Before I call the Secretary of State to make his statement, I have to express once again my disappointment that important announcements have been made first to the media, rather than to this House. In this case, I accept that issues of market sensitivity meant that announcements had to be made this morning. However, I am told that the announcements were required because of speculation about the policy change over the weekend. That speculation appears to have been substantially accurate, which means that the media appear to have known the details before this House did. If that is the case, I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could confirm that a leak inquiry is to be held.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on building safety. Before I do so, I can confirm that I have asked the permanent secretary in my Department to conduct a leak inquiry. It was a matter of considerable regret to me that details of the statement that I am about to make were shared with the media before they were shared with Members of this House, and indeed with those most affected.
It is worth pausing at the start of any statement to reflect on why building safety is an issue of concern to all of us in this House today. It took the tragedy at Grenfell Tower on
Over four years on from that terrible tragedy, it is clear that the building safety system remains broken. The problems that we have to fix have been identified by many across this House, from all parties. I would like at this point to register my appreciation of the work that the late Jack Dromey did on this issue. He was shadow Housing Minister for three years and he did a great deal, both as a trade unionist and as the Member of Parliament for Birmingham, Erdington, to bring to light the plight of those affected by this crisis.
As we know, there are still a small number of high-rise buildings with dangerous and unsafe cladding that have to be fixed. We know that those who manufacture dangerous products and develop dangerous buildings have faced inadequate accountability so far, and shown insufficient contrition. We also need to ensure that we take a proportionate approach in building assessments overall. There are too many buildings today that are declared unsafe, and there are too many who have been seeking to profit from the current crisis.
Most importantly, leaseholders are shouldering a desperately unfair burden. They are blameless, and it is morally wrong that they should be the ones asked to pay the price. I am clear about who should pay the price for remedying failures. It should be the industries that profited, as they caused the problem, and those who have continued to profit, as they make it worse.
Mr Speaker, we will take action on all of these fronts. To ensure that every remaining high-rise dangerous building has the necessary cladding remediation to make it safe, we will open up the next phase of the building safety fund early this year and focus relentlessly on making sure it is risk driven and delivered more quickly.
We will also ensure that those who profited, and continue to profit, from the sale of unsafe buildings and construction products must take full responsibility for their actions and pay to put things right. Those who knowingly put lives at risk should be held to account for their crimes, and those who are seeking to profit from the crisis by making it worse should be stopped from doing so.
Today, I am putting them on notice. To those who mis-sold dangerous products, such as cladding or insulation, to those who cut corners to save cash as they developed or refurbished people’s homes, and to those who sought to profiteer from the consequences of the Grenfell tragedy: we are coming for you. I have established a dedicated team in my Department to expose and pursue those responsible. We will begin by reviewing Government schemes and programmes to ensure that, in accordance with due process, there are commercial consequences for any company that is responsible for this crisis and refusing to help to fix it.
In line with this, just before Christmas, I instructed Homes England to suspend Rydon Homes, which is closely connected to the company that refurbished the Grenfell Tower, from its participation in the Help to Buy scheme, with immediate effect. I also welcome the decision by the Mercedes Formula 1 team and Toto Wolff to discontinue sponsorship from Kingspan, the cladding firm, with immediate effect. The voices of the families of the bereaved and the survivors of the Grenfell Tower were heard, but this is only the start of the action that must be taken.
We must also restore common sense to the assessment of building safety overall. The Government are clear—we must find ways for there to be fewer unnecessary surveys. Medium-rise buildings are safe, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. There must be far greater use of sensible mitigations, such as sprinklers and fire alarms, in place of unnecessary and costly remediation work.
To achieve that, today I am withdrawing the Government’s consolidated advice note. It has been wrongly interpreted and has driven a cautious approach to building safety in buildings that are safe that goes beyond what we consider necessary. We are supporting new, proportionate guidance for assessors, developed by the British Standards Institution, which will be published this week.
Secondly, we will press ahead with the building safety fund, adapting it so that it is consistent with our proportionate approach. We will now set a higher expectation that developers must fix their own buildings, and we will give leaseholders more information at every stage of the process.
Thirdly, before Easter, we will be implementing our scheme to indemnify building assessors conducting external wall assessments, giving them the confidence to exercise their balanced professional judgment. We will audit those assessments to ensure that expensive remediation is being advised only where it is necessary to remove a threat to life.
I will be working closely with lenders over the coming months to improve market confidence, and I have asked my colleague Lord Greenhalgh to work with insurers on new industry-led approaches that bring down the premiums facing leaseholders.
Further, we will take the power to review the governance of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, to ensure that it is equipped properly to support a solution to this challenge. Those in the industry who refuse to work with us in good faith to take a more proportionate approach should be clear that our determination is to fix the problem for all those caught up in this crisis.
Finally, we must relieve the burden that has been unfairly placed on leaseholders. I want to pay tribute to all those across the House who have campaigned so passionately on this subject. They know the injustice of asking leaseholders, often young people who have saved hard and made sacrifices to take their first steps on the housing ladder, to pay money they do not have to fix a problem they did not cause, all while the firms who made a profit on those developments sit on their hands. We will take action to end the scandal and protect leaseholders. We will scrap the proposal for loans and long-term debt for medium-rise leaseholders.
I can confirm to the House today that no leaseholder living in a building above 11 metres will ever face any costs for fixing dangerous cladding and, working with Members of both Houses, we will pursue statutory protection for leaseholders and nothing will be off the table. As part of that, we will introduce immediate amendments to the Building Safety Bill to extend the right of leaseholders to challenge those who cause defects in premises for up to 30 years retrospectively.
We will also take further action immediately: we will provide an additional £27 million to fund more fire alarms, so we can end the dreadful misuse of waking watches; we will change grant funding guidance so that shared owners affected by the crisis can more easily sub-let their properties, and encourage lenders and landlords to approve sub-letting arrangements; and in the period before long-term arrangements are put in place, I will work with colleagues across Government to make sure that leaseholders are protected from forfeiture and eviction because of historic costs. Innocent leaseholders must not shoulder the burden.
We have already committed £5.1 billion of taxpayers’ funding from the Government, but we should not now look to the taxpayer for more funding. We should not ask hard-working taxpayers to pay more taxes to get developers and cladding companies making vast profits off the hook. We will make industry pay to fix all of the remaining problems and help to cover the range of costs facing leaseholders. Those who manufactured combustible cladding and insulation, many of whom have made vast profits even at the height of the pandemic, must pay now instead of leaseholders.
We have made a start through the residential property developer tax and the building safety levy, both announced last February, but will now go further. I will today write to developers to convene a meeting in the next few weeks, and I will report back to the House before Easter. We will give them the chance to do the right thing. I hope that they will take it. I can confirm to the House today that if they do not, we will impose a solution on them, if necessary, in law.
Finally, we must never be in this position again, so we are putting the recommendations of the Hackitt review on building safety in law and we will shortly commence the Fire Safety Act 2021. We are also today publishing new collaborative procurement guidance on removing the incentives for industry to cut corners and to help stop the prioritisation of cost over value. We will legislate to deliver broader reforms to the leasehold system, and also bring forward measures to fulfil commitments made in the social housing White Paper. When parliamentary time allows, we will have legislation on social housing regulation so that social housing tenants cannot be ignored as those in the Grenfell community were for many years.
Four and a half years on from the tragedy of Grenfell, it is long past time that we fix the crisis. Through the measures that I have set out today, we will seek redress for past wrongs and secure funds from developers and construction product manufacturers, and we will protect leaseholders today and fix the system for the future.
