly remedial action that is not currently in scope. Over the past year, I have worked with residents, most recently on Friday, when one man described himself as “broken” by the experience of trying to find his way forward. One building alone in my constituency requires works estimated at £5.1 million, which translates as £40,000 to £90,000 per flat—a sum totally beyond the reach of all leaseholders, who bought their properties in good faith many years ago.

The Government have made it clear that building owners are legally responsible for ensuring that buildings are safe, so I ask my hon. Friend the Minister, who I know shares my dismay and frustration, what enforcement action will ensue against those building owners who have rejected this duty, or who simply cannot be found. How will we ensure that developers play their part too, particularly the smaller subsidiaries of some of our most prominent housing developers?

The Government have made provision, in the form of £1.6 billion, and I thank Ministers for extending the application deadline. However, I would ask for assurances that applications from my constituency in this latter period will not suffer disadvantage in any way. There are concerns about the value of the fund, and whether it will meet the need, so I would very much appreciate assurances on that. It is not right and it is not fair that costs are passed on and that leaseholders are left exposed and vulnerable. I know that much work is going on to bring this to a safe conclusion, and I anticipate Government announcements. I recognise that it is important to get it right, but time is toxic, and I implore Ministers to move with speed so that those residents in Eastbourne still caught up in this nightmare can sleep at night.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Education) 5:09 pm, 1st February 2021

The pain of the Grenfell fire was felt very deeply in my constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn. Those who died were our neighbours and our friends. Some survivors were rehoused in Camden and Brent and became part of our community. Then, one Friday night, shortly after the fire, thousands of my constituents had to be evacuated from the Chalcots estate in Swiss Cottage after it emerged that they had ACM cladding that was near-identical to that on Grenfell Tower. I ask all those on the Government Benches to consider what it must be like to live in a property that they know could face the same fate as Grenfell, and where a 24/7 waking watch patrol is required to make sure that the building is not on fire. That is the reality for many of my constituents living in the new-builds in and around West Hampstead Square, many blocks in south Kilburn and other parts of Brent, and over 70 private sector buildings in Camden that still have dangerous ACM cladding.

Perhaps the worst part of it is that the residents—the leaseholders—who had no part in creating this crisis, are being forced to pay to fix it and to pay for the waking watches, the fire safety measures and the replacement of the unsafe cladding that threatens their lives. One constituent in Kensal Rise who bought their flat using the Government’s Help to Buy loan scheme wrote to me recently to say that they are being made to pay for cladding remediation works. As she so aptly puts it, it is

“a disgusting abuse that a government would aim to help so many and then bankrupt those they aimed to help by not legally protecting leaseholders from these costs”.

To add insult to injury, none of these people can sell their homes. Many others are unable to sell simply because they are being forced to wait many years for an EWS1 form. Lucie Gutfreund, a constituent of mine who co-founded the End our Cladding Scandal campaign, told me that she and others are effectively trapped, facing crippling bills, and that the mental turmoil is ruining their lives and the lives of so many.

Grenfell was a tragedy. The Government’s response has been a travesty. I am urging Ministers to do what they can and what they should have done a long time ago: make these buildings safe, shield leaseholders from the costs and make those who installed dangerous cladding pay. Anything less is unforgivable.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 5:12 pm, 1st February 2021

Like all Members of Parliament, I have had residents raise these issues with me, and in Southend, they are particularly stressful for young couples starting out on home ownership. I say to the new Minister, who I welcome to his place: this is a complex problem that involves decisions by previous Governments of all persuasions, and a solution to it is far from easy. The whole history of freehold and leasehold has been long overdue for resolution, and I believe that the Government will tackle it. However, in the immediate term, I do agree that leaseholders should not be responsible for remedial work to identify unsafe properties with combustible materials on external walls that they bought in good faith. This includes not just unsafe cladding but a number of other deficiencies, such as unsafe insulation and combustible materials on balconies.

Leaseholders, however, should of course be expected to pay for any legitimate maintenance that is reasonable and fair. In most cases, a responsibility for paying for this remediation rests with the owner-developer. When there is a dispute or difficulty to identify the owner, I am asking the Government to make the necessary funding available, pending resolution. It is really unacceptable for people to continue to be expected to sleep safe in their beds at night while surrounded by combustible materials on the external walls of their homes—in many cases, living at some distance from the ground. However, I agree that UK taxpayers—many of whom do not even own a home and perhaps question why they should contribute—cannot ultimately be expected to pick up the costs of the remediation.

I very much support the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s target for completion of the remedial work by June 2022, and meanwhile seek the bringing together of the RICS, the Association of British Insurers, banks, building societies and representatives from the fire safety sector. The Prime Minister was challenged on this issue last Wednesday and he said that

“the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will be bringing forward a plan very shortly.”—[Official Report, 27 January 2021; Vol. 688, c. 371.]

I know that he will honour that. The all-party parliamentary fire safety rescue group, which I chair, and the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform, chaired by my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley, have worked closely together. On 25 February at 4 o’clock I will be chairing a joint meeting of the groups, attended by leading Members of Parliament, and parliamentarians will have the opportunity to question the Minister, Lord Greenhalgh, directly on this issue. I will also be supporting amendments tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) when the Bill is debated.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark 5:15 pm, 1st February 2021

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate those on the shadow Front Bench on prioritising this debate in the absence of sufficient attention or pace from the Government. I enter into the spirit of today’s debate mindful of the cross-party support for amendments aimed at addressing the issue, and in the hope that we will see that support reflected in today’s vote. Frankly, everyone affected has waited far too long.

In Bermondsey and Old Southwark, more than 60 blocks of homes and thousands of people are affected. People have often bought in good faith and then been told that their home may not be safe. They have since been left in limbo. They include NHS worker Lucy Grayston, who attempted to sell her L&Q flat. A buyer was found, and Lucy, who was five months pregnant, moved out. The sale fell through due to an external wall survey issue, and she is now having to pay for two properties. They also include William Lecky, who celebrated the birth of his new baby with his wife and had plans to relocate to Scotland. They are now trapped in a one-bed property in Borough that they are unable to sell until this matter is resolved.

This could have been sorted by now, with the right political will and wherewithal, but it has not been, despite the Government’s promising 15 times to protect leaseholders. My constituents are still waiting and some face extortionate costs while they do so. One block is paying £40,000 a month for a waking watch, which is well above average and in no way a reasonable fee. I have asked the Government many times about the waking watch relief fund, and I am glad that they have finally published the eligibility criteria, but I hope Ministers will now answer my other questions on the fund. When will applications be assessed, and when will those funds begin to be distributed? The people waiting for news cannot wait any longer. They cannot sell their homes, they cannot reinsure and they cannot remortgage. Some of the people affected have also lost their job due to covid. They cannot afford their existing mortgage, and speed is of the essence. For many people, sadly, all they have seen is delay, and Government guidance has even contributed to the problems they face. For example, homeowners in Sudrey Street, Leathermarket Street and Monmouth Court are all being asked to provide EWS1 forms, despite the height of their blocks not reaching the threshold.

Last year, I raised concerns on behalf of constituents affected and asked Ministers to provide new guidance or clarify existing guidance, given the misapplication of the 18-metre rule. Today, I again ask Ministers to prevent misinterpretation, to ease pressure on the system and to take many of the people affected out of coverage altogether. Today’s motion would address many of the concerns of so many people affected and I hope that it is successful in the vote, to ensure that the thousands of my constituents who are experiencing these huge concerns can begin to plan their lives again.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines Conservative, Derbyshire Dales 5:18 pm, 1st February 2021

It is a pleasure to follow Neil Coyle, and I welcome our new Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes, to his place. This is a very important issue. Ensuring the safety of the individual is one of the most important functions of the state. I welcome the fact that the Government have made available £1.6 billion for cladding to be removed from buildings and that they are working closely with building owners to ensure that all dangerous ACM cladding, as found at Grenfell, is removed by the end of this year. It is also good news that the vast majority of buildings with ACM cladding have had it removed—or that the work is under way—including 100% of buildings in the social sector. It is remarkable that the Government have achieved that during the covid pandemic. It is necessary work and it must be completed as soon as possible. This Government are bringing forward the most significant building control legislation for 40 years. The Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Bill are an essential part of the way forward.

As more than £1 billion in public funding has been made available, there is simply no excuse for building owners not to have begun this important remedial work, or for them to be passing the costs on to leaseholders. It is good to note that the Government have introduced several measures to support leaseholders over the last year, including the essential £30 million waking watch fund. That issue prevented many people from being able to sell their homes. The Government will continue to engage regularly with leaseholders to understand their concerns and find ways to protect them at affordable prices.

I am particularly concerned that, through no fault of their own, some flat owners have been unable to remortgage or sell their properties. That cannot be allowed to continue. I have been contacted by a constituent on that issue, who is rightly concerned about a junior member of the family who finds themselves in that position in one of our major cities. The issue simply has to be resolved. It is essential that the Government continue to work closely with all parties, including lenders, for example, to resolve the challenges, ensuring that EWS1 forms are requested only where absolutely necessary, and that the number of surveyors who can complete the work is increased significantly to meet demand.

However, much more needs to be done. The remedial cost will need to be spread over those who are actually responsible. I look to the Government rightly to assist as a safety net, but a safety net only—not the first port of call to pay for everything, as the Opposition invariably do. This is a complex legal and policy problem. We need complex resolutions in a proper timeframe. I am glad that the Government have committed to providing a solution. I appreciated the comments made by the Prime Minister a short while ago, and I look forward to a proper permanent solution. I will not vote in favour of the Opposition’s motion, because it is simplistic and solves nothing. The Government will solve the issues.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 5:21 pm, 1st February 2021

I associate myself with many of the important contributions already made by hon. Members. As has been made clear, the Government’s lack of action over the last three and a half years to tackle the building safety crisis has left thousands of leaseholders trapped in unsafe homes that they are unable to sell or remortgage. Instead, they are being forced to pay enormous sums for remediation and interim fire safety measures such as waking watches.

The untold impact that that is having on people’s lives is deeply concerning. I have heard from countless residents about the stress and anxiety that the scandal is causing, having bought their homes. Some blocks face bills of up to £3 million for replacing the dangerous cladding, as is the case for my constituents living in Norfolk House in Deptford. Then there are examples such as Aragon Tower—a 160-apartment building also in my constituency—where, following extensive testing, the fire break system was found not to be working. When challenged, the developers, Berkeley Homes, refused to take any responsibility, leaving many residents stuck and unable to sell.

Those examples are sadly not unique, as Ministers will keep hearing through the debate. I praise my local authority, Lewisham Council, and its housing body, Lewisham Homes, for their speedy response to the crisis; yet sadly, three and a half years since the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, national Government are yet to resolve these issues. One group that I fear is being overlooked in the debate is disabled tenants and leaseholders. Disabled people caught up in these unsafe blocks face additional barriers. The Leaseholder Disability Action Group—Clad DAG—has raised many concerns, from inadequate evacuation plans to reports of bullying and harassment by stressed residents who resent the extra costs of meeting access needs. That is totally unacceptable. Urgent steps must be taken to ensure that disabled people feel safe in their own homes.

The Government must get a grip of this scandal and put in the proper resources needed so that tenants and leaseholders up and down the country are not left in unsafe homes for a minute longer. It cannot be right that so many people are having sleepless nights because of a problem not of their own making.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton 5:24 pm, 1st February 2021

It is a pleasure to follow Vicky Foxcroft, who made some good points that I agree with. However, she blames the fact that leaseholders are trapped inside these buildings on the Government’s actions or inactions over the past three and a half years, whereas the reality is that this has come from systemic failure over decades. That is the only thing that could have contributed to a scandal on this scale, which has included developers; cladding and insulation manufacturers, who have not been heavily mentioned in this debate; building control; and building regulations, which are the work of Governments on either side of the political divide for decades. The only way we are going to get through this is somehow by sharing the huge cost of these issues, which is potentially £10 billion to £15 billion, over that whole industry, with some possibly held by the taxpayer. I do think it would be wrong to put this cost at the door of leaseholders.