May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your kind words about Jack Dromey, who should have been with us here today? There is a space over there that I know Jack would have occupied. Back in the 1970s, horrified by the spectacle of a skyscraper in London that lay empty while people slept rough underneath it, Jack was one of those who occupied Centre Point tower in protest. He was never afraid to speak truth to power, and I hope that today marks the start of all of us across the House invoking his spirit.
Four and a half years after the appalling tragedy at Grenfell, and with a road paved with broken promises and false dawns, hundreds of thousands are still trapped in unsafe homes, millions are caught in the wider crisis, and the families of 72 people who lost their lives are waiting for justice. It is a relief that we finally have a consensus that the developers and manufacturers who profited from this appalling scandal should bear greater costs, not the victims, and that blameless leaseholders must not pay. After a year of hell of the prospect hanging over leaseholders, we welcome the decision to remove the threat of forced loans, but can the Secretary of State tell us what makes him think that he can force developers, who have refused to do the right thing for four years, to pay up? We have been told there is a March deadline and a roundtable, but there is not a plan. If he has one, can we hear it? He will find an open door on the Opposition side of the House, if he has a credible proposal to bring.
Today the Secretary of State warned developers that if negotiation fails,
“our backstop…what we can do…is increase taxation on those responsible”, but that is not quite right, is it? I have in front of me the letter from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May I remind the Secretary of State what it says? He was told that
“you may use a high-level ‘threat’ of tax or legal solutions in discussions with developers” but
“whether or not to impose or raise taxes remains a decision for me”
—the Chief Secretary—
“and is not a given at this point.”
If I have seen the letter, I am fairly sure that the developers have too. Furthermore, it appears that what the Secretary of State has told the public—that tax rises are the backstop—is not what he has told the Treasury. The letter says that
“you have confirmed separately that DLUHC budgets are a backstop for funding these proposals in full…should sufficient funds not be raised from industry.”
That is not what the Secretary of State told the House a moment ago, so can he clear this up? Has the Chancellor agreed to back a new tax measure if negotiations fail, or is the Secretary of State prepared to see his already allocated budgets—levelling-up funding, or moneys for social or affordable housing—raided? Or is his plan to go back to the Treasury, renegotiate and legislate, if he fails in March? If that is the case, it will take months, and there is nothing to stop freeholders passing on the costs to leaseholders in the meantime. Does he even have an assessment of how many leaseholders will be hit with whacking great bills if he delays?
If the Secretary of State is serious about going after the developers—I hope that he is—why is he not putting these powers into the Building Safety Bill now? The only trick that he has up his sleeve, as he just confirmed to the House, is to ban them from Help to Buy, and we know that the impact of that, though welcome, will be marginal. Can he see the problem? He will also know that there is a gaping hole in what he has proposed. A significant number of buildings have both cladding and non-cladding defects, and leaseholders in them face ruinous costs to fix things such as missing fire breaks and defective compartmentation. One cannot make a building half safe. Given that the Secretary of State recognises the injustice of all leaseholders caught up in the building safety crisis, why is he abandoning those who have been hit with bills for non-cladding defects, and why will he not amend his Bill so that all leaseholders are protected from historical defects in law?
The truth is that the pace of remediation has been painfully slow. The Secretary of State is now on track to miss the deadline to fix all Grenfell-style cladding by over half a decade, and there are huge delays when it comes to building safety fund applications, so will he get a grip on what is going on in his own Department and ensure that the progress of remediation is accelerated markedly? As he knows, this has been a living nightmare for affected leaseholders, and we owe it to them to bring it swiftly to an end.
What the Secretary of State has given us today is a welcome shift in tone and some new measures that the Opposition very much hope will succeed, but the harder I look at this, the less it stands up. We were promised justice and we were promised change, to finally do right by the victims of this scandal, and that takes more than more promises. It takes a plan.
I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for her questions. First, I entirely agree with the generous and fitting words that she had for Jack Dromey. As I mentioned briefly in my statement, he was a relentless campaigner for social justice throughout his career. Indeed, the role he played in highlighting the plight of the homeless, and the need to act in order to ensure that they had a safe and decent place to live, is one of the many achievements that we will all recall as we think of his contribution. I also welcome the consensual approach that the shadow Secretary of State and her Front-Bench colleagues are taking in seeking to ensure that we place responsibility where it truly lies, and she had a number of appropriate questions to follow up in order to ensure that we deliver effectively.
The shadow Secretary of State made the point that the allocations from the building safety fund so far have been slow and are behindhand, and that is true. I think it is always better to be honest about those areas where the Government have not performed as well as they should, and one of the first things I did as Secretary of State was to ask for all necessary steps to be taken to ensure that that money was spent effectively. Of course, one of the problems we have had is that it is a demand-led system, so we have relied on many of those who have been responsible as the individual owners of buildings to come forward. However, what we are also hoping to do is ensure that, working with the National Fire Chiefs Council, we have the most extensive analysis of all the buildings that need our support and that we accelerate work on the BSF. So her concerns are not misplaced, and it is certainly my intention to ensure that we accelerate and make comprehensive that work.
The shadow Secretary of State also made the point that non-cladding costs do need to be met, and I agree. She specifically requested that we provide amendments to the Building Safety Bill to ensure that there is statutory protection for leaseholders. That is our intention—we intend to bring forward those amendments—and I look forward to working with her and colleagues across the House to provide the most robust legal protection.
The shadow Secretary of State doubted—again, I can understand the basis of her scepticism—whether developers and others in industry, given their past behaviour, would necessarily come sweetly to the table, and that is why it is so important that we have a range of tools available. I think it is important to recognise that there are some developers and some in the industry who have done the right thing, and it is also important to recognise that a spokesman for the Home Builders Federation, Stewart Baseley, today struck a very a constructive and open tone.
However, we do need to have additional backstops, and it is clear that taxes can, if necessary, play a part. I do not want to move there, but we do have the absolute assurance that we can use the prospect of taxation to bring people to the table. All taxation decisions are made by the Chancellor, and no Chancellor or Chief Secretary would ever say anything other than that, but the fact that the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor have authorised me to use the prospect of taxation, and the fact that we already have taxation through the residential property developer tax, shows that we are prepared to take every step necessary.
The final point that was implicit—perhaps explicit—in everything the shadow Secretary of State said is that we will be judged on our actions, and I think that is entirely fair. I recognise, given the scale of the frustration that so many have felt in the past, that ultimately there can only really be satisfaction when we bring this matter to a conclusion. I believe that today marks a significant step forward, but there is more work to do, and I hope that we can conclude that work on a cross-party basis in order to bring justice to those who deserve it.
I call the Father of the House.
I will co-operate, Mr Speaker, and may I say, through you, to the Mother of the House, Ms Harman, that the tributes to her husband Jack Dromey for his work on people’s interests at work and at home will be long remembered, together with that of David Amess, who for 20 years worked on the all-party group on fire safety and rescue with Ronnie King and others?
I believe that this is another step forward that is greatly welcomed and greatly needed, but I think the extension of the liability to 30 years is wrong for those who knew that what they were doing was wrong: 30 years may be fine for those who did it by mistake, but for those who knew what they were doing, there should be unlimited liability both in time and in money.
I hope that the Secretary of State will have a roundtable. If he wants to take over the all-party group roundtable for a summit on this, he can pick up some of the other issues that no doubt he has been working on, but which, to keep his statement reasonable, he may not have covered today.
One problem is the insurance premiums paid by leaseholders for a property they do not own, which may have gone up from an illustrative £300 a year to £3,000 a year. I believe that the Association of British Insurers should be told that the Competition and Markets Authority will look to see whether there is price gouging, in simple terms, and, that if there is some kind of catastrophic reinsurance needed, the Government should help them to make communal arrangements to deal with that, because insurance premiums should come down to the £300 they were before.
The last point of very many I would like to make is that the Treasury will expect to get the benefit of the levy and tax towards the £5 billion already announced, and the contributions that will come in from developers will relieve burdens on residential leaseholders, but the Government should also get the VAT on money that is spent, which is 20% of the total cost. If the total cost comes down from £15 billion to, say, £12 billion, my right hon. Friend can calculate and discuss with the Treasury how much extra the Treasury is getting. The Treasury should not be making a profit out of all this catastrophe.
I thank the Father of the House for his questions. He is quite right that Sir David Amess, before his sad death, was one of the most prescient and most effective campaigners for improved building safety. His memory is very much in my mind.
The Father of the House makes a point about the need to potentially look at unlimited liability for those who consciously and deliberately operated in a reckless fashion. I will consider that and I am sure it will be considered during the passage of the Bill. On his point that we should work with others, particularly the broad leasehold community who have done so much to identify the way forward, we absolutely intend to do that. The point he makes about insurance premiums is absolutely right. That is why my noble Friend Lord Greenhalgh will be talking to Baroness Morgan of Cotes and others in the Association of British Insurers to ensure that more insurers, like Aviva, do the right thing. I very much note his point about VAT and Treasury contributions. In the ongoing conversations we have with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I will reflect on the very important point that he made.
I wish to echo the sentiments from across the House on the work Jack Dromey did on this issue and his campaigning to get justice for those affected.
It has been almost five years since the Grenfell fire. In that time, we have had four Housing Secretaries and several different policies and approaches to this issue. First the Government would pay, then leaseholders would pay and now developers will pay, all because the Treasury has for so long refused to act further on this issue. The confusion is not only harming homeowners facing a Tory cost of living crisis, but affecting the ability of devolved Governments to plan their responses appropriately. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that this latest policy will be acted on, and will he commit to working with the devolved Governments to provide further clarity? Additionally, can he make it clear when already promised funding will fully and finally be delivered to the devolved Governments for this matter?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her points. We certainly will work with the devolved Governments. Of course, the residential property developer tax, like all UK-wide taxes, is distributed appropriately in line with the Barnett formula and other requirements, but we will certainly work with devolved Governments. I should say that I am very grateful to the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive for the work they have already done on this issue. We all have much to learn from one another.
I welcome the direction of travel in the statement, specifically that leaseholders will not have to pay for cladding remediation. I am also glad that building product makers are now coming within the scope of Government, not only property developers. I have been personally shocked by some of the revelations coming from the Grenfell inquiry and I think that potentially we need to address the building products sector. May I stress to my right hon. Friend that speed and delivery here is critical? It is now four and a half years since the tragedy in my constituency. What is important is not only having a good plan, but executing it quickly and efficiently.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am very conscious of the need for speed. I quite agree. If we look at the behaviour of some of the cladding firms, the behaviour of people who work for Kingspan and Arconic, and the evidence presented to the Grenfell inquiry, we see that it is truly dreadful. The individuals concerned must take responsibility. She represents a constituency in which there are many, many people who are effectively trapped because of the failure of the property market to effectively address all these problems. In the interests of her constituents and so many more, and in particular in the interests of the Grenfell community and its fight for justice, I am very conscious of the need to move as fast as we possibly can.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I am sure he will welcome an invitation from the Select Committee to come and discuss these matters further in detail. Just two important issues. First, will he clarify that leaseholders will not have to pay the cost of remediation, including non-cladding work, because that is not exactly what his statement says? Secondly, will he clarify that, apart from the removal of aluminium composite material cladding, the Government will give social housing providers no help whatsoever? If developers do not pay for the measures that he announced today or taxes are not raised, and there are cuts to his budget as a result, will that come off social housing provision as well? What assessment has he done of the total impact on the future building of social housing?
These are three very important points. First, we will make sure that we provide leaseholders with statutory protection—that is what we aim to do and we will work with colleagues across the House to ensure that that statutory protection extends to all the work required to make buildings safe. Secondly, to ensure that there is not an adverse impact on social housing or on the work that Homes England is leading to bring together and remediate brownfield land for new private-sector development, we will do absolutely everything possible so that, ultimately, those with big balance sheets and big bucks discharge their responsibility. He and I will know that the seven major housing developers do much good work but that in the last three years they made profits of £16 billion. Understandably, people are prompted to ask that those significant sums be devoted to ensuring that the building safety crisis is met, alongside the building supply pipeline of the future.
I welcome these further measures to provide critical support to leaseholders and to restore a greater degree of confidence to the housing market. In particular, may I welcome the future support for those in medium-rise buildings? It is a pity that the Treasury did not agree to that proposal in January of last year, but such is the way with this issue. May I ask my right hon. Friend about two particular points? First, he has agreed a backstop with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury whereby the ultimate risk will be borne by the provision of social housing. I am sure that he would agree that it would be quite wrong for social housing tenants and the homeless to pay the price for solving this issue, so will he say that that will not be the case? Secondly, I see that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has failed to make good on the conversations we have been having for several months, if not years, to instil a more proportionate and sensible approach into the assignment of risk. What further steps—he alluded to some in his remarks—can he take against RICS, because its behaviour is now bordering on scandalous in not taking this issue seriously?
First, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, my predecessor. I have had the opportunity since joining the Department to see just how hard he worked, facing a number of frustrations, to secure justice for those who are our first concern. I heard some comments from some Opposition Members seeking to decry that. If they knew what I know about how hard Robert had worked to try to secure justice, they would not be trying to make a cheap point about it. We all care about this issue, but few care about it as much, and certainly no one currently in this Chamber has worked as hard to try to help those people, as my right hon. Friend. So I am not having it.
The second point that m right hon. Friend made is absolutely right; we need to ensure both that there is more social housing provision and that we improve the quality of social housing—that is a core mission for the Department. His third point, about RICS, is right. There have been all sorts of difficulties with that organisation in the past, but I am now hopeful that we are on a more positive footing. We have the potential to take steps to improve the governance of the institution, but I am hopeful now that, given some of the conversations we have had, including with lenders and others, we can be on a more positive footing. Let me once again underline and affirm my gratitude to my right hon. Friend for his incredibly hard and dedicated work to try to bring this situation to a satisfactory conclusion.
My constituents in Eclipse House, Station Road, Wood Green have been suffering for more than a year with astronomical costs to deal with gaps relating to fire doors and external wall insulation. Can the Minister confirm that that is not covered in today’s statement? Secondly, what voice will tenants have in the future? One of the worst things about Grenfell is the lack of tenant voice to make good things stick when bad practice is all around.
The hon. Lady makes two important points. First, the freeholders, as the ultimate owners of these buildings, will be held responsible for all the work that is required, and we will make sure that leaseholders are not on the hook. Secondly, she is right that those who listened to some of the testimony at the Grenfell inquiry, and those who have seen some of the excellent campaigning journalism associated with it, will know that Ed Daffarn and others explicitly warned of some of the consequences of the approach taken at the time. Tenants’ voices were not heard, and people died as a result. That is why the social housing White Paper, which my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick did so much to advance, and the social housing Bill, which will come forward in due course, are so important.
I welcome this brilliant statement, and I am grateful to the Secretary of State for working constructively with us, across parties, and with the cladding groups to get us to where we are today. Today’s announcement is another huge step forward for leaseholders. This is a victory for leaseholders, who will get up to £9 billion of support. We will make those responsible pay and start on the journey.
I seek clarification on two areas. First, cladding is an external fire safety defect, but are developers responsible for internal fire safety defects such as missing fire breaks, which stop fire spreading from one flat to another? Secondly, will there be Government amendments to the Building Safety Bill to make it clear in law that leaseholders are innocent parties and will not have to pay?