The Government have taken significant action, with the most decisive being the ban on combustible materials on the outside of high-rise buildings as soon as this tragedy struck—that was absolutely the right thing to do and it came within days of that tragedy. That was followed by the £1.6 billion of funding to remediate these buildings, but what everybody knew—I served on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee during a number of inquiries on this—was that the cost would be much greater. We all accept that fact.

Let me read out what one of my constituents, who lives in Borrowby, near Thirsk, but has a flat in London, wrote to me:

“This has been caused by two main factors, poor building regulations in England across decades and a lack of regulatory oversight, which led to a construction industry that took advantage, put profits ahead of safety and built buildings with combustible materials and with missing compartmentation now regarded as fire traps.”

I absolutely concur with those words, so we need a pan-industry solution, involving cladding manufacturers, insulation manufacturers, developers and installers. The situation with building owners is more difficult, because many of them do not have a contractual obligation. I hear lots about building owners, but many of them are not legally obliged to remediate. But leaseholders should not be involved here, even though they are legally obliged; I would advocate more money into the building safety fund, and a levy spreading the cost around the industry, wherever possible, but not to leaseholders.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence) 5:27 pm, 1st February 2021

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to have the opportunity to represent the concerns of my constituents in this important debate. There are a number of buildings with unsafe non-ACM cladding in Portsmouth, and I have been speaking to residents and building managers in Admiralty Quarter and Gunwharf Quays in my constituency. Residents in those buildings have suddenly found themselves in unsafe homes and potentially liable for astronomical costs from remediation. They are also unable to sell their homes. One retired resident, who is on a low income, has told me that she faces costs of £20,000 to £30,000 towards the remediation. They are also having trouble accessing the Government’s building safety fund. Delays to the implementation of the fund are preventing vital work from commencing and preventing leaseholders from moving on with their lives, and it is not clear whether the fund is large enough. In the event that they are not covered by the building safety fund, residents and responsible building owners will struggle to establish who is now responsible for the remediation, as it comes with a hefty price tag.

Health and safety must be the priority. Ministers should focus on the rapid disbursal of funds with immediacy, with a relatively low burden of proof and with recovery taking place later, as appropriate. Ministers should also look again at the 18-metre height qualification for applications to the building safety fund. If cladding is unsafe, surely it is unsafe regardless of the height of the building it sits on. Buildings in my constituency fall under that arbitrary distinction, and this is a piecemeal approach to building safety. The fund should apply to buildings of any height.

Instead of asking leaseholders and building owners to embark on a protracted search for accountability and funds, with bureaucratic and time-consuming procedures, the Government should take responsibility for safety, fund the work in full and recover the funds later, as appropriate, and get on with legislating to prevent this from happening again.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough 5:29 pm, 1st February 2021

It is a particular pleasure to see the new Minister in his place today. He is a man who has spent a lot of his life working to improve housing conditions for the poorest people in this country, so he is absolutely the right man in the right place at the right time to take forward this hugely important work.

Much has already been said, so the few additional things that I would add are as follows. First, it is important that we look at the other dimensions of fire safety as well as just cladding. I have been asking written questions about fire doors in particular. I was told that we do not hold any central data on the quality and state of fire doors in social housing blocks. I hope that the Government will audit, and get social landlords to audit, the state of those doors, making sure that they have at least the 30-minutes protection that we expect, and that we will work through all the other dimensions of fire safety as well as cladding.

When it comes to cladding, may I express my hope that we will see the people behind this tragedy brought to justice? It has been absolutely extraordinary to watch the proceedings of the inquiry and to see some of what has come out. In The Times the other day, Dominic Lawson summarised exchanges of emails between employees at Kingspan after the Grenfell tragedy. They joked about rigging tests and about how they lied, saying, “Yes, mate, it’s all lies. All we do here is lie.” The testimony of an employee of Celotex, Jonathan Roper, said that his company had behaved in a completely unethical way. Then there are the officials from Arconic, who are refusing to testify at the inquiry, hiding behind the French blocking statute. I hope that the Government will use all the means at their disposal to put maximum pressure on the representatives of these companies to come and face the inquiry and, ultimately, to face justice for what has been done.

Finally, I encourage Ministers to keep going in their efforts to remove unsafe cladding. I welcome the £1.6 billion that is being spent on this. I welcome the progress that is being made in reducing and removing ACM cladding. The removal of ACM cladding from the social sector is great. I hope that Ministers will continue to press on with the new regulator for construction products, so that such a tragedy does not happen again. Ultimately—let me put it like this—I hope that we can make sure that those who are suffering through no fault of their own are not made to pay and that the people behind the Grenfell tragedy are made to pay.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Opposition Whip (Commons) 5:32 pm, 1st February 2021

I am pleased to contribute to this debate. I declare that I am a leaseholder in a block of flats, albeit not one affected by cladding problems.

When the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower struck in June 2017, I was London’s Deputy Mayor for Housing. Madam Deputy Speaker, if you had told me then that, three-and-a-half years later, we would still be trying to force the Government to make buildings safe, I would not have believed you. Yet here we are with hundreds of thousands of people across the country still living in unsafe homes and millions caught up in the wider building safety crisis.

There has been a fundamental failure of leadership by the Government in resolving the question of who pays to remediate buildings, and that has been instrumental in the delay in making them safe. Two related principles must therefore be at the heart of what Ministers do next: first, there must be absolutely no further delay; and, secondly, leaseholders must be protected from the costs of the work. That is why I will be voting today for the Government to provide upfront funding to ensure that remediation can start immediately and then to protect the leaseholders and the public finances from the cost of doing so by pursuing those responsible for the cladding crisis.

The Government’s failure to get a grip on this situation has left leaseholders facing huge bills, with their lives on hold while the problem is resolved. I wish to draw Ministers’ attention to the plight of shared owners and leaseholders in the Central West building—a block of 69 flats completed in 2005 on Greenford Broadway in the heart of my constituency. Central West was built by Shepherds Bush Housing Association and is home to teachers, social workers, retired nurses, transport workers, delivery drivers, agency workers and many others. Central West is only just less than 18 metres, and so is not eligible for the Government’s building safety fund. Leaseholders face paying for all the works to make the building safe, despite residents being unable to afford the thousands of pounds that that would entail.

I wrote to the Housing Minister about the situation faced by residents at Central West, and I have received a reply from Lord Greenhalgh, the Minister for Building Safety and Communities, in the past few days. He wrote:

“it remains building owners’ responsibility to address unsafe cladding on buildings of all heights…and we have called on them to do all they can to protect leaseholders from the costs of remediating historic building defects.”

The Government do not have to call on others to protect leaseholders; it is within their power to help leaseholders themselves. The buck stops with them, and we expect them to act.

Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West 5:35 pm, 1st February 2021

Happy Birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker. I welcome my hon. Friend the Housing Minister to his place. He is right to point out that the current problem has built up over many decades, and he is also right to decide to resolve the problem once and for all.

Bolton at Home, which serves many of my constituents, has raised concerns with me, ranging from the status of fire doors to fire risk assessments. That indicates how much more work needs to be done on this issue. My hon. Friend the Father of the House comprehensively set out the parties that must be led or forced by the Government to act. He was right to say that it would be better not to divide the House on this motion, but instead use this debate to have the Government take note and take action.

I support the amendment to the Fire Safety Bill in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland). I urge the Government to build upon it if they do not think it is suitable, in order to deliver certainty and safety for my constituents and many others around the country. People ought not to think that this applies just to huge tower blocks; it applies to a huge range of other buildings too.

The Grenfell Tower events were horrific, but they were nearly repeated on 15 November 2019, when The Cube burned down in Bolton. The student accommodation caught fire and became an inferno within minutes. If it were 4 o’clock in the morning, rather than 8.30 in the evening, we do not know how many deaths there would have been. Would it have been Grenfell mark 2? We have to act, be decisive and comprehensive in our actions, and sort this out incredibly quickly, because this is about people’s safety and physical and mental wellbeing. Many people have put their lives on hold and are waiting to move on—they may want to start a family or get a job—so we have to resolve this issue incredibly quickly.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:37 pm, 1st February 2021

I am grateful for the hard work of the shadow Housing Secretary and her team, which has ensured that this issue is brought to the fore and not forgotten.

Over the past year, we have all been confined to our homes to shield ourselves and our families from a deadly virus. We have been doing what we can to protect our country, the NHS and vulnerable people. Lockdown has bene tough for us all. Imagine if what is meant to be a person’s sanctuary over these difficult months is the exact opposite. Leaseholders have been having sleepless nights, wondering each day whether the flammable cladding covering their homes will catch fire. The deadly combination of a pandemic and a national scandal is impacting millions across our country. Many of those constituents have worked hard to achieve their dreams of home ownership, only to have it turned into a living nightmare. Characteristically, the Government have once again been dragging their feet and are too slow to act. It has been more than three years since the horrific Grenfell tragedy, and thousands still fear for their safety in their own homes.

It must be noted that the Government knew about the dangerous cladding well before then. In my Slough constituency, we sadly have a number of blocks affected. I have been contacted by residents of Nova House, West Central, Rivington Apartments, Lexington Apartments, Foundry Court, Ibex House and Aspects Court, to name just a few. I have raised their concerns personally with Ministers in the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, of which I was a member, and with the Leader of the House on the Floor of the House. Some of those residents are paying hundreds of pounds for waking watch, and others are in lengthy communication with the property management companies to ascertain the type of cladding used and when it will be replaced. All of them just want to live somewhere they know is fire safe. In 2021 Britain, that does not seem like a big ask.

Already, an estimated £174 million a year is being spent by leaseholders on interim measures to ensure their buildings do not catch fire. This is on top of the constant fear that they will be held responsible also for the eventual remediation costs, leaving them bankrupt and homeless. This is typical of the Government’s response on this issue—inadequate action forced only after huge pressure from campaigners, charities and Opposition parties. Even their funds available for ACM and non-ACM cladding fail to address the devastating scale of the problem, potentially leaving thousands without support.

Leaseholders are being held responsible for a chain of actions with which they had absolutely no involvement. As one leaseholder told me, they are not the developers of their blocks, they did not select the building materials and they did not certify them as safe, yet they are the ones left picking up the bill. It is very simple: all dangerous cladding should be removed with up-front funding, those who are responsible for the cladding scandal must pay the cost, and measures must be put in place to ensure that this can never happen again.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk 5:40 pm, 1st February 2021

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker. I too welcome my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes to his Front-Bench position this evening.

A few weeks after my election to this place in 2017, we witnessed the tragedy of the fire at Grenfell Tower. We of course remember those who, sadly, lost their lives on that terrible evening, and I welcome the action the Government have taken to ensure that the horror of Grenfell never happens again. However, there have been some unintended consequences that have resulted in some people, through no fault of their own, being unable to sell or remortgage their properties.

I want to use this debate to highlight the case of two of my constituents, Sam and Cora Younger. The Youngers moved to the Scottish borders last year, but have run into serious problems with the sale of their London flat. The purchaser of the flat in London is having difficulties with their mortgage provider, Lloyds bank. The bank became unwilling to proceed with the mortgage because of the cladding guidance. My constituents’ flat is below 18 metres and has no cladding, but Lloyds has insisted that the flat falls into the ambit of the guidance, and it is therefore requiring expensive certification to say that the building is compliant.

The upshot of all of this is that Sam and Cora face having to pay two mortgages and also a stamp duty uplift as they have failed to sell their property within the required time period. This has turned into a nightmare for this young couple and their new baby, and I have a huge amount of sympathy for them. They have been put in this position as a result of the misinterpretation of the guidelines by banks and lenders, and this cannot be allowed to continue. I know the Government are working with lenders to ensure that they take a proportionate and reasonable approach to this, and there are signs that lenders are adopting a more pragmatic approach, but more need to follow suit. These are welcome steps forward, but the purpose of raising the case of the Youngers tonight is to highlight the very personal impact that this is having on individuals and families across the country.

I conclude my brief remarks by remembering those who, sadly, lost their lives in the Grenfell disaster. It is right that we sort this out to ensure that it does not happen again, but we must also protect those being caught up in the unintended consequences of these changes.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 5:43 pm, 1st February 2021

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I have many constituents whose lives have been thrown into turmoil by the failure of the Government to act promptly on this issue, and by what can only be described as abusive behaviour by the developers of their properties and neglect by housing associations. I wish to name one developer in particular—the notorious Ballymore Group. It is notorious for its profiteering from extortionate, ever-increasing service and insurance charges. From the start of the cladding crisis, Ballymore has lived up to its track record of failure to communicate with and consult its residents, and its continuing attempts to shirk its own responsibilities and load as much cost directly on to the residents as possible.

My constituents have submitted their case study of their experiences to the Minister. They have explained that, as leaseholders and participants in shared ownership schemes, they are being placed in extremely vulnerable positions, facing the risk of heavy cost burdens. The delay in Government decision making over arrangements to cover remedial costs has meant that many of my constituents are unsure of their safety and unsure when their properties will be made safe. Ballymore has just said not until 2023, and that items such as other safety defects revealed on inspection beyond the cladding will not be covered by the Government grant or by the company. This includes the very wooden balconies that this company installed itself. The scale of the costs will clearly overwhelm the amount allocated by the Government. That, plus the restrictions on what work is eligible for financial support, is resulting in developers such as Ballymore seeking to shift as much of the cost burden as possible on to leaseholders and shared ownership residents.

Shared owners are absolutely over a barrel. They own nothing. They cannot sub-let or sell. The clocks are ticking on short leases. The housing associations are charging premiums for lease extensions but doing nothing to help in any way, while taking a management fee on top of the developer’s management fee. Shared owners now risk having to pay for 100% of remediation and the interim costs, despite owning nothing. How can that be termed affordable housing? The emotional stress on my constituents is immense, especially as many have lost their jobs or had their wages cut as a result of the pandemic.

The message from my constituents to the Government is very clear. They want an immediate assurance, with legislation, that their homes will be made safe and that the developers who caused these problems will be the ones to pay.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield 5:46 pm, 1st February 2021

I, too, wish you a happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I would like to start by expressing my condolences to all who have been impacted by events such as Grenfell. Whether we think of the residents and their families or the emergency services involved, we need to do all we can to prevent a repetition of such events. It is clear to me that those responsible should be paying, and that the Government should provide support where that is not possible.

In such a short contribution, I will focus on my belief that it is clear that we also need to deliver and enforce standards to prevent any risk of repetition. We need both standards and enforcement processes that provide confidence for residents that property is safe.

Like so many on the Government Benches, I speak from experience gained outside this place and a perspective gained in what many call the real world. I spent many years working in the construction sector, and I saw at first hand the frustration of many good businesses whose great products gained specification from architects only for installers or distributors to switch them to cheaper alternatives. The impact of the lack of enforcement is a clear root cause of safety risks but it manifests itself by undermining the viability of our businesses and reducing our manufacturing base. As the Building Safety Bill is finalised, we need to ensure that all products, and particularly imported products, are required to meet our standards, and that unsafe materials are not allowed to enter the UK supply chain and become incorporated into another product, missing quality standard checks. Product quality assessments should be made necessary at all appropriate stages of production.

I am delighted for my former colleagues that the Government are working on fixing the building safety system from all angles, including with tougher regulations and requirements for all construction products, a national regulator to monitor industry-wide compliance, and severe penalties for anyone flouting the rules and compromising public safety. Whether it is for safety or any other specified reason, it is important that products are installed as specified. I welcome the fact that that will support our UK-regulated businesses, and I hope it will frustrate the undermining of standards by cheap, poor-quality materials.

When it comes to the need for fire-safe products, as the son of a fireman I have an absolute understanding that we should not use materials that could unnecessarily increase the risk to any of our emergency services, never mind the people they are trying to help. I would like to express my thanks and respect for all of those who have had to place themselves at risk when things go badly wrong.

I welcome not only the fact that regulations are being prepared but that they will have some enforcement teeth, and I hope most sincerely that we never see a tragedy like Grenfell again.

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Ladywood 5:49 pm, 1st February 2021

The cladding scandal has wrought emotional and financial devastation upon my constituents who live in affected buildings. The human impact of this crisis on leaseholders is horrendous. One constituent recently told me:

“It is pretty much all I talk and think about. I have thought about killing myself and have started counselling to try to manage the thoughts and my anxiety.”

The Government have not yet offered the scale and range of measures necessary to meet the full impact of this crisis. I hope this debate changes the dial on their approach. I wish in particular to address the issue of insurance costs, which I have raised in this House for the past year. The Islington Gates development in my constituency saw a hike in insurance prices from £36,000 to £321,000. The Brindley House development in my constituency has the horrible honour of being the first building—in May last year—to find itself uninsured as a result of the cladding scandal. It was eventually able to secure cover, but it was being quoted prices of half a million pounds.

I have been writing to Ministers and officials at MHCLG and the Treasury, as well as the Financial Conduct Authority, ever since these issues came to light in my constituency, but to no avail. It is clear to me that the Government need to step in to sort out the insurance costs issue, because there seems to be little relationship between the interim measures that leaseholders are paying for, such as very expensive, state-of-the-art alarm systems, and the cost of the insurance premiums that they are being quoted. That has to be called out, and it is clear to me that some form of guarantee eventually needs to be offered by the Government that reflects a balance of all the risks and affordability for our constituents.

In terms of the way forward, I associate myself with the remarks made from the Labour Front Bench, but I also believe that the businesses, developers and construction companies responsible for putting these buildings up should face some consequences if they do not step up to remedy the defects that they are responsible for. Such businesses should not be able to bid for and receive public sector contracts. I think of developers such as Galliford Try in my constituency, which is failing to engage with leaseholders over Islington Gates. It is eligible to bid for projects that are part of the West Midlands Combined Authority area framework. I do not believe that anyone who fails to live up to their responsibilities and does not pay their due liabilities to wider society should get our money. It is unconscionable that ordinary people who are wholly innocent and have done nothing wrong are losing everything that they have ever worked for, and that those responsible are getting off scot-free. This House should act as one tonight, call time on this behaviour and stand with leaseholders.

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw 5:52 pm, 1st February 2021

Many happy returns to you today, Madam Deputy Speaker.

This is an emotive subject, and the terrible tragedy of Grenfell is still in the minds of those debating this issue today. We must never allow such a thing to happen again, and it is only right that dangerous ACM cladding is a thing of the past. Righting the wrongs of the past has had unintended consequences, and I have spoken to many leaseholders who have found themselves in a terrible position with properties they purchased in good faith, where no problems were identified at the time. They now find themselves with huge bills for remediation works or waking watches. On top of that, they are unable to get insurance and are effectively stuck with their properties, as they cannot be sold. Effective steps need to be taken to remedy the situation.

I am a member of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, and on 24 November the Committee published its report following pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Building Safety Bill. It suggested:

“The Government must recommit to the principle that leaseholders should not pay anything towards the cost of remediating historical building safety defects, and…amend the Bill to explicitly exclude historical costs from the building safety charge.”

I welcome the £1.6 billion that is available to pay for cladding to be removed from buildings and that the vast majority of buildings with ACM cladding have had it removed, or the work is under way, including 100% of buildings in the social sector. I also welcome the £30 million waking watch fund and the reforms on EWS1 forms.

The Building Safety Bill will drive up building safety standards and ensure there is greater responsibility for the safety of all buildings, particularly high-rise residential buildings. We must also welcome the creation of the new regulator. We must be very clear that developers are expected to put things right. Although the Government must step in when that is not possible, there can be no blank cheque.

The proposed amendment to the Bill is well intentioned, and I have a great deal of sympathy with it. It covers only those premises where a fire-risk assessment has already taken place, leaving out many other buildings. Like all amendments, there can be unforeseen consequences. In this case, my concern is that some of the more technical elements could lead to delays in the Fire Safety Bill getting on to the statute book. We must also consider the amendment dealing with enforcement but not replacement.

For those reasons, although the goal is admirable, I am of the belief that this issue should be pursued through the Building Safety Bill, not the Fire Safety Bill. We must do the right thing by leaseholders. I eagerly await the Building Safety Bill, in which that can further be put into action.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith 5:55 pm, 1st February 2021

Who would have thought that almost four years after the horror of Grenfell there would be hundreds of thousands of people still living in tall buildings at catastrophic risk from fire? Who would have thought that as a consequence of that risk many of the occupants of those buildings would be threatened with bills that will leave them penniless or bankrupt? And who would have thought that those occupants would have their lives put on hold: unable to move, re-mortgage or, in the case of shared owners, increase their stake in the property?

This is a tale of how two Governments abdicated their responsibility for Grenfell. It is shameful that the first ask in today’s motion has to be to establish the extent of the risk, let alone get on with the work or protect the victims from both harm and costs. No one should have to live in a home that puts their life and the lives of their family at risk. No one should be trapped in that home because they cannot make it safe or prove it is safe.

This is basic stuff. But even if the Government had got that right, there are a whole load of other problems that they are failing to address. Social landlords have done a better job than private landlords in taking remedial action, but unless the Government are prepared to fund the costs of that, either the landlord will pay, thereby cutting off the funding for new affordable homes, or social tenants and leaseholders will pay. Government funds at present are not just insufficient—estimated at less than 10% of what is needed—but unavailable for many categories of at-risk buildings, such as those below 18 metres. Cladding is identified as the primary risk, but it is only one of many that include limited means of escape, weak fire doors and poor compartmentalisation.

We are concentrating today, and in the amendments to the Fire Safety Bill, on occupied at-risk buildings where either the design or, as at Grenfell, the modifications make them unsafe. What about those currently seeking planning approval? There is a spate of applications for tall buildings, especially in London. I have blocks from 20 to 45 storeys currently in the pipeline. I ask the developer in each case whether: there is more than one escape route, all materials and combinations are inflammable, and sprinklers are fitted in all areas, not just communal parts. The answer is invariably, “We will comply with current building regulations”. This is storing up trouble for the future when we have enough in the present.

I am currently helping residents in 14 blocks in Hammersmith with cladding issues. On average, there is a fire in a residential block six storeys or over in the borough every two months. Thankfully, the efforts of the London Fire Brigade mean they are usually extinguished quickly and without injury, but I do not want to visit another Grenfell Tower, as I did the day after that terrible fire. It is the worst experience of my 16 years in Parliament—indeed, of the 35 years I have represented my part of west London. It is time for the buck passing to stop and for the Government to act.

Photo of Jane Hunt Jane Hunt Conservative, Loughborough 5:58 pm, 1st February 2021

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker. I welcome my hon. Friend the new Minister to his place.

I would first like to offer my own condolences to the families of the 72 people who lost their lives in the horrific Grenfell Tower fire, as well as to the survivors who have been greatly affected by it. Nothing can replace what has been lost, but we must ensure that such a tragedy can never happen again.

To that end, the Government have taken and are taking a number of steps to address building safety issues, including: taking forward the recommendations from the Grenfell Tower report; banning combustible materials from new buildings; introducing the Fire Safety Bill and, later this year, the Building Safety Bill; creating a new building safety regulator and a new regulator for construction products; implementing changes to fire safety regulations; and commissioning an independent review to examine weaknesses in previous testing regimes for construction products and to recommend how we can prevent further abuse of the testing system.

I welcome the fact that, to date, the vast majority of buildings with ACM cladding have now had it removed or the work is under way, including 100% of buildings in the social sector. This has been supported by an initial £600 million fund, together with a new £1 billion building safety fund to ensure that building owners have no excuse not to start this vital work. Crucially, the Government have been absolutely clear that the work must be completed by the end of 2021. They have appointed construction advisers to identify what more can be done to speed up the process. We cannot afford any delay to that process, and I urge private landlords to prioritise remedial work in the same way that housing associations have done. I would be interested to hear from the Minister about the expected timeframe for work to be completed on the last remaining buildings in the private sector, as well as what actions Ministers intend to take against building owners who fail to meet that deadline.