I thank my hon. Friend for his fantastic campaigning on this issue. On the first point, which is linked to his second point, the owners, the freeholders and the responsible figures in charge of these buildings will be held responsible and made responsible for making sure that all the work is done to make these buildings safe. We will table amendments to ensure that, on a statutory basis, we protect leaseholders from having costs passed on unfairly by the owners of the freeholds of these buildings.
When the horror of Grenfell happened, many local authorities such as mine responded immediately by inspecting all buildings and taking action as appropriate, as they should have done. The private sector did not do that for many of our leasehold properties.
I had a very sad conversation with a group of leaseholders a month ago. They are completely stuck. They cannot sell or move, they have expanding families and they are faced with massive bills. Can I go to them tomorrow and say that the Government will underwrite all the costs that they have been threatened with so that they can get their building brought up to standard and, if they wish, sell and move on? Or will there be months and months of delay until the private sector decides not to pay and the Government intervene? I think those leaseholders, like leaseholders all over the country, deserve an immediate answer. They have been through too much stress.
Perhaps for the first time, I am almost wholly in accord with the right hon. Gentleman. Leaseholders deserve speedy action, but I do not want to overpromise. I believe we can rapidly relieve the difficult situation in which his constituents find themselves. I do not think it can be immediate, but I intend to ensure it is as quick as possible.
Please forgive me for making this point, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that many in local government, across parties, were far quicker to respond to this crisis than some in the private sector, which is shaming.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that this whole issue has caused extraordinary misery, anxiety and upset, and I had the opportunity this morning to speak to Jim Illingworth of BrumLAG. He, my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick and our friend Jack Dromey have worked closely, and he was clear that he is very grateful for this progress. We are seeing a mixed economy of response, although there are clearly issues of timing and other details, which I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will need to address. I hope that he accepts that he needs to crack the whip on this, but is he not well able to do so?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his point. I had the chance to chat to Jim Illingworth and other cladding campaigners earlier today and he is absolutely right. I know that my right hon. Friend, as a Birmingham MP, is all too well aware of how many people in that great city are affected by this crisis, and I look forward to working with him and others to resolve it as quickly as possible.
A retired teacher in my constituency invested in a property in 2015, but just before Christmas, they were issued with a massive bill for £200,000 for an increase in their costs, and remedial work on their property will cost a possible £9 million. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and the leaseholders to talk about how the policy change will benefit them?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady and I will make sure that either I or others in my Department have those conversations as quickly as possible.
I welcome the statement today and the work that the Minister for Housing has done with colleagues across the House to explain how the policy will go forward, because this has been a nightmare for leaseholders. I have two quick questions. First, if leaseholders have already paid money out, will they get that money back from the freeholders or the developers? Secondly, on the issue of insurance, which was raised earlier, does the Secretary of State realise that even though people are liable for the costs of building insurance, they have no rights at all in the policy? When the situation occurs, they cannot claim against the policy; only the freeholder can do so. That must get changed in the Bill.
There are few people in the House who know as much about fire safety as my right hon. Friend. We will certainly work with him to explore the specific insurance provisions that he mentioned. I cannot, unfortunately—I would not want to mislead him—say that we will be in a position to compensate those who have already contributed. We are seeking to ensure that individuals do not face costs in the future, but again, I will work with colleagues across the House to try to get to the most equitable position possible.
I look forward to seeing the amendments from the Government about how leaseholders will be protected, because my constituents in St Albans, like many others, have had too many false dawns. I want to ask about the Secretary of State’s review of proportionality. In the past, building safety assessors have been chosen because of their willingness to recommend the less expensive safety work, and that has created a race to the bottom. Will he confirm that the BSI guidance will be mandatory for building safety assessors, and will he put protections in place so that assessors do not get away with offering the lightest touch mitigations that they can?
First, I thank the hon. Lady—it is always difficult for me to praise a Liberal Democrat, but she has been campaigning consistently on this issue for some time and has done a great job of bringing to light some of the defects that need to be addressed. It is the case that the BSI work, we believe, will ensure a properly proportionate approach. There are incentives either way—incentives, sometimes, for some to seek to do work on the cheap and for others to exaggerate the scale of the work that may be required to generate business. I hope, however, that a truly proportionate and safe approach will now be followed as a result of the BSI’s work.
I joined this campaign a year or so ago because, as the Secretary of State said in his statement, leaseholders are blameless and it is morally wrong to make them pay. I look forward to seeing this become part of the Bill so that leaseholders know that they will never have to pay. However, let me go back to insurers: not only are they increasing premiums by up to 1,000% for people who cannot really afford the premiums that they were paying before, but insurers are part of the problem. They were indemnifying these developers and underwriting these developments. They are part of the warranty issue and yet, this has not been brought into scope as part of the solution, so will the Secretary of State look again and make sure that insurers have to pay in the way that developers will?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point and his campaigning has been a significant factor in helping us to get to the right, or certainly to a better, position. We want insurers to be part of the solution, as we want everyone to be, and Lord Greenhalgh is doing great work with them. I am sure that there will be an opportunity before too long for me to explain in greater detail, with Lord Greenhalgh, to my hon. Friend and others the progress that we are making, but he is absolutely on the button in pointing out some of the mistakes that have been made that need to be addressed by the insurance sector.
I note that the Secretary of State said he would extend the right of leaseholders to challenge those who cause defects retrospectively for 30 years, but he will be aware that unscrupulous developers such as Mr Jason Alexander in my constituency exploit loopholes in company law with the result that there is no corporate entity to go after because it has been wound up, struck off or stripped of assets. Can he say what work he is doing with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that those loopholes in company law are closed? Can he also tell us whether the obligations that developers will now face as a result of his statement today will take precedence over their other financial obligations?
The hon. Lady makes two important points. On the first point, yes, this has been a feature. I was not fully aware, until I took on this responsibility, of how some within the development industry play fast and loose with the rules and set up special purpose vehicles, shell companies and so on to evade their responsibilities. They exhibit the unacceptable face of capitalism, I am afraid, and she is right to say that work requires to be done to bring them appropriately to account. I will be working with colleagues across Government to do just that.
As so often, my right hon. Friend is ahead of her time. There have been any number of occasions, including recently, when I have had to acknowledge that she has been right and the rest of us have been wrong, and this is one of those occasions.
Today the Secretary of State has told us what many all across the House told the Government three years ago—namely, that individual leaseholders trapped in unsafe homes should not have to bear the cost of making them safe. But today’s statement focuses on cladding, whereas the vast majority of leaseholders are suffering in unsafe homes as a result of other insulation and fire stopping defects. How will he address that? He has told the companies to pay up, but many have now gone into voluntary liquidation. We need a windfall tax on the whole industry now. Far too many leaseholders have been waiting for three and half years in purdah. Many of them, like my constituents in Central Square, have been waiting since
The hon. Gentleman makes a number of important points. Yes, the Department needs to be more expeditious and yes, we are focused on doing just that. Yes, it is important that the freeholders—the ultimate owners—deal with all the fire safety issues and yes, it is absolutely right that, while ACM cladding is the most egregious example of buildings being unsafe, there are many other issues that require to be tackled.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. It is long overdue. Many in my constituency and elsewhere face huge bills, as he knows. The biggest problem is getting the developers to talk to those who have suffered. I spent two years trying to get representatives of Telford Homes to meet the leaseholders, but they have now gone to ground and will not say a word. The Government have been talking about talking to developers for some time now but nothing has come of it, so, with all due respect, how is my right hon. Friend going to drive them—and the insurance companies that insured those that have gone out of business—to meet the leaseholders? Taxes can take time, so what about instantaneous fines?
By any means necessary. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. My preference is, wherever possible, to proceed consensually and to think the best of people. There are undoubtedly many people in the property development sector who have done the right thing and others who hope to do so, but if we need to, we will deploy heavier artillery to ensure that we get the necessary support to those on the frontline.