The Opposition are calling for leaseholders to be protected from the cost of this remedial work. The Government have been clear that building owners are legally responsible for ensuring that their buildings are safe, and that they must work with the contractors who provided unsafe materials, or rely on their own resources or warranty schemes to deliver that work. Those who are unable to meet the costs of the work can also access the Government funding that I have set out. There should therefore be no excuse for building owners to pass on the costs to leaseholders.

Further to support leaseholders, the Government have implemented a number of additional measures to remove the barriers from those wanting to sell or re-mortgage their homes. Those measures include the introduction of the £30 million waking watch fund, reaching an agreement with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors so that buildings without cladding do not need an EWS1 form, and where a form is required, ensuring that there are enough surveyors to complete that work. I urge the Government to continue engaging regularly with lease- holders so that we can take further action where needed.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North 6:01 pm, 1st February 2021

Residents trapped in unsafe buildings are fed up with sympathy; they want action—certainly those in Elizabeth House, Damask Court, Capitol Way, and many other developments in my constituency do. They know that this debate should not just be about who pays. Lord Greenhalgh has admitted that the Government’s building safety fund will not even cover one third of the cladding defects, and residents in Capitol Way know that this debate should not just be about cladding. This is about a whole range of fire safety defects that have turned their homes into a building site for the past three years, and threaten to do so for three years more.

The Minister started the debate by saying that the Government “absolutely expect” building owners to do the right thing. Three and a half years on—really? The Government hold developers responsible. The developers hold the construction companies responsible. The construction companies hold the building control inspectors responsible, and the building control inspectors say that the Government privatised the system of building control, creating a downward spiral of monitoring and control, as inspection became a competition about who would let the builders get away with the most short cuts. Nobody blames my constituents, yet they are now paying for all those mistakes. They are unable to move house, unable to sell their homes, and unable to get on with their lives. They are trapped in unsafe accommodation, with no end in sight.

In advance of this debate I was sent documents that show that many of the fire safety defects that exist in the Capitol Way development were not mistakes. I have reason to believe that that was known by the construction company, Shepherd Construction, by the approved inspectors, Head Projects Building Control, which is now in liquidation, and by the project managers for the development, who were from CBRE. Those defects were known about and recorded in reports that were prepared for CBRE by its quality assurance agent. Those reports were then doctored. Evidence suggests that that took place before residents were moved into those unsafe properties.

Given that there was full knowledge of the statutory breaches of the fire safety elements of building regulations, it is clear that life was put at risk. I believe that therefore constituted a criminal offence, and that withholding such information from leaseholders, who purchased their apartments in good faith, was fraud by false representation. There was a duty to disclose that information, but no such disclosure was made. In my view, that means my constituents were victims of fraud.

In July 2019, the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government issued a written statement to say that all cladding remediation would be completed by June 2020. Seven months on, instead of expecting building owners and the construction industry to do the right thing, the Government should wake up, impose a windfall levy on the industry, and get this work done.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art, Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Chief Whip 6:04 pm, 1st February 2021

I welcome this debate today. It is one small response to the enormous suffering of the people who died in the Grenfell disaster and those who lost loved ones, and also all those who have faced such unbearable burdens thereafter.

I agree with Thangam Debbonaire that all affected homes should be made safe, the victims of this scandal should not be made to pay, and the main players are clearly avoiding their responsibilities. However, it seems that she and, indeed, the Leader of the Opposition are unaware that the only Labour Government in the UK—the Welsh Labour Government—launched their consultation on a new building regime only two weeks ago, having sat immovably on this issue for over three years. For as well as being a desperate, scandalous and unbearable burden for people trapped in their flats in England, the cladding scandal, from Atlantic Wharf in Cardiff to Victoria Dock in Caernarfon, affects the whole of Wales. People who bought their homes in good faith are being left with unsaleable properties, or face astronomical and unaffordable bills to make their homes safe, with no choice but to live in homes that could be fatally dangerous. For those who have to move because of work or family commitments, even that terrible choice is not open to them. In making his call for the UK Government to “get a grip”, I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will pass his remarks on to his very good friends down the M4.

We also heard today that the Leader of the Opposition is calling for a national cladding taskforce. I am not sure which nation he is referring to—perhaps neither is he— but this looks to many people in Wales either like shameless grandstanding ahead of our general election or just a schoolboy misunderstanding of the nature of devolution. I am sure that he joins everyone else in calling on developers to shoulder their responsibilities, and I hope that he will press for Wales to get its fair share of any funding to make homes safe. Alas, I fear that neither the Tory Government in Westminster nor the hapless Labour Government in Cardiff are at all up to the job.

Photo of Nicola Richards Nicola Richards Conservative, West Bromwich East 6:07 pm, 1st February 2021

People in this country deserve to live in safe accommodation; I think we could all sign up to that key principle. It has been encouraging to see the Government taking forward and implementing the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry so that lessons are learned and we never see a repeat of the 2017 tragedy. It is true, however, that the right mechanisms and funding sources need to be in place to truly get a grip on this issue in order to give tenants and leaseholders the protection they deserve both in terms of safety and the costs involved in the Government’s overhaul of building safety regulations.

Last summer, I visited Ash and Lacy in West Bromwich East—a manufacturing firm that, as part of its portfolio, manufactures non-combustible components for building exteriors and is leading the way in these innovative technologies, which often exceed industry standards. It was a pleasure to get people’s thoughts on the current situation; I learned a lot that day. Creating technologies like the ones produced at Ash and Lacy will be key to the future of our country’s construction industry. I am sure that the Secretary of State would be keen to accompany me on a visit to its site in West Bromwich as soon as the restrictions allow.

I have an example from my constituency casework concerning the Government’s reform of bureaucracy within the EWS1 form process. My constituent’s family were effectively left in limbo when attempting to gain this form in order to mortgage their property. The bureaucracy and expense of securing a form led to lengthy delays and long periods of uncertainty. I know that this is the case across the country. I am grateful that MHCLG stepped in to secure an agreement with lenders that homeowners in buildings without cladding no longer require an EWS1 form to sell or mortgage their property, so my constituent’s family were able to move on with their lives. In addition, where EWS1 forms are required, the Government are funding the training of 2,000 assessors to speed up valuations to address this and are working with the industry to ensure that the highest-risk buildings are prioritised first.

I commend the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for introducing the Fire Safety Bill, as well as the consultation on it and other measures across government. I look forward to Ministers updating the House over the course of the year on further changes to make homes safer. This year we have an opportunity to completely revolutionise the country’s approach to building safety, and I am backing the Government to deliver it.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood 6:09 pm, 1st February 2021

Three and a half years ago, 72 people lost their lives in the horrors of Grenfell Tower, and many hundreds more survivors were injured and traumatised. We must never forget them.

The aftermath of that terrible event revealed the country-wide scandal of developers ignoring building safety and creating homes that are firetraps. The Government have not collected reliable figures, but the Opposition have estimated that 450,000 people are still living in blocks known to have unsafe cladding. This is not just about ACM cladding, but other dangerous cladding, as well as flammable insulation, cavity walls without fire breakers, flammable timber balconies, inadequate fire doors—the list goes on as the costs go up. Repairs are conservatively estimated at £18 billion, which puts the £1.6 billion promised by the Government into its proper perspective. Some of the defects to be remedied do not fall within the Government’s promise of support. What the Government are offering is too little, too late, and the money has not yet been handed over to leaseholders. They need help, and they need it now.

The discovery of the cladding scandal has been followed by Government dither and delay when it comes to helping leaseholders, many of whom feel they have simply been abandoned to their fate, and whose bills are going up now. None of them is to blame for this scandal, yet they are already footing escalating bills that they cannot afford. They are ordinary people simply trying to get a home of their own, or flat owners seeking to let out a flat, suddenly finding themselves in a nightmare of unaffordable costs with no way out. They live in unsafe, unmortgageable, unsellable flats, with escalating insurance costs and skyrocketing service charges to fund expensive waking watch patrols, and they are liable to pay for all the remediation. If a consumer bought a faulty kettle, they would be entitled to get their money back, but there is no consumer protection for leaseholders, just a bigger bill. It is not good enough.

The Government must prioritise helping leaseholders with these unaffordable costs as soon as possible. The developers and rule dodgers who installed this dangerous cladding and flammable insulation—who ignored fire regulations in their development—should pay, not the blameless leaseholders. It is not as if some of these people do not have the money. Last July, the Chancellor of the Exchequer provided a £4 billion tax cut to the housing and development sector by cutting stamp duty. The Help to Buy scheme has given a huge cash boost to them, so much so that developers between them have made £15 billion in profit since the Grenfell fire, so the Government must take action to extract the costs of remediation from those who perpetrated this outrage and must not make the blameless pay. I commend and support the motion today.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish 6:12 pm, 1st February 2021

It is astounding—no, that is the wrong word. It is shameful that we are still debating unsafe cladding on buildings. It is three and a half years since the awful scenes at Grenfell, yet far too many people are still living with the nightmare that their homes are wrapped in combustible cladding. What is incomprehensible is that despite promising that all Grenfell-style cladding would be removed by last June, there are nearly 50,000 people still living in around 165 buildings over 18 metres tall that are still covered in the same cladding found on Grenfell Tower.

However, the scale is even bigger. We know that there are other types of combustible cladding—not all the same as that used at Grenfell, but equally dangerous. There are at least 450,000 people still living in blocks with all forms of unsafe cladding. Here in Greater Manchester, there are currently 107 high-rise residential buildings that have adopted interim measures as a result of significant fire safety deficiencies, but a further 64 buildings in Greater Manchester are known to have failed the ACM test with no remedy yet, and another 75 privately owned buildings have fire safety issues that are attributable to other unsafe cladding.

I want to be constructive, which is why I support the motion tonight. I particularly welcome the call to create a national cladding taskforce, putting residents at its heart, as they did in Australia. The Government’s joint inspection team just does not have formal enforcement or funding powers. Somebody should urgently carry out an audit to establish the extent of dangerous materials on buildings, prioritise them according to risk, and ensure that there is enforcement against those who do not undertake the work.

We need to protect leaseholders and taxpayers by pursuing those responsible for putting cladding on buildings and recouping costs through legal action against them. We need an absolute deadline to make homes safe. The shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Steve Reed, suggests June 2022, which I support. We need legislation to protect residents from being passed on historical fire safety costs; enforcement powers against building owners who refuse to start work; and measures to make it easier to recover costs from bad builders.

There are other calls in the motion to help to get the housing market moving again for those trapped in this mess. We cannot afford more inaction. Tonight, we have the chance to properly act on this scandal, to take appropriate action, and to make all homes safe after three and a half years. Our constituents and this country deserve nothing less.

Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Labour, Salford and Eccles 6:16 pm, 1st February 2021

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Thousands of residents across Salford live in unsafe homes. They are families, key workers, couples and people young and old who want to be part of the vibrant city that Salford has become. Many scrimped, saved and pushed themselves to their financial limits to buy their home, and they were assured that they were safe—but they were not. Now they not only live in fear for their lives, but face financial devastation for a crisis that they did not cause. One high-rise block in Salford estimates fire-safety remediation costs of up to £100,000 per flat. Buildings even under 18 metres are failing EWS1, and many residents are being forced to pay thousands for measures such as waking watch and increased insurance premiums. Those people are at risk. They are trapped, and they cannot move, sell or even remortgage their homes.

Various Secretaries of State over the last few years have made sympathetic noises. They have even applauded cases where developers have stepped up and footed the bill. However, sympathetic noises were all they were. The Government never legislated to ensure that leaseholders did not have to pay. In fact, the draft Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Bill did quite the opposite, and the building safety fund is sadly inadequate and inequitable. The fund set aside only £1.6 billion for remediating buildings. It was only for cladding, despite the Government knowing that the crisis went far beyond that, and it excluded buildings under 18 metres. In reality, the total bill is estimated at around £15 billion for cladding alone.

Leaseholders did not cause this crisis. It was not they who breached safety and building regulations. It was not they who signed their buildings off as safe, and it should not be them who pay for this scandal. The Government have a moral duty to support today’s motion. They have a moral duty to agree to legislate within the Fire Safety Bill for the principle that leaseholders should not pay for historical fire safety defects. They have a moral duty to lead an urgent national effort to carry out fire safety remediation by June 2022, to forward fund that work, and to reclaim the costs from those responsible, or via a levy on new development.

The Government’s first priority must always be the safety and welfare of their people. In the words of one of my constituents, “I just wish the Government would step up and act.”

Photo of Gareth Bacon Gareth Bacon Conservative, Orpington 6:19 pm, 1st February 2021

Many happy returns, Madam Deputy Speaker.

This is an extremely important and highly complex issue, and it is important to note at the outset what the Government have done so far. A £1.6 billion building safety fund has been provided to remove cladding from residential buildings 18 metres and over, and there is now a requirement for the installation of sprinkler systems in all new blocks of high-rises over 11 metres. The MHCLG already publishes monthly data on all identified high-rise residential and publicly owned buildings where remediation works have taken place or are in progress. The EWS1 form process has been tidied up to a degree, with agreement reached with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to confirm that buildings with no cladding do not require a form. In addition, funding has been provided to train assessors to speed up the valuation process, leading within six months to 2,000 additional assessors to help unlock the housing market. Those things are a step in the right direction, but they are not the end of the journey, as the Government have made clear.

Much of the Government action so far has been aimed, understandably, at buildings above 18 metres in height. However, up and down the country, including in my own constituency of Orpington, leaseholders are living in buildings under 18 metres that have cladding on them. Under the current EWS1 process, people living in such properties are faced with the nightmare scenario that they cannot remortgage, they cannot move home because lenders will not finance mortgages for would-be buyers, and Government support for remediation is aimed at taller buildings.

In my constituency, I have been contacted by constituents living in Cray View Close, the Village Hall flats, and the flats above Orpington’s Tesco. As I have said before in this House, my constituents are trapped and unable to move on with their lives. Indeed, as a result of fixed-term mortgages coming to an end, I note that at least one of my constituents has been moved on to a higher tariff due to the presence of cladding, even though the building concerned is not a high-rise block. In addition, the freeholder at Cray View Close is a local housing association, and it has confirmed in writing to several of my constituents that, all things being equal, costs for future remedial work will fall on the leaseholders. That is devastating news for my constituents, so I warmly welcome the previous comments of my right hon. Friend the Housing Minister that leaseholders should not have to worry about the cost of fixing historical safety defects that they did not cause.

RICS is due to publish the final EWS1 guidance at some point later this month, and it is vital that it gives much greater certainty for lenders. It needs to state very clearly whether an EWS1 form is required for buildings under 18 metres, and if one is, the Government will need to be very clear in the forthcoming building safety Bill about how leaseholders will be protected. It is crucial that the Government get this right and get it right first time.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education) 6:22 pm, 1st February 2021

It is three and a half years on from the Grenfell tragedy and, as time ticks on, the promise of “Never again” is starting to sound incredibly hollow. The daily stress of living in a building that could go up in flames is bad enough, but the Government’s failure to act and to protect people from both the fire risks and the inordinate cost of fixing them is a disgrace. Suicide, bankruptcy, the threat of professional qualifications being revoked, life savings lost, futures destroyed—that is what tens of thousands, if not millions, of people are facing right now.

In November last year, many of my constituents thought that they may face rising service charges, upwards of £50,000 each, but now they have been given an initial estimate to ameliorate the cladding on just one block of flats, and it is £7 million. That is between £150,000 and £200,000 per flat in one block. Imagine how they feel when Ministers try to spin this issue, repeatedly claiming that 99% of Grenfell-style cladding has already been removed while failing to mention that that does not account for other types of cladding that are potentially just as dangerous. Imagine how it feels when Housing Ministers tweet outrage that leaseholders are being treated badly by building companies and insurers but then fail to legislate to protect them. Imagine how it feels when the Government’s cladding adviser sits on a Zoom call and tells desperate leaseholders, whose flats are now worth nothing, that his only idea is to give them, on top of their mortgages, long-term loans that they will never be able to pay off.

I have now asked the Government three times to ensure that the House is given sufficient time to debate and vote on amendments to the Fire Safety Bill that could prevent costs from being passed on to leaseholders—amendments tabled by Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative MPs. If the Government think those amendments have technical problems, they should bring forward their own versions. I urge every Conservative Member to vote with Opposition parties today to show that they are serious about standing up for cladding victims and to put the Government on notice that if they fail to bring forward their own solution, Members of this House will work cross-party to force the Government’s hands.

The human cost is too high. Cladding victims cannot wait any longer. This cladding scandal has to stop.

Photo of Julie Marson Julie Marson Conservative, Hertford and Stortford 6:25 pm, 1st February 2021

No one will ever forget those awful images of Grenfell Tower ablaze, or black and smouldering, nor will we forget the individual stories of suffering and loss, or the pain of the local community. The legacy of Grenfell looms large for all of us this evening, and it is something that occupies daily all those charged with this responsibility in government. I thank the Minister for Housing for setting out very clearly the fact that this is a priority for the Government and the decisive steps that they have already taken. I welcome the very significant amounts, totalling £1.6 billion, that Government have allocated so far to pay for cladding to be removed, and I am thankful that the vast majority of ACM cladding has either been removed or that work is under way to do so.

The fact that work has been completed on buildings in the social sector is a good example for others to follow. Of course, the Government recognise that other cladding needs to be removed in all types of buildings, and that, too, is their focus and objective. The Minister was very clear when he hold the House that it was the responsibility of building owners to make buildings safe and that the Government would work with owners to fulfil their obligations and protect leaseholders, using both carrot and stick.

The related issues along the way are also being addressed in what I view as a pragmatic and effective way: a £30-million waking watch fund to help ensure that these measures are truly temporary; and work with RICS to address the mortgage issues arising from EWS1 forms. I particularly welcome the independent review commissioned by the Government of how some players in the construction industry were able to game the system and play fast and loose with people’s safety, abusing the testing system and shaming reputable companies in the sector. There is indeed much work to be done, but we are making progress towards completion of the vital effort to right the wrongs of the past and to look at what improvements need to be made in the future.

The events of June 2017 shook this country to its core and fundamentally changed the way in which we think about safety standards. I welcome the Government’s determination to protect leaseholders in both the long and short term. I know how important it is to help to restore that feeling of safety and security for those affected, and I do not doubt the Government’s commitment to completing that herculean task.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Thank you, Julie. There was a seamless changeover of the Chair during your speech. I call Florence Eshalomi.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Labour/Co-operative, Vauxhall 6:28 pm, 1st February 2021

This debate is long overdue. I thank my Labour colleagues for bringing it to the House, and I thank all Members who have made a contribution today, for this truly is a national scandal. Many colleagues have rightly reminded us of the horror and tragedy of Grenfell. They have also spoken about the Government’s slowness to recognise the breadth and scale of the issue, their reluctance to get things moving, and the hollowness of their repeated promise that no leaseholder should have to foot the bill.

My constituency of Vauxhall is only a few miles from Grenfell, but today we still have hundreds of unsafe buildings. I have been contacted by over 200 leaseholders living in more than 26 different housing developments, some with multiple high-rise blocks. Each and every one of those leaseholders is now spending their third lockdown in a home with serious safety defects, not knowing when their building will be fixed or even how they will pay for it—or why they should pay for it. In the meantime, they have to pay eye-watering costs to put interim safety measures in place. One block in Vauxhall has to pay over £10,000 per flat just to install a 24-hour waking-watch system. Another block paid £130,000, before spending an additional £40,000 on an alarm system. These interim costs alone are causing so many leaseholders to become bankrupt, not to mention the additional stress and anguish. That is why one of our demands today is for a waking watch fund to be fast-tracked to leaseholders as a matter of urgency.

There is so much more that the Government can and should be doing to right the wrong that is the national cladding scandal. They have the opportunity in the forthcoming Fire Safety Bill to support amendments from Members across the House. I urge all colleagues to show their support, and to care and stand up for their constituents, by voting in favour of today’s motion.

Photo of Elliot Colburn Elliot Colburn Conservative, Carshalton and Wallington 6:30 pm, 1st February 2021

We all remember the horrific scenes at Grenfell, and we can never allow that to happen again. For me, this comes down to one simple fact: leaseholders across the country are currently trapped in homes—for many, their first home—that they cannot sell, rent or otherwise financially dispose of. Many are being asked to pay extortionate costs for remedial works or temporary solutions such as waking watches. Sadly, some have already been forced to take what they see as the only way out: financial ruin through bankruptcy.

It cannot be right that anybody is trapped in a home that they cannot financially dispose of, able to escape only through bankruptcy, especially when the reason behind it is not their fault. If this trend continues, many more—potentially thousands—could be forced into bankruptcy, with thousands of homes sat empty across the country that, accordingly to lenders, are financially worthless. I completely accept that the solution is going to be far from simple, and that the reason these blocks are facing these terrible circumstances are many and complex. Time prevents me from going into them in any great detail, but they are part of the reason why I support the amendments to the Fire Safety Bill tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith).

I want to raise a particular example of leaseholders in my constituency of Carshalton and Wallington. I do not want to name the block specifically, because my constituents are currently going through legal proceedings and I do not want to prejudice the case. Like thousands of others, these leaseholders live in a block that is under 18 metres in height and has some cladding on it. We have had difficulty communicating with the builders and the owners, and the lenders are refusing to budge, leaving the residents trapped in homes with what has now been revealed to be a fraudulent EWS1 form. Many sales have fallen through, the mental health of residents is deteriorating, and some are already facing the terrible prospect of bankruptcy.

There are stories like this from all over the country and especially here in London. This is not about apportioning blame, and I welcome the support that the Government have put in place so far. Blocks such as the one in my constituency sadly have not been eligible for any specific support so far, and it is clear that developers, lenders, freeholders and so on are not stepping up to their responsibilities so far; they are hoping that the Government—[Inaudible.] They certainly did not cause this problem, and neither did leaseholders. Sadly, it falls on us to find a solution. I welcome the steps that the Government have taken and I urge them to move at pace to ensure that constituents such as mine are not left behind. In all this, charging remedial costs back to the leaseholders or using a system of loans is not the answer. My leaseholders in Carshalton and Wallington did not cause this problem, and they must not bear the cost of fixing it.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby 6:33 pm, 1st February 2021

I thank the shadow Front Bench for this incredibly important debate. My hon. Friend Kim Johnson also wanted to speak today, and I want to put on record the excellent work she is doing for our city on these issues—in particular, in challenging the obscene service charge hikes of tens of thousands of pounds that are being passed on to leaseholders. In Liverpool, an estimated 8,000 people are affected by unsafe cladding, and the distress and anguish felt in our community as a result is difficult for me to do justice to. People are living and sleeping in fear, and when they wake up they feel threatened by the financial costs.

Rituparna Saha from the UK Cladding Action Group told the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, in a heartbreaking evidence session, that

“I would summarise my life as pretty much a living nightmare. I have spent every single waking moment when I am not working my day job trying to figure out how to make my home safe without going financially destitute. Unfortunately, my experience is not an uncommon one;
it is shared by thousands of people just like me… We are constantly anxious, both for the safety of our families living in these dangerous buildings and also the pretty much blank cheque that we are being forced to write to fix defects that were not of our making.”

The HCLG Committee’s November report on the draft Building Safety Bill recommended:

“The Government must recommit to the principle that leaseholders should not pay anything towards the cost of remediating historical building safety defects, and, in order to provide leaseholders with the peace of mind they deserve, amend the Bill to explicitly exclude historical costs from the building safety charge.”