I welcome the statement, which is certainly a step in the right direction.
There are many tall buildings in my constituency. Some of the issues affecting them, and the costs that they bear, are very complex, and do not involve anything that would be covered today. Two blocks, Longitude and Altitude, have to pay for compartmentalisation, and although Bridge House—which is over 18 metres tall—is cladded, its cladding is not categorised as the right type to qualify for funding under the Government’s scheme. Some of my constituents live in blocks where the developer has gone bust and the freeholder is overseas, and they have a tenuous relationship with the managing agent. It is very difficult to get any information. Can the Secretary of State say something about that wider issue and what can be done about it, and what is his estimate of the cost of making all these buildings safe?
The hon. Lady has made a series of important points. I know that she has already been in touch with the Department, but I want to be more closely in touch with her. Our project team, Operation Apex, are making sure that we can do everything possible to ensure that the ultimate responsible owner is identified and takes on responsibility for the work to which the hon. Lady has correctly drawn attention. I look forward to working more closely with her to address precisely that issue.
I thank my right hon. Friend for standing up for leaseholders, particularly young people who have just got on to the housing ladder. May I ask him to look again at sprinklers as a safety measure? They are required in many countries, and the fact that they are not required here has always perplexed me. I also ask him to ensure that the building materials used for social housing are subject to the necessary level of scrutiny. Developers often use lower-quality materials which create a greater risk to safety, and we need to protect social housing tenants as well.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She was an incredibly hard-working figure in local government in London, where she helped to ensure that the needs of those in social housing were understood. There are specific provisions in the building safety legislation introduced by the Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend Christopher Pincher, to address some of those questions about poor-quality material social housing.
It is right that leaseholders should not be held responsible for the faults of builders in the past, and I therefore welcome the statement. However, given that housing is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, I assume that what we are discussing today will not automatically apply there. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Communities Minister and the Finance Minister—both of whom are responsible for these housing and building regulations issues—given that Sinn Féin seem to take the view that anything that emanates from this place, regardless of how beneficial it is to people to Northern Ireland, is not acceptable?
Those are very fair points. I have written today to Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive and the other devolved Administrations to outline the approach that we propose to take. I will work with Ministers from whatever party—I absolutely take on board the point made by the right hon. Gentleman—to ensure that we get to the right position. I am grateful to the First Minister, Paul Givan, for the support he has given us overall in the run-up to this announcement: it is much appreciated.
Everyone remembers their first visit to Bolton, but on his next visit, will the Secretary of State come with me to Holden Mill in Blackburn Road and Astley Bridge to meet residents and see the progress that has been made on the removal of cladding, but also to discuss with them issues relating to poor build quality and how the Government can fight their corner?
I certainly will, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a very effective advocate for Bolton.
May I add my voice to those who have spoken of the sudden passing of Jack Dromey? He was a truly pleasant and decent person. Let me also convey my condolences to the Mother of the House, and especially to his son, Joe Dromey, who I know very well, and knew especially well when we were councillors together in Lewisham.
Leaseholders are feeling anxious and angry about the delays, and the uncertainty about when the cladding will be removed from buildings and associated safety problems will be dealt with. That includes residents of the Parkside development in my constituency. The developers and the housing association have said that they will start to look at doing the remediation work in the spring, but will provide no absolute guarantee that any costs will not be passed on to the leaseholders. Will the Secretary of State review this case in order to provide the certainty that leaseholders in my constituency so desperately need?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his sheer determination not only to hold people responsible for the wrongdoings they did but to stand up for leaseholders. However, building owners are still dragging their feet, delaying essential remedial works, even though they might be eligible for Government funding. What incentive can he give today to those building owners to complete the works as soon as possible and not put concerns about their own financial liabilities, however theoretical, above the concerns and safety of residents in those blocks?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is certainly the case that many already enlightened owners have done just that. But one thing we are saying today is that ultimately we will ensure in law that it is the ultimate owner of the building that is responsible for that work, so the incentive is to move now for fear of consequences later.
It is good to see the Secretary of State acknowledge the unjust treatment of buildings under 18 metres in particular. However, it appears that what he has outlined will involve a voluntary contribution from developers, which may take a while. The leaseholders in my Vauxhall constituency do not have a while to wait. They are fed up of waiting. It has been four and a half years. They want solutions now. So will he confirm that he absolutely understands the urgency that leaseholders want to see and call on those developers to take action now?
Absolutely. Again, I do not want to over-promise, but I do recognise the need for speed.
The complexity of this issue has been highlighted by the Secretary of State’s statement and by the questioning. May I challenge him on one point? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) said, thousands of people will have received large bills and many will have paid them. The Secretary of State is saying that he will take statutory powers in the Bill that is coming before us. When will that happen? Once the House has voted on those powers, will that be the operational date for bills not to be presented to leaseholders, or can leaseholders who have refused to pay the bills thus far say, “Thank goodness—I don’t have to pay anything”?
My hon. Friend, who has been a consistent campaigner in this area, makes a very good point. Again, I do not want to make a cast-iron commitment at the Dispatch Box on the operational date, but I will work with him and others as we frame the legislation and ensure that he has access, in so far as it is possible, to the legal advice we have, so that we can stress test it and provide the maximum level of protection.
I have spoken to many leaseholders in my constituency who have struggled with issues around fire safety and cladding and the impact that has had on their mental wellbeing. We raised that issue in the Building Safety Bill Committee and the response was that those people should access mental health support through their GP in the usual way. We know the pressure GPs are under at the moment, so will the Secretary of State bring forward any additional measures in the light of his statement to support leaseholders’ mental health?
It is the case that some leaseholders face additional vulnerabilities. Some have had mental health problems and other leaseholders living with disabilities have particular problems. It is important that we develop a comprehensive package for all, so I will look into that.
I welcome the announcement and thank my right hon. Friend for listening to leaseholders who have faced the prospect of bankruptcy because of defects that needed to be put right. In confirming that he will keep in mind that other defects may come to light when cladding is removed, will he commit to looking at that and ensuring that the bodies responsible for the cladding crisis cannot find a place to hide and will be pursued to pay for it?
Absolutely. I totally agree with my hon. Friend that we need to take all means to pursue those who are ultimately responsible. We also need to recognise that, exactly as she said, when remediation work is undertaken, sometimes other flaws are revealed, and they need to be addressed.
I associate myself with all the comments that have been made about my colleague, Jack Dromey.
I welcome the steps forward that we take every time a Secretary of State comes to the House and makes a statement, but it is the steps backwards that we make after those statements that are causing me problems. I have a property in my constituency that is about 18 metres high. The residents have done their own survey and say that it is over 18 metres. The management agency says that it is over 18 metres and should therefore qualify for the building safety fund. These issues though are difficult to resolve. Meanwhile, the residents have been paying out £28,000 a month for waking watch for nearly four years. How retrospective will these measures be? Will my constituents be compensated for what they have unfairly had to pay out? It would have been far cheaper to put in a fire alarm system than to continue paying waking watch. Will we see an end to the EWS1 forms or will RICS come back at us and say that we cannot possibly do that, as it has done before?
I can totally understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration. As my hon. Friend Bob Blackman pointed out, and as the hon. Gentleman’s question lays bare, there is a complex set of inter-related problems. We are making money available to ensure that we can get rid of waking watch in all save a very few circumstances. I recognise that there are people who have faced costs so far, but it depends on individual circumstances as to whether or not—depending on the ultimate owner of the building—they can receive compensation. I do not want to make any guarantees about that in a blanket way today.