I urge the Minister to take on board the many powerful contributions that we have heard in the debate and take up the actions contained in the Opposition’s motion. How can the Government sleep easily in their beds knowing that thousands of tenants and leaseholders cannot sleep at all?

Photo of Angela Richardson Angela Richardson Conservative, Guildford 6:35 pm, 1st February 2021

We have all heard the adage “An Englishman’s home is his castle”. I am sure that there must be a more gender-inclusive update of that saying, but nevertheless, it is as true today as it has always been, which is why so many aspire to be homeowners. But it goes deeper than aspiration: it is about meeting our fundamental needs as human beings. Abraham Maslow identified with his hierarchy of needs that housing is vital for shelter, security and stability, and is a place to love and nurture our families and a way of being rooted that gives us a feeling of belonging to our communities. I was pleased to hear the Minister for Housing recognise that in his opening remarks. So when an event as devastating as Grenfell happens, for all those who sadly perished, those left behind and the scars etched on the community, it is right that we move as swiftly as possible with inquiries and implement lessons learned. I am pleased that from conversations I have had with the Housing Minister, he is very mindful of the need to bring forward legislation, but that the complexities of cladding on buildings and all the sectors involved in remediation requires it to be done in a comprehensive and thoughtful way.

While the subject of the debate today is not a widespread issue in Guildford, I speak on behalf of my constituent, Jasmin. Jasmin is a single mum who, through a change in her personal circumstances, bought a flat through a shared ownership scheme and works hard with a dream of fully owning it and having something to pass on to her daughter one day. The four-year-old building that she lives in has failed to receive a EWS1 form because of insulation under the cladding. She is very concerned that all the time, energy and effort she has put in could leave her bankrupted if she is presented with a bill for remediation and stuck if she is unable to be sell. This has been made more difficult by the fact that the housing association has been silent and the developers have refused responsibility for remediation.

I thank the Minister for the understanding that he has shown of how much this wide issue impacts on lives and urge him to continue to speak to all the sectors involved, so that a solution can be found for my constituent and many like her in the country. However, it is not just for Jasmin that I speak; I am mindful of new developments proposed in the heart of Guildford that will be built upwards. I hope that it will be reassuring for my current and future constituents to hear of the announcement of a building safety regulator and a construction products regulator. It is right that we desire to build beautiful, but it is a must that we build safe.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East 6:38 pm, 1st February 2021

In British history, Grenfell is a tragedy that will never be forgotten. It highlights the horror of a significant building development error that cost so many people’s lives before their time. Despite the Government’s promise to get rid of all Grenfell-style ACM cladding by June 2020, not only has that not happened, but the Government still do not have reliable data on the number of blocks of flats with unsafe cladding. Labour’s latest estimate is that there are at least 450,000 people in homes with unsafe cladding. That is a resounding number of people. If life is so valuable, why has so little action been taken by the Government to remedy this?

Those living in potentially dangerous situations are everyday people. Many have been working tirelessly during the pandemic. Some are food bank volunteers, administrators and other key workers. They are retired people, families, first-time buyers, shared homeowners and so on. Millions of homeowners are unable to move, remortgage or rent. The Government’s dither and delay has left innocent leaseholders feeling trapped. What was once their dream home has become a recurring nightmare.

The Government have the power to end that nightmare. The vote today is to ensure that the costs are not passed on to residents and that those responsible for the cladding scandal are pursued. While leaseholders wait for the Government to act, some are becoming bankrupt. There are costs that residents should not have to pay, including waking watch and huge insurance rates.

My constituent Paul is completely despondent. He told me:

“Builders took shortcuts. Regulators failed to regulate. Freeholders are not doing the right thing. As expected, they are passing potentially ruinous costs on to leaseholders. In addition, some leaseholders must bear the emotional and psychological burden of living with waking watch while trapped in unsaleable properties.”

Twenty residents so far from the Parkside estate in my constituency have reported being unable to sell or mortgage their flats for the same reasons. I pay special tribute to James, who leads the residents association at Parkside, and Lewisham Council for its dedication to working with residents and holding the housing association and developers to account. Labour has a plan to end this crisis and lift homeowners and renters out of danger. It is time that the Government listened, prevented delay and made people safe by ending this nightmare for residents.

Photo of Tom Randall Tom Randall Conservative, Gedling 6:41 pm, 1st February 2021

This debate is taking place in the long shadow cast by the Grenfell disaster. Anyone who has seen that charred edifice silhouetted against the sky will understand why it is so important that nothing of that kind happens again. At the time of Grenfell, I happened to be living in a block of flats, and came home one evening to find fire watchers in the street patrolling the blocks. Such a sight outside the building where I lived and slept at night was very disturbing.

This debate is timely. It is important to remember, of course, that Opposition day motions such as this offer only non-binding resolutions, but I understand why the Opposition would seek to secure a debate on this subject, and I understand the feeling of urgency.

This is a complex matter. It affects those who try to do the right thing by saving up to buy their own home, and those who face possible costs or feel that they cannot move. Many of my constituents, although they are not directly affected, have written to me movingly about family members who are. This matter also affects the construction industry, the mortgage industry and many other sectors. Although action is required, I hope it will be understood that the Government must act quickly but correctly; it is important to get this right. I am reassured that Ministers understand the importance of this issue and are working quickly to resolve it.

It is important that new buildings are safe. The Building Safety Bill will raise building safety standards, particularly for high-rise buildings. That legislation, the Fire Safety Bill and other measures across Government will mean that high-rise buildings are safer. I am also pleased to see the creation of a building safety regulator, which will implement a tougher regulatory regime for high-risk residential buildings, with enforcement action against building owners who do not ensure that their buildings are safe.

We also need to ensure that existing buildings are safe. I am pleased that the Government have created a building safety fund with £1 billion of funding to cover the cost of removing unsafe cladding on buildings over 18 metres. I understand that the application deadline for that funding has been extend, which will hopefully increase the number of buildings that will have their cladding removed. The Government have also taken steps to remove aluminium composite material cladding, which was used on Grenfell, as a matter of urgency. A £600 million fund has been made available to remove ACM cladding from all types of buildings over 18 metres. Working with building owners, the Government have made good progress in removing that, including in the social rented sector.

There is a lot of work to be done on this issue, and I am sure it will considered at greater length when the Fire Safety Bill comes back to this House. I look forward to further statements from the Government on this very important matter in due course.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:44 pm, 1st February 2021

For some hours now, we have been hearing accounts of those whose lives have been ruined by an appalling situation caused by a mixture of deregulation by Government, the greed of some developers and their failure to take responsibility and then continued inaction by Government to address the situation.

In my almost six years as an MP in a city that has seen much new house building, these failures are, sadly, all too common. It is not just the cladding issue, serious though that is, but the abuse of leasehold that sees people trapped with unexpected and inexplicable charges and the frankly dreadful standards of some construction. I was staggered to visit a very expensive property in the centre of the city a few years ago which had to be completely rebuilt twice because of basic and fundamental errors in construction, causing huge heartache and distress to the owners, made worse by the almost sure knowledge that adjoining properties were likely to be no better, but their owners could not face the huge battle to try to get redress. All this came against a backdrop of huge profits and fantastic so-called bonuses for individuals at the top of some of these companies. It also came against a backdrop of deregulation of building control and inspection that creates the perfect environment for such abuse to flourish, and all this under the watch, or lack of it, of a Government happy to take political donations from these people. Frankly, it stinks. People in that sector need to think very hard about their responsibility.

We have heard much about the cladding issue and we know that it has left people marooned and trapped, unable to sell, unable to move, their lives put on hold, often with a spectre of endless bills to pay, for faults not of their making. In Cambridge, I have had numerous representations from residents of the Kaleidoscope estate who rightly tell of their own circumstances. There are the young mums whose dream homes have turned into a nightmare. Sadly, it is not the only development. There is the flagship Belvedere that has been a problem since Grenfell; Pym Court; and the Grand Central development. I am afraid that I do not have time to list all the problems, but the problems have been made worse by the abject failure of the NHBC guarantee and the consistent failure of developers to take responsibility. If it were not for Brexit and covid, my guess is that this national scandal would have got the attention it deserved earlier. The leader writer in The Sunday Times had it right yesterday, when they said:

“Those who created this problem—the builders and their suppliers, some of whom have shown a blatant disregard for public safety—should be made to pay for it. The blameless leaseholders should not. The government has to use its muscle, and not be influenced by whether some of these businesses are Tory donors. If not, more than 4.5 million affected leaseholders will know exactly who to blame.”

That is not Labour speaking; that is The Sunday Times. Today is the start of shining the light on those who are responsible.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, North Somerset 6:47 pm, 1st February 2021

I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes, to the Dispatch Box. I always think that there is nothing like a baptism of fire for a new Minister.

Portishead in my constituency of North Somerset is one of the best examples in the United Kingdom of the development of a brownfield site, taking an old power station and turning it into a world-class marina. It is an attractive and desirable place to stay, the consequence of which is that large numbers of people have invested considerable sums to be able to live there.

We all welcome the response of Ministers that it cannot be right that leaseholders have to worry about the cost of fixing safety defects in their building that they did not cause. We welcome the more than £1.5 billion that the Government have put into this, but it cannot be right that all the burden for remediation falls on taxpayers. Where a problem arises from regulatory changes made after construction, assuming that the proper standards were met, it is reasonable for public money to be used, but that in no way absolves the construction industry or the NHBC of their responsibilities. For example, at Ninety4 on the Estuary in Portishead, a survey carried out to the external façade in July last year identified “combustible materials which are not only non-compliant with current building regulations but might not have been compliant with regulations in force at the time of construction.” It would be outrageous if taxpayers’ money were to be used in this circumstance.

Those who have built substandard dwellings need to be held to account, because these underlying issues give rise to others. Insurance, reselling and property values and the availability of mortgages are just three. Can my hon. Friend tell me what talks the Government have had directly with the big banks, the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the Association of British Insurers and NHBC? Will he take account of the fact that there is some sharp practice going on, especially in relation to surveys. Extortionate amounts are being paid by tenants for these surveys in relation to EWS1. I have one in front of me, which talks about incorrect height information, 24-hour monitored CCTV when there is none, timber decking to balconies when the balconies are composite decking and stacked balconies when they are open balconies—the list goes on and on.

In formulating the response to the consultation, which we look forward to hearing, may I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that this is not just about buildings? In fact, it is not about buildings; it is about people. It is about their hopes and their fears, their savings and their future. All the Government’s instincts on this issue have been right and the amount of money put aside is generous. What we now require is not good intentions, but delivery.

Photo of Charlotte Nichols Charlotte Nichols Labour, Warrington North 6:50 pm, 1st February 2021

I am glad to be able to speak on this important subject, although to call it a debate might be to slightly over- dignify it. Labour’s argument that dangerous cladding must be addressed urgently with up-front funding and money sought from those responsible for building unsafe properties is so indisputable that the Government are not planning to oppose it today, but nor are they willing to accept it and turn it into action to actually help leaseholders and people living in potentially dangerous flats.

We all have examples in our constituencies, and constituents worried about their children trying to get on to the housing ladder elsewhere. Tom Randall underlined the importance of getting it right, saying that this accounts for the delays we have seen so far, but our constituents deserve better than the lack of action in the three and a half years since Grenfell. It is not nearly good enough. If anything, residents’ worries have grown even more acute during the pandemic, when so many people will have been forced to stay at home day after day, week after week. This has had huge impacts on mental health for everybody, but how much worse for those worrying about the safety of their own homes and the financial impact that this also threatens?

The situation is clear: tenants should not have to stay in homes that are unsafe, leaseholders should not have to pay for remediation for conditions that they were assured met appropriate standards and the Government have it within their power to take steps now to end the misery that has beset so many people for the last few years. They should support this motion and act now.

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge 6:52 pm, 1st February 2021

I, too, welcome my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes to the Dispatch Box.

I do not think any of us can ever forget that morning, waking up to see the tragedy unfolding before our eyes at Grenfell Tower—a tragedy that must never happen again. People must feel safe in their homes, and we must make it a priority to ensure it never happens again and what steps are taken need to be right. Since the tragedy, £1.6 billion has been made available to pay for cladding to be removed for those living in potentially dangerous buildings. Alongside this, we are delivering the biggest changes in building safety in a generation, introducing new laws to ensure people’s homes are always safe, and this vital work has continued throughout the pandemic. These commitments will drive up building safety standards and make people’s homes safer, while protecting those least able to pay from having to foot the bill.

I welcome the news that removing dangerous ACM cladding from every building in the social sector has either now been completed or is under way with clear timeframes in place. This Government have been very clear that they will not accept dangerous ACM cladding being on buildings. There is also a timeline of not beyond the end of this year, with enforcement action against building owners that fail in their duty to do this by the deadline that has been to set. While £1.6 billion has been made available from the Government, this vital work can be funded from other sources, including warranties, building owners and developers, and the industry needs to pull its weight to make this happen.

Although there are many lessons from the Grenfell tragedy, a deep concern has been that a small number of companies in the building and construction sector have been recklessly gaming the system, resulting in unsafe materials being used on new buildings. I am also hearing that there are those in flats bought on a leasehold basis who have faced several additional unforeseen costs that have risen because their building contains cladding, such as waking watch costs. I am shocked by the scandal of these waking watch fees.

I am pleased to hear that 201 households from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk have accepted an offer of accommodation, with over 95% of these being found new permanent homes. That is deeply reassuring, but there is deep frustration that a very small number of building owners are still yet to start this process, recklessly putting lives at risk. I am sure every single one of us agrees that we must never see this tragedy again. We must prevent this from ever happening again. We must give people the peace of mind that the places they call home are built with safe materials and that the place people call their home is their safe haven.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central 6:54 pm, 1st February 2021

Shortly before Christmas, residents in the Wicker Riverside complex in my constituency got a knock on the door one evening and were told to leave their homes immediately, with no indication given as to when they could return, because of multiple building safety failings. I am grateful for the quick response I got from the building safety Minister Lord Greenhalgh and for his help in getting residents back before Christmas, but their problems remain, as is the case in respect of many buildings across Sheffield. We are talking about ACM and other unsafe cladding, compartmentalisation problems, and issues with materials used on balconies, all of which are making homes unsafe. These problems were not created by the residents but they are being expected to pick up the cost for them. Clearly, that is the central issue we are facing today.

These people have stretched their finances to the limits to buy their home—often they are at the start of their working lives, although some are nearing retirement—and now they face unaffordable bills to make good the mistakes of others. These costs will break them, and this is taking an appalling toll on their health, as they face losing their homes and bankruptcy. These are lives destroyed by the actions of others—irresponsible developers, often those who have collapsed their companies having walked away with the profits—and inadequate building inspections. These leaseholders are the victims of comprehensive regulatory failure, which is why it is the responsibility of government to step in, own the problem and resolve it, without any of the costs falling on leaseholders, either now or in the future, through the loan schemes that we understand have been considered.

In addition, the Government must act now on building insurance, both to keep down escalating costs and to make sure that proper cover is in place in the small number of cases where buildings are uninsurable. Using the full resources of the state, backed by any new laws that are needed, the Government must then recover the costs from those responsible for the misery they have inflicted on leaseholders. That is the way to end the cladding scandal.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Justice) 6:57 pm, 1st February 2021

My constituents will be absolutely furious that the Government appear to be rejecting not only our amendments, but those of the hon. Members for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith). My constituents have been constantly told that they will not be made to pay for fire safety problems they are not responsible for, but leaseholders are already paying for them, with huge bills for waking watches, outrageously inflated insurance premiums and eye-watering variable mortgage payments. My constituents are paying through the nose now. These costs are inescapable, and they are taking a real toll on already stretched finances and on the mental health of my constituents—lives are on hold. This is the result of a crisis my constituents did not create.

Let me again raise with the Minister one of the biggest cases in my constituency. Stratford East Village, the former Olympic park, has fire safety risks that go way beyond cladding: defects that violated fire safety regulations in place long before the Grenfell tragedy. The Olympic park contractors were working for the Government, and they should not expect my constituents to pay for it, but they are doing so through huge insurance premiums and watch costs. In one case, the cost of insurance has been raised sixfold in a year.

However, the Olympic park is far from the only area affected in my constituency. In West Ham we find problems no matter where we look, and the same is true in Canning Town. I have been asked to make representations to housing associations so that they understand the impossible circumstances residents are in and to ask them to be flexible. They have to look at their policies on staircasing, sub-letting and buying back from the leaseholder. It is really important that Ministers do not forget how over-extended my constituents already are. London is different—I am sorry, but it is—simply because of the cost of housing here. In 2019, the median house price in Newham was 13 times the median earnings of residents; in 2017 and 2018, it was even higher. It is the legacy of utterly unaffordable housing. When we add in the recession and the financial impacts already experienced, threatening leaseholders with further costs just is not fair. It is cruel.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 7:00 pm, 1st February 2021

This debate and this whole issue is about people. It is about what they hold most dear—their homes. Our home is where most of us feel safest; it is our haven, and so often our financial security. I know the misery that so many leaseholders in my constituency are going through because of this crisis. It is important that leaseholders should not be made to pay for the remedial safety works required, and that they should be helped out of the nightmare that they find themselves in through no fault of their own.

One of my defining moments as leader of Westminster City Council was in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire, when I saw at first hand the devastating effect that that fire had on so many lives. Seventy-two people lost their lives and paid the ultimate sacrifice, and we must never forget that. Having spoken to Ministers, I know that they are determined to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again, but we must support all leaseholders to be able to draw a line under this torrid time.

I appreciate that the vast majority of buildings with ACM cladding have now had it removed, or the work is under way, including 100% of buildings in the social sector. I certainly welcome the £1.6 billion in Government grants that has helped towards that, and I hope that we see more help moving forward. It is beyond me why building owners and property developers think it is acceptable to expect leaseholders to pay for remedial work such as cladding replacement when leaseholders bought their homes in good faith, in many cases many years ago. I will continue to fight on leaseholders’ behalf to ensure that building owners and developers are held to account.

I look forward to hearing the Government’s plans to introduce the Building Safety Bill and other legislation that is obviously needed. I understand that the Government are working to introduce that Bill very soon. I hope that they will introduce building safety measures and new laws to ensure that people’s homes are always safe and can be relied on.

I reiterate the issues with mortgages and ensuring that people can sell their homes and remortgage. It is unacceptable that people find themselves in this dreadful situation. I understand that work has now been done on the external wall fire review forms—EWS1 forms—and that the Government have put £700,000 towards training more assessors so that we can do more of the surveying that is required to get the housing market moving.

Let me conclude by saying that leaseholders should never have been put in this position. These building materials should never have been allowed to be used on these buildings. I welcome the opportunity to debate this subject today, and I really hope that the Government continue to listen and will bring in fire safety measures as soon as possible so that the dreadful tragedy of Grenfell can never happen again.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown 7:03 pm, 1st February 2021

We have today heard a long list of residences that continue to have cladding on them and people stuck in them, not able to sell and without enough resources to fix the problem. I have two serious cases here in my constituency and many more minor cases—Royal View and Grand Ocean to name a few.

One of the big problems is the arbitrary limit on size that the Government have introduced, meaning that while hundreds of flat owners in taller blocks may receive some support, those in shorter blocks, which may still have decent safety concerns, may not be able to sell their houses or get mortgages. They are stuck. It is not right that any leaseholder should have to pay for these mistakes. These were mistakes of deregulation and of not allowing independent assessments, in which multiple Governments took part. We, collectively, must now ensure that we fix that. We will do that by making sure, irrespective of what party holds the reins at the time, that our nation’s Government step in.

What is government for? It is to ensure that our people are safe from external and internal threats, but currently they are not safe when they live in these buildings. Their finances are not safe. The Government must act as the underwriter in this case. Of course they must protect public finances and, using the courts, legislation, levies and other means, they must get the money back. They must ensure that no individual is harmed. It is not good enough just to say that leaseholders should not pay.

There is a popular method of organisation whereby leaseholders have a share of the freehold, including in a number of blocks in my constituency. But they were not the builders. They were not the contractors. They were not the people who made this mess. They got their surveys done, and they bought in good faith. Often they bought to the limit, because they wanted to get on that ladder. We now have insurance issues, and we know that wider leasehold reforms are needed, but it is not right that the Government allow people to suffer as they are at the moment. Opposition day motions used to be binding, at least morally, on the Government. Let us do the right thing now and support our leaseholders.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 7:06 pm, 1st February 2021

Just as with covid, the Government are too slow to deal with the unravelling building safety crisis. Three and a half years on from the devastating Grenfell tragedy, hundreds of thousands of people still live in unsafe homes, and millions are caught up in the wider building safety crisis. Government inaction has left innocent leaseholders facing lockdown trapped in flammable homes and paying colossal bills for repair work—in some cases leading to bankruptcy—as well as hundreds of pounds per month on interim safety measures such as waking watch.

Fifteen times, Ministers promised to protect leaseholders, and today a vote will be forced in Parliament to ensure that costs are not passed on to residents, and that those responsible for the cladding scandal will be pursued. The motion is a good one. It calls on the Government to establish a proper audit of the risk, to provide up-front funding, to protect leaseholders from costs by pursuing those responsible for the cladding crisis, and to get the job done.

I have constituents in London and Quadrant apartments, including West Point and Saxon Chase. Those people cannot sell their homes because fire safety inspections have not been carried out or an EWS1 completed—the Minister referred to that point, which I thank him for. I look forward to the RICS survey and its outcome. Residents in properties in Wood Green have been asked by their freeholder to pay £10,000 between them for a fire risk assessment. One states:

“If I cannot pay the bill for remedial works, the freeholder can bankrupt me and make me forfeit the lease, making me homeless in retirement. I worked for over 45 years paying Income Tax, National Insurance, mortgage payments, service charges, council tax and other housing costs, yet I now face possibly losing my home because the Government decides that leaseholders should pay for the failings of builders, freeholders and Government regulations.”

Residents in the Clarion property 1 The Roundway have not been able to sell or remortgage following an EWS1 assessment in 2019. Furthermore, some residents in Muswell Hill are living in a new block where internal fire safety protection was not put in properly and is incredibly costly to put right. The residents are making a claim to the NHBC through a solicitor, but are worried about what the outcome will be.

We are all aware of the immense stress of coronavirus and the public health crisis, but let us today not add more pressure to people already under strain. Let us vote for the motion and get this done.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons) 7:10 pm, 1st February 2021

As, I think, the 73rd speaker in today’s debate, I do not think I will be making any unique points, but I am pleased to have the opportunity to add my voice to those calling on the Government to act: to act to ensure that all my constituents are safe, and to act to protect our constituents from unfair charges.

I have been contacted by numerous leaseholders who are facing unacceptable pressures. They describe panic attacks, sleepless nights and tears, living in fear of fire and in fear of looming bankruptcy. For example, constituents tell me that their building, a recently converted office block, may qualify for a proportion of the non-ACM cladding fund, but that it is also fraught with myriad other problems, including missing cavity barriers and substandard fire doors. They already face bills for waking watch costs and survey work. They anticipate that their building insurance will increase by 200% to 300% this year. One says:

“This is weighing heavily on my and my wife’s minds…I purchased a newly converted flat. I had a survey. I did the due diligence.”

My constituents did nothing wrong, yet now they face crippling upfront charges.

Of course, my constituents are not the only ones whose dream home has become a nightmare through no fault of their own, yet developers and property owners seem to be getting away with it. Those leaseholders need your help, Minister. The Government should and could pay the upfront costs, and ensure that developers and building owners are held to account and pay for the remediation measures needed. That is what is needed. That is what this motion seeks to do. I hope that all those who want to protect leaseholders will support the motion tonight, as I do.