On EWS1 forms, we can dramatically reduce their use as a result of the engagement that we have with lenders and with RICS. Again, it will still be the case that, in the meantime—even as we get a more proportionate approach—there will be some 11-to-18 metre buildings where work of that kind will be required, but we absolutely want to reduce it.
I welcome the commitment of the Secretary of State to hold to account those responsible for this. It is morally wrong that leaseholders should foot the bill. I know that this announcement and this progress will be welcomed by residents of Vizion apartments in Milton Keynes as well as by thousands and thousands of others across the country. Can he confirm that this means that the Government are accepting the principle of polluter pays in this instance? How confident is he that the cowboys will cough up without additional taxation?
We do accept that principle, and we will do everything that we can to round up the wrong ‘uns. I do recognise, none the less, that we are dealing with some individuals who have behaved unscrupulously in the past and who will do everything to evade their responsibilities, which is why we need tax as a backstop.
There are many Welsh victims of this particular scandal, including in my own Arfon constituency and elsewhere in Wales, as I am sure the Secretary of State will be hearing about. I am very much in favour of holding the industry to account, but I have to tell him that long experience of trying to hold the cavity wall insulation industry to account, albeit as a Back Bencher, has not been encouraging, so I wish all power to his elbow on that matter. I was glad to hear him say that he will be working with the Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Can his officials look at the issue of companies that work from England and are subject to its strictures, but that also work in Wales, as that might be a complicating factor?
We absolutely will. I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the approach that he outlines. Indeed, we want to work with the Labour-Plaid Cymru Administration in Wales in order to get to the right result.
I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement, but I gently remind him that those who have worked hardest on this issue are Conservative Members supporting their constituents. Two in particular—my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland)—have worked incredibly hard on this issue. Will the Secretary of State confirm that no leaseholder—living in the building or not—living in a building of 11 metres or lower, or having problems with external or internal building defects, will pay any costs whatever?
My hon. Friend makes an important point and allows me to place on the record my thanks to my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland). I completely agree that their campaigning has been incredibly important. It is our intention that the ultimate owner of a building is responsible for all of the safety steps that are required, and we will use statutory means in order to ensure that that happens. That is what we will seek to do with the help of colleagues across the House.
I, too, welcome the statement’s commitment to leaseholders and the fact that it puts businesses on notice, giving them the chance to do the right thing. When will the deadline be up for that chance to do the right thing? Without it, we could just be kicking the can down the road. Leaseholders in Putney will want to know when they can expect to be able to sell their homes and to move on. Will there be a Government guarantee—a letter or similar that they can use with estate agents and others—so that they can move on with their lives? Finally, residents in a Putney building of just under 11 metres have been given a bill of £1 million for remediation. Will they be covered by this?
I will look at the specific case of the building of just under 11 metres that the hon. Lady mentions. More broadly, I would absolutely love to be able to provide people with reassurance that from tomorrow the cloud will be lifted, but as a number of Members have pointed out, there is a complex set of interrelated problems. I believe that we have a means of dealing with them all, and I also appreciate that we need to move at speed. I will come back to the House before Easter with an update on the measures we have taken. I will work with colleagues across the House in order to ensure that we have the right statutory underpinning. Again, I want to confirm that we require everything to go right in order to be able to help everyone who is currently facing difficulties. We will do everything we can. I hope the hon. Lady will appreciate that I would not want at this stage to provide an absolute guarantee for people whose specific circumstances I am not yet familiar with.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, which I very much welcome, and I am incredibly grateful to his Ministers for the time they have spent listening to my concerns and those of residents of The Wharf in my constituency. They have suffered from a lack of transparency and clarity on the work required and whether it needs to be done. As we speak, the management company, Y&Y, is applying to the tier 1 tribunal for costs. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give my constituents, who are very concerned about any outcome that would leave them with bills of between £10,000 and £20,000, payable within the next six months?
Absolutely the intention of today’s statement is to try to address the concerns raised so powerfully by my hon. Friend on behalf of constituents who face those imminent bills. I am really grateful to her for drawing attention to the immensely hard work being done by Ministers in the Department. The Minister for Housing, Lord Greenhalgh and the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes, who has responsibility for rough sleeping, have all been working incredibly hard to engage with colleagues across the House and with others in order to try to move this forward. It has been a collective effort and I am very grateful to my colleagues for that.
It is four and a half years since Grenfell. The Secretary of State has made clear today that the Government have failed to solve the problem, but he then said that his chief action has been to write a letter to developers to ask them to come along to a meeting. That is simply not good enough for the thousands of leaseholders affected in Southwark. The biggest threat in this statement is to allow the backdating of action against those who have installed unsafe products over 30 years, but it is leaseholders who will be forced to take on the legal and other burdens involved, including the fees. Will the Secretary of State therefore amend the Building Safety Bill to finally clarify responsibility and load the burden where it belongs—on the developers, builders and manufacturers—so as to properly protect leaseholders, as Ministers have promised multiple times but which today’s statement fails to deliver?
The proposals that the hon. Member enjoins on me are the ones that we are seeking to bring forward. However, in fairness to the hon. Member, for whom I have a great deal of respect—he is a courageous and doughty campaigner—I can understand a degree of cynicism and/or scepticism, given some of the missteps we have had in the past. If we manage to make progress along the lines that he has outlined, I hope that he will be in a position then to say that his worst fears were not realised. I think it is perfectly legitimate for him, at this stage, to want to see the colour of other people’s money.
Morello Quarter in my constituency has issues not only with cladding but with other building defects such as the apparent lack of firebreaks. Will my right hon. Friend include those in the scope of the measures, or should I go back to my residents and tell them to pursue legal action against the developers, who do not want to engage with me or with them, to try to get a resolution and certainty?
It is our intention to ensure that those who are ultimately responsible—the ultimate owners of the freehold or the real owners of the building—pay in order to make it safe, but I will look specifically at the example that my hon. Friend raises to ensure that we can do everything we can to provide his constituents with the reassurance they deserve.
Will the Secretary of State spell out how the statutory protection he has announced will help leaseholders in developments such as Waterside Park, built by Barratt in my constituency, which does not have a cladding problem, but where apartments have become valueless because of other serious building defects—missing firebreaks and unsafe insulation? How exactly will the statutory protection help them?
I rely on the right hon. Gentleman’s description of the building, but we will talk to Barratt or whoever is the ultimate owner in order to ensure that they live up to their responsibilities, and there are steps that we can take. We will outline what they are when we bring forward appropriate amendments. We will make sure that we test those amendments with him and others to ensure that they meet the need that he has correctly identified. There is still a little bit of legal work to be done to ensure that the amendments are as robust as possible.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the work that the Minister has done as well. I hope it will bring resolution to people in blocks of flats in Plough Lane in the centre of Wimbledon and in Chorus properties. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he will expect and, if necessary, require lenders to base their lending decisions in future on the new risk mechanism, because clearly distress has been caused by people being trapped in their houses?
The Secretary of State has been asked by both sides of the House about protecting social landlords and tenants from remediation costs. Will he answer that point, bearing in mind that the biggest social landlords have said that their new housing programmes will be cut by 40% over the next five years if they have to cover fire safety costs themselves? Affordable housing is at particular risk, as yesterday’s fire in New York showed. Will he study the lessons from that fire, especially as some of the victims were on the lower floors, which he appears to say are at lower risk, and that lack of compartmentalisation rather than cladding was the cause of most of the deaths?
I know that the hon. Gentleman, not least as a former council leader, has considerable experience in this area. He is right that the fire in New York reminds us of the range of risk, and he is also right that we need to take appropriate action to ensure that registered social landlords, housing associations and others are not hit adversely. We need to balance a set of competing goods, but ultimately—as he will appreciate—the most important thing is to make sure that people are in decent, safe homes and that there are more decent, safe homes built where people need them.