Minister, I look forward to your response and I know that my constituents are listening to you, too, in this debate. They know that the only hope of their getting out of an impossible situation is for the Government to act, and to act quickly. I hope you will take the opportunity to do so.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 7:12 pm, 1st February 2021

I welcome the new Minister, Eddie Hughes, to his place. I look forward to working together constructively over the coming years.

As we have heard this afternoon, nearly four years on from the Grenfell fire in which 72 people tragically lost their lives, hundreds of thousands of people the length and breadth of our nations are living in buildings wrapped in flammable cladding, constructed without fire breaks and insulated with inappropriate materials, paying thousands for the round the clock waking watch schemes, with insurance premiums going through the roof. This is the nightmare that is the cladding scandal, a nightmare magnified by the need to seek sanctuary in our homes during the pandemic and successive lockdowns.

Listening to the debate today and the insightful contributions from 71 right hon. and hon. Members from across the House, two questions come to mind. First, are buildings and, very importantly, the people living in them markedly safer since Grenfell? The answer is clearly no. Secondly, has the Government’s response been extensive and at pace? Certainly not.

My right hon. Friend Hilary Benn highlighted the tragic case of Hayley. She had a dream of home ownership and she had a brand-new flat, and then: welcome to the nightmare that is the cladding scandal. She has now declared bankruptcy, and that point was highlighted by the BBC only yesterday.

My hon. Friend Ellie Reeves referred to the heart-breaking case of a young couple in her constituency who are now unable to sell their flat and move on with their young family because they are trapped by the EWS chaos and the Government’s advice note 14. That affects 16% of households, and that needs to be fixed, certainly in substance. I hope the new Minister brings that to his post, rather than a ministerial press release.

The Father of the House, Sir Peter Bottomley, rightly highlighted the nightmare of insurance premiums going up at astronomical rates. My hon. Friend Shabana Mahmood also referred to that. One such case in her constituency, Brindley House, has seen a 1,300% increase in insurance premiums. Only yesterday I had constituents in Weaver Vale contacting me about that issue, and my hon. Friend Derek Twigg referred to a 1,000% increase at The Decks in Runcorn. Those are some of the many aspects of the cladding crisis with which Members from all parts of the House are very familiar.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Home Office)

A number of constituents have contacted me about the problems they have been facing having to pay for the removal of dangerous cladding. They have put their lives on hold. They have not been able to get out of dangerous relationships. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is down to the Government to take more action to ensure that those responsible actually pay for the removal of cladding?

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I agree with my hon. Friend. It certainly is time for the Government to get a grip. It would be remiss of me not to highlight and thank those campaigners who will keep on pressing for justice and change: Grenfell United, the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign, the all-party parliamentary group, the Select Committee, Inside Housing, The Sunday Times, the Mail and the Mirror. All have highlighted stories bringing alive in this Chamber and beyond the hundreds of thousands of voices of those trapped in thousands of buildings up and down this land.

Three and a half years on from Grenfell, the Government still do not know the number of buildings truly at risk, because they have failed to this day to draw up a risk register or a priority list, as our motion calls for today. Building safety needs to be turbocharged by a national cladding taskforce.

What created the building safety or cladding scandal in the first place? First, I suggest it was the regulatory regime of the past and, secondly, as highlighted by many Members, it was some in the industry whose purpose was to maximise profit margins to such an extent that the moral compass of humanity—the safety of people and their quality of life, or even the right to life itself—was not even an afterthought, as illustrated by the evidence presented so far to the Grenfell inquiry.

This crisis certainly is not the responsibility of innocent tenants or the millions of leaseholders now living in flats valued at zero, who are mortgage prisoners as a result of this scandal. That point has been made time and time again by Members from all parties today. Leaseholders cannot pay, and they should not pay. Our motion is a clarion call to all Members and would enshrine that principle in the building safety landscape.

The Government’s response so far to the crisis has been one of dither and delay. We have legislation coming down the line and a building safety fund as a reaction to determined campaigners and strong voices in Parliament, but the size and scope of the fund is nowhere near sufficient, and the remediation of buildings has been carried out at a snail’s pace. Despite the recent spin from Government Ministers, nearly 60% of private sector buildings identified with Grenfell-type cladding are still wrapped in ACM.

Turning to the building safety fund, 2,820 applications have been made, with only 405 proceeding with an application for funding so far. The funding will cover only around 600 buildings, and only those that are 18 metres or above—a system of first come, first served, with gagging orders and chaos hard-wired into it. I say to the Minister that nobody will be silenced; the chorus for justice will get louder and louder.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank and commend my hon. Friend the shadow housing Secretary and, indeed, the Leader of the Opposition for having a clear plan, because at this point in time, the Government have not even ascertained the extent of the problem. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Prime Minister, who has been conspicuous by his absence, needs to issue a statement and show a clear plan, because this crippling cladding crisis is having a debilitating impact on millions of our constituents?

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I certainly do agree.

Over the past few months, Ministers have started publicly to row back on their previous promises to protect leaseholders from historical remediation costs—statements made at least 15 times in the public domain. They now refer to affordable, reasonable and fair costs, as pointed out by my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee. At the same time, their appointed adviser, Michael Wade, has been devising yet another way to pile the costs on hard-pressed leaseholders, through a 30-year loan costing thousands of pounds a year—a mini mortgage on top of existing mortgages, waking watch, and astronomical insurance costs. Welcome to the cladding tax.

The draft Building Safety Bill even attempts to enshrine a building safety charge in law, through clauses 88 and 89. The proposal to impose a charge on leaseholders has met considerable opposition on both sides of this House, in the form of amendments to the Fire Safety Bill and undoubtedly to the Building Safety Bill in future. The Opposition will be supporting the McPartland amendment to the Fire Safety Bill.

Members across this House have the opportunity today to come together, stand up for their constituents who happen to be leaseholders, and protect them with deeds in the Division Lobby, not just words—to send a message to the Prime Minister and the Housing Secretary to change track, turbocharge building safety with a national cladding taskforce, fund works up front, and then recover from those who are responsible for this mess. The polluter pays. They should set a hard deadline of June 2022, and pursue those responsible relentlessly. This is the way that we create pace; this is the way that we protect the public purse and leaseholders; and this is the right thing to do: support this motion.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 7:23 pm, 1st February 2021

Mr Speaker—sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker; I fell at the first hurdle! Let me begin by thanking right hon. and hon. Members from across the House for their contributions to today’s very important debate. For my part, it is 410 days since I was last called to contribute to a debate in this Chamber, and I would never have thought then that it would be to speak from the Dispatch Box, responding to a debate on behalf of the Government. My parents would have been very proud.

It is a privilege to respond to this debate. There have been some comments on social media about the fact that I have only been a Minister for 15 days, and therefore perhaps do not deserve the opportunity to do so. To that I would say that in the time I have been in the House, building safety has been incredibly important to me. I presented a ten-minute rule Bill that sought to tackle what I described as the “invisible killer” of carbon monoxide poisoning. In many ways, that description could also apply to ACM materials, as we have discussed this afternoon. I could not agree more with the frustrations that have been expressed by Members on both sides of the House.

During the debate—and unfortunately I will be partly guilty of this too—there has been lots of talk about the tens or hundreds of thousands of people who have been impacted, and the millions, if not billions, of pounds that the Government are applying to solve the problem, but let us remember that this issue comes down to individuals. In the opening speech, Thangam Debbonaire mentioned Hayley’s story, and others did too. David Linden mentioned Sophie, and John Lamont mentioned the Youngers from his constituency who had bought a property in London. This is all about the plight of individuals, and I feel that personally in my responsibility as Minister. Perhaps I felt that strongest when we heard from my hon. Friend Felicity Buchan. I had been an MP for only a matter of weeks when the terrible Grenfell tragedy occurred. I am grateful for the work that she has done, picking up the role of working with the families of survivors of the tragedy to press their case. She does that assiduously, not just with Housing, Communities and Local Government Ministers but with the Treasury.

Yes, some developers and building owners have taken responsibility for correcting defects. That applies to more than half of the high-rise private sector buildings with ACM. Warranties have been honoured, and legitimate cost recovery by the original contractor has happened. That is as it should be, but it is far from the whole story. Some contractors have dragged their feet, and we have heard shocking testimony given to the Grenfell inquiry about manufacturers of safety-critical materials gaming test systems, selling products that do not perform as advertised, and refusing to take responsibility. I am grateful to Members, particularly my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake, for raising that matter.

I hope the House will understand that there is a limit to what I can say about the inquiry. For their part, the Government have a very clear position. Putting lives at risk, ignoring safety regulations and shunning those responsibilities is not acceptable in any way, at any time. No contractor should ever feel safe engaging in that disgraceful behaviour. No one should ever feel unsafe in a high-rise home as a result of contractor error or malpractice. That is what the Government are determined to achieve.

We have taken concrete steps, not only to hold those responsible to account, but to fix the problems that have come to light as effectively as we can, as fast as we can. That is what our building safety programme is designed to do. It was established within days of the Grenfell Tower fire, and it is about making homes safer as quickly as possible, focusing on the most unsafe homes first; ensuring that residents of high-rise blocks of flats are safe and feel safe now and in future; and ensuring that a tragedy like Grenfell never happens again. This is a matter of the highest importance. It is not a matter of party politics.

During the debate, several Members, including the hon. Members for Bristol West, for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), for Slough (Mr Dhesi), and for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), mentioned the waking-watch fund. Some of them were grateful for the £30 million that the Government have provided, although Neil Coyle asked when the funds would be available and applications would be open. My understanding is that the Government have worked collaboratively with Mayors across the country in many combined authority areas, but that the Greater London Authority has yet to reach an agreement, so there will be a delay from the GLA. I ask him to put pressure on it to make sure that it comes to an agreement with the Government very soon so that we can continue with the assessment of those applications and the issuing of funds. I ask him to put pressure on it to make sure that it comes to an agreement with the Government very soon so that we can continue with the assessment of those applications and the issuing of funds.

Several Members referred to the EWS form. My right hon. Friend Dr Fox mentioned sharp practices in the provision of those forms, and gave us an example of that. I am therefore delighted that the Government are providing £700,000 to allow us to train up to 2,000 people who will be capable of producing these forms to make sure that they are more accessible.

Conservative Members and, towards the end of the debate, Opposition Members made reference to the Fire Safety Bill and the amendment that has been tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland). Personally, I was delighted to hear that my hon. Friend Brendan Clarke-Smith agrees with me that the Fire Safety Bill is not the appropriate vehicle for that amendment and the Building Safety Bill is obviously the correct place for it. Trying to shoehorn the amendment into an inappropriate Bill will serve only to delay the progress of a very important piece of legislation, so I hope that my hon. Friends will decide to find another place for it.

Perhaps the most significant issue that Members have been considering is the question of who pays. In many cases, leaseholder agreements allow building owners or their managing agents to pass on significant remediation costs to leaseholders. This could result in leaseholders being faced with unaffordable costs. I think there is consensus across the House that this would be completely unacceptable. For that reason, the Government have been accelerating work on a long-term solution to this problem. We are working at pace to develop a financial solution to protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs. It is important that we get this right. I can assure Members that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be making an announcement on this important work at the earliest opportunity.

In conclusion—

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Opposition Chief Whip (Commons)

claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No.36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.

Division number 224 Unsafe Cladding: Protecting Tenants and Leaseholders

Aye: 263 MPs

No: 0 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 263, Noes 0.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House calls on the Government to urgently establish the extent of dangerous cladding and prioritise buildings according to risk; provide upfront funding to ensure cladding remediation can start immediately; protect leaseholders and taxpayers from the cost by pursuing those responsible for the cladding crisis; and update Parliament once a month in the form of a Written Ministerial Statement by the Secretary of State.

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

We are going to suspend for three minutes to allow for the safe exit and entrance of Members, and the sanitisation of the Dispatch Boxes.

Sitting suspended.