My right hon. Friend spoke earlier about lifting the cloud that is hanging over leaseholders. Can he provide reassurance to residents such as those in Banning Street in Romsey, where the building is sub-18 metres, the freeholder is a housing association and the defects are cladding related, that they will be swept up in his reforms? They are looking at costs of £15,000 to £20,000 per leaseholder for new fire escapes, which may well not even be needed. Can he provide reassurance that they will be helped?
I will absolutely look at that specific case. I do not want to say any more at this point, but my hon. Friend raises a very important point. One of the things with housing associations and other registered social landlords is that we need to make sure that the balance of responsibility is appropriate.
Sadly, cladding is not one of the only risks to building safety: flooding is another huge risk. While the Secretary of State is open to looking at amendments to building safety in general, will he also look at strengthening the standards for all new public and private buildings in terms of flood resilience? The Secretary of State promised me a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss my flooding Bill and, as he is a man of his word, I am sure that date will arrive soon in my email inbox.
The hon. Lady makes two very important points. We have already changed regulation with regard to flooding, but more could be done. I will ensure that either I or the relevant Minister sees her before the end of February, if that is okay.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, which will yield significant benefits directly for leaseholders in England. As he has acknowledged, this policy area is devolved and therefore responsibility in Wales falls to the Welsh Government. However, the UK Government, through their initiatives, may well raise significant sums of money for this purpose. What conclusion has he drawn on whether that funding should be ring-fenced for that specific purpose in Wales, rather than diverted to other purposes?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. We of course respect the devolution settlement, but he is absolutely right that money generated for building safety should be devoted, as far as possible, to building safety. I will work with him and others to ensure that the focus is maintained in the way he outlines.
It was a good weekend for Cambridge United, but sadly the misery continues for so many people in and around Cambridge who find themselves trapped in buildings that were not built to the expected standards. As we have heard, it is not just about cladding; it is also about fire breaks and so on. For so many of those people, lack of an EWS1 form means that they cannot move—they are absolutely trapped. What in the Secretary of State’s statement can give them confidence that they will be freed from that trap?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and all supporters of Cambridge United, and I extend my sympathies to Newcastle and Arsenal fans, given the unfortunate events of the weekend. On his very important point, I hope that the withdrawal of the consolidated advice note and its replacement with the BSI-approved PAS 9980 will play a part in helping his constituents and others to be in a position once again to operate fully in the property market. Lenders to whom I have spoken have given our proposals a fair wind so far, but obviously engagement needs to continue.
In welcoming my right hon. Friend’s statement, may I draw his attention to the situation at Nobel House in Redhill? The development has 126 apartments, 86 of which are privately leased, but the ownership of the freehold has changed twice. The managing agents failed to make an application to the initial £1.6 billion building safety fund. I was told in June that a new fund of £3.5 billion would be coming forward, but that is yet to materialise and leaseholders are already having to pay over £2,000 each towards the cost of this exercise. Can they be fully reassured that they will get their money back, given the ownership status of the building?
My hon. Friend raises a very important case. I will look at what we can do to help his constituents. I will not make an absolute promise from the Dispatch Box at this point, but the situation he describes is clearly unacceptable.
The shadow Secretary of State said that we cannot make a building half safe, but some residential buildings are possibly more dangerous than others. In October 2020, over 800 leaseholders and students were evicted from the Paragon blocks in Brentford, with one week’s notice—that is how dangerous they were deemed to be. They were built using a modular form of construction, and the eviction came two years after the flammable cladding had already been removed. I have reason to believe that the Paragon situation—there are other examples across the country—was a result of the modular form of construction, to which the out-of-date building regulations do not apply, as well as poor, shoddy and badly supervised construction works. When will the Secretary of State bring up-to-date building regulations through the system, and when will he address the lamentable culture in the construction industry, which the counsel for the Fire Brigades Union at the Grenfell inquiry described as being driven by an
“agenda of deregulation, privatisation and marketisation”?
When will he do something about that?
The hon. Lady makes an important point about modular construction. Through the Buildoffsite Property Assurance Scheme guidance, we require appropriate adherence to principles with modular construction, which should keep buildings safe. She is right that the Grenfell inquiry has also had a number of accounts from a number of witnesses that raise issues of concern. Although it is important that we continue to take action even before the inquiry concludes, I would not want to pre-empt the inquiry’s conclusion on all the issues she mentions.
My right hon. Friend is entirely correct that this is a substantial step forward, and he and the Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend Christopher Pincher are to be congratulated on it. May I return to the subject of those developers and companies that have gone broke and disappeared since they did the things for which the Secretary of State has rightly castigated them? Some of those have disappeared not for nefarious reasons. Has he quantified how much money will be absent—how big a hole there is in the money that ought to be available—for compensation from such companies? Who is going to fill that hole?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. We want those we can identify as the responsible owner or freeholder of properties to contribute to and meet the needs of fire safety costs, but we are already looking at the wider development community and at construction products manufacturers to help to ensure that we have sufficient resources to provide relief to leaseholders everywhere.
I join the tributes to Jack Dromey. Our shock is all the greater because we thought that he would always be with us; the whole of his life was dedicated to being there for others, as a representative of workers who was very proud to serve his constituents.
I welcome the statement that the Secretary of State has made today. It represents progress—loans were never going to work; they were unfair. However, my constituents will have listened very carefully to the exchanges between the Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Mr Betts, the Chair of the Select Committee and Bob Blackman on the question of liability for non-cladding costs. I have many constituents, as do other Members, whose bill is on the mantelpiece, staring at them. Given that the Secretary of State has offered statutory protection, what are they meant to do with those bills? Can they confidently say, “I do not have to worry about that now, because the Government are going to sort this out”? When he talks about statutory protection, he mentioned protection against forfeiture and eviction. May I add a third risk to that list, which is bankruptcy? That is what many people are facing if they are ever forced to pay these bills that they are not responsible for and cannot afford.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: such people are not responsible for these problems and in many cases they cannot afford the bills. I would not want to give advice precipitately to any individual at the moment about their particular circumstances without knowing every aspect of their particular circumstances, but it is vital that we move as quickly as possible. What I will want to test with him and others is the efficacy of the legislative solution that we propose to bring forward, because I am confident that it will help enormously, but I want to be in a position where he and others have an opportunity to stress test it, so that we get the best possible protection.
Everybody welcomes the statement of principle that it is immoral that innocent leaseholders should pay for remediation of something which was not their fault, but if that is immoral for the future, it is also immoral for everybody who has been pursued ever since the disaster at Grenfell Tower. Therefore, may I urge the Secretary of State to revisit the answers he gave to my right hon. Friend Sir Mike Penning and my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, because otherwise he will be creating a perverse incentive for people to come down on leaseholders and extract rip-off fees before any legislation comes into play if it is only going to be forward-looking?
I very much take my right hon. Friend’s point. We will try to ensure that the legislation deals with the potential perverse incentive to which he alludes.
In opening his remarks, the Secretary of State acknowledged that the problem is not simply developers’ negligence but a failure of regulation, for which the Government are responsible. Leaseholders will fear that today’s announcement will have the effect of kicking a solution further down the road, causing delays for those who have been trapped in an intolerable position for far too long. Does the Secretary of State accept that the best way of seeking a solution is for the Government to fulfil their responsibility by acting to fix the faults without delay and then using all their powers to recover the money from developers and those responsible?
I absolutely take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I think that the legislation we are bringing forward helps to address some of the regulatory failures to which he alludes. I also think it is important to wait for the conclusions of the Grenfell inquiry before apportioning appropriate weight on the responsibility that rests on central Government, the responsibility that rests on local government, and the responsibility that rests on others. I believe the proposals that we have put forward today are the best and most expeditious way of ensuring that we can provide support to leaseholders, but of course we will keep that under review.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a chartered surveyor.
I warmly welcome today’s announcement. May I ask my right hon. Friend about two aspects that he has mentioned in the statement—namely that the indemnity given to building assessors and the proper auditing assessment should enable lenders and insurers to offer those products at reasonable rates fairly quickly? That, in turn, will get the market moving, so that those leaseholders who desperately need to move should soon find that there will be a market for them to do so.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is exactly our intention, and it is the fruit of the work read by my hon. Friend and others.
As a co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform, I pay tribute to all the campaigners up and down the country who have done a sterling job at keeping this issue on the political agenda. They will certainly welcome the principle, set out in the statement, that innocent leaseholders must not shoulder the burden. I hope that applies equally—not just to cladding, but to any other fire safety defects and to the cost of the interim safety measures that have been necessary. The Secretary of State recognised that in the statement by referring to the extra £27 million for waking watches, but leaseholders will have already paid out thousands of pounds for waking watches. Should they now expect some reimbursement for those costs?
I completely understand and appreciate the concerns expressed by the hon. Member. We are seeking to avert additional costs in the future. It will be difficult for us to make good all the injustices that have been visited on his constituents and others. I do not want to oversell what we are putting forward. It is a significant step forward, but it cannot resolve every issue from the past. I enjoyed listening to the conversation that he and the Father of the House had on Times Radio at the weekend, and I echo the very generous comments that he made about the Father of the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for his actions today, particularly scrapping the loan scheme for medium-sized buildings, which will help constituents of mine such as Susan Seal and the Russell Square residents in Horley. I really welcome the onus that he is putting on developers. Does he agree that, along with the other things he has talked about, transparency can be an effective tool in getting people to do the right thing? Would he speak to whether naming and shaming could be part of the solution?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the things that we saw just before Christmas with the Kingspan-Mercedes deal is the way in which public pressure from the Grenfell community meant that a very big corporate—Mercedes—did the right thing. I am very grateful to Toto Wolff and his team for doing that. We need to use a variety of tools, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that transparency is critical.
May I convey my own and my party’s sincerest sympathies to the family of Jack Dromey at this time of great grief and sorrow? He made a significant contribution in Westminster Hall last Thursday, and he will be missed—I want to put that on the record.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for his clear commitment to finding a solution for everyone in this process. It is clear to me that that is what he intends to do, but can the right hon. Gentleman outline what steps he is willing to put in place to ensure that the burden of the cost of replacing cladding is not on the tenants alone? Too many tenants of one-bedroom apartments are being asked to pay thousands of pounds towards this from low wages, while developers are sitting pretty. Will the Secretary of State liaise with the Chancellor to see what tax breaks could be offered to developers who do the right thing by their tenants?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his points. He is right that there are people in small, one-bedroom flats who have been faced with huge costs, which are totally disproportionate and from which we need to relieve them.
Secondly, he makes an important point about being as supportive as possible of developers that do the right thing. A debate such as this will inevitably concentrate on those who need to take additional responsibility, but it is important to stress that many developers, housebuilders and people in the property sector have done the right thing, and we should applaud them for having done so.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, which ticks all the boxes needed to solve this crisis, not least pointing the finger at construction product manufacturers. There is no doubt they have gamed the system to get some of their products approved inappropriately, but that gaming was facilitated by the Building Research Establishment, which, as my right hon. Friend knows, was privatised about 25 years ago. Will he make sure that these manufacturers contribute towards the costs of remediation and will he consider bringing the Building Research Establishment back under public ownership?
My hon. Friend is incredibly knowledge-able about all matters of property and housing. On the first part, absolutely. On the second part, that is a tempting thought, but I will have to discuss it with the Chancellor.
Since last April, I have been seeking answers for a constituent in Cambuslang who has been trying to sell a flat between 11 metres and 18 metres, which was wrongly assessed to have failed the EWS1 form because of cladding. The Scottish Government have launched a free-of-charge assessment pilot, but details about the full roll-out and remediation payments are still pending. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the devolved Administrations about remediating buildings across the UK at greater pace?
I wrote to and was in touch with the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive earlier today, and I look forward to working with them. As the nature of the debate has reinforced, there are people in every party who are interested in practical solutions. That is incredibly helpful in helping to relieve the problems faced by the hon. Lady’s constituents, and by so many others.
I welcome the statement, particularly on 11 metres to 18 metres. That includes flats owned by many of my constituents, who will get a great sense of relief from that. There are still concerns, as colleagues have mentioned, about non-cladding issues. The section of the statement about restoring proportionality was very interesting, but I do not want to be in the same position in three or four months of talking to a leaseholder who cannot sell their property because of non-cladding issues, so the proof will be in the pudding.
An issue that has not been raised is that when the cladding remediation work is carried out, the living conditions those who still live in the building have to live through are often unacceptable. I am certain that if my right hon. Friend visited St Francis Tower in Ipswich, he could not but share my anger at the conditions in which my constituents have to live. I invite my right hon. Friend to St Francis Tower to see the conditions that they are expected to live in.
My hon. Friend makes an important point that sometimes work that is absolutely necessary involves a degree of disruption to people’s ordinary lives that is incredibly painful. Whether it is me or another Minister, we will make sure that someone comes to Ipswich to listen to my hon. Friend’s constituents. He is an incredibly effective advocate for them, and it is only right that we hear direct from them.
Some of the most distressing conversations I have with constituents are with those who have been caught up in this scandal, as are some of the most distressed constituents I have met. They are trapped, unable to move and face unknown costs, none of which is their fault. I warmly welcome the raft of measures announced today, as will they, but the next question will be, what next? What will happen and how quickly? I urge my right hon. Friend to clarify the measures that he has set out as soon as possible, to drive this forward and to bring them the certainty they desperately need.
My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour is absolutely right that people will want greater detail, and greater detail soon. I look forward to working with him and others to provide them with the required reassurance. As I mentioned earlier, although we believe these measures have the potential to resolve many of the issues, I would not want to say that every single individual’s problems will be resolved. We will do everything we can to proceed at speed in providing help.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome today’s announcement, and I am sure many families in my constituency will welcome it, too. Only this weekend we have seen a tragedy in New York, and I am sure I speak for every Member in saying that my thoughts and prayers go out to all affected. This was another electrical fire, and we still have a situation in this country where whether a flat’s electrical installation and appliances are tested depends on the tenure of the flat. It is like only rented cars having an MOT. I have raised this previously, and I will continue to raise it until we do something about it. Safe electrics and safe appliances means fewer ignitions and fewer fires, which means fewer lives lost.
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. Of course there are things we need to do to ensure building safety when it comes to construction products and materials, and when it comes to the quality of development and building control, but he is right that the fundamental aspects of wiring, power supply and electricity in our homes need to be addressed if people are to have the safe homes to which they are entitled.
Last week I led a debate on the broader issue of developers and house builders making large profits from low-quality homes that cause problems for owners and local communities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the safety issues he seeks to tackle today are on a list of issues that people see with these companies, albeit that they are the most serious? That means the public will be very unsympathetic if they see further foot-dragging in trying to get a satisfactory solution.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and he tempts me into a broader debate to which I will return. In a nutshell, many people involved in housing provision, construction and development produce safe, beautiful homes with concern for the environment that enhance our communities, and we need more homes that are safe, decent and sustainable. There are also problems in the system, and the behaviour of certain actors needs to be addressed.
Everyone in this House wants to work with the industry, because having a home of our own is such an important part of our aspirations and ambitions, but we must recognise that more work needs to be done so we can be proud of the sector. I know that was at the heart of the points my hon. Friend made in his Westminster Hall debate.