Motion A

Building Safety Bill - Commons Amendments – in the House of Lords at 7:46 pm on 26th April 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Greenhalgh:

Moved by Lord Greenhalgh

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 6 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 6A in lieu.

6A: Page 11, line 7, at end insert the following new Clause— “Report on certain safety-related matters(1) Before the end of the period of three years beginning when this section comes into force, the regulator must—(a) carry out a cost-benefit analysis of making regular inspections of, and testing and reporting on, the condition of electrical installations in relevant buildings;(b) consider what further provision under the Building Act 1984, or in guidance under that Act, may be made about—(i) stairs and ramps in relevant buildings,(ii) emergency egress of disabled persons from relevant buildings, and(iii) automatic water fire suppression systems in relevant buildings, with a view to improving the safety of persons in or about relevant buildings, and carry out a cost-benefit analysis of the making of that provision.(2) Before the end of that period, the regulator must—(a) prepare one or more reports about the analysis mentioned in subsection (1) (which may also contain recommendations), and(b) give them to the Secretary of State.(3) The Secretary of State must publish any report received under subsection (2).(4) In this section “cost-benefit analysis” means—(a) an analysis of the costs together with an analysis of the benefits that will arise if the things mentioned in subsection (1)(a) are done or the provision mentioned in subsection (1)(b) is made, and(b) an estimate of those costs and of those benefits (subject to subsection (5)).(5) If, in the opinion of the regulator—(a) the costs or benefits cannot reasonably be estimated, or(b) it is not reasonably practicable to produce an estimate, the cost-benefit analysis need not estimate them, but must include a statement of the regulator’s opinion and an explanation of it.(6) In this section—“electrical installation” means fixed electrical cables or fixed electrical equipment located on the consumer’s side of the electricity supply meter;“relevant building” means a residential building or any other kind of building that the regulator considers appropriate.”

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will also speak to Motions B to H.

Here we are again: debating this landmark Bill which will bring forward the biggest changes to building safety legislation in our history. I will turn quickly to the outstanding non-government amendments. Noble Lords, led by the dynamic duo, my noble friends Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Blencathra, extended the definition of “relevant building” to buildings of all heights containing two or more dwellings. As the Government have said on many occasions, we must restore proportionality to the system. That is why we cannot agree to extend leaseholder protections to include buildings under 11 metres. As I have said repeatedly, there is no systemic risk of fire for buildings below 11 metres. Such buildings are extremely unlikely to need costly remediation to make them safe. Despite research and lobbying from a number of areas, the department has been made aware of only a handful of low-rise buildings where freeholders have been commissioning such work, and even fewer where that work was actually based on a proper assessment in line with the PAS 9980 principles.

My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing was clear that leaseholders in buildings below 11 metres should write to my department should they find that their freeholder or landlord is commissioning costly remediation works. I have already intervened directly with building owners and landlords to challenge freeholders, such as in Mill Court, and will continue to do so. Your Lordships can be assured that I will bring my full weight to bear where landlords are looking to carry out works that are not needed or justified. However, given the very small number of buildings involved, it is not appropriate to take forward a blanket legislative intervention and bring hundreds of thousands more buildings into scope. I must point out to noble Lords that doing this could backfire, sending mixed signals and encouraging the market to take an overly risk-averse approach to this class of buildings.

Turning to leaseholder-owned—or collectively enfranchised and commonhold—buildings, the Government’s original proposals included an exemption from the leaseholder protection provisions for leaseholder-owned buildings: those in which the leaseholders have collectively enfranchised, and those which are on commonhold land. Noble Lords agreed an amendment in the names of my noble friends Lord Young and Lord Blencathra—the dynamic duo again—and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, to remove that exemption.

Those noble Lords will know that I have a great deal of sympathy with their position. I know that the amendment is well-intentioned and driven by a desire to protect these leaseholders, and the Government share those aims. However, as I said on Report, these amendments will not have the intended effect of protecting leaseholders living in those buildings. Those leaseholders who have enfranchised would still have to pay, but in their capacity as owners of the freehold rather than as leaseholders. Worse, where some leaseholders have enfranchised and others have not, the enfranchised leaseholders would have to pay for remediation of the whole building in their capacity as owners of the freehold, including the share of remediation costs that would otherwise have been recoverable from those leaseholders who have not enfranchised, once they have paid up to the cap. This would create the perverse situation where the leaseholder protections result in an increase in liability for those leaseholders who have chosen to collectively enfranchise. That is why the other place agreed to reinstate the exemption for leaseholder-owned buildings. My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing announced last Wednesday that the Government would consult on how best leaseholders in collectively enfranchised and commonhold buildings can be protected from the costs associated with historical building safety defects to the extent as all leaseholders.

Turning finally to the qualifying leaseholder contribution caps, the Government proposed that lease- holders’ contributions should be capped at £10,000, or £15,000 in Greater London. We believe that this approach protects leaseholders, while ensuring that work to remediate buildings can get under way. Noble Lords agreed with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to reduce that cap on contributions to zero.

I will not repeat all of the Government’s arguments here, but I want to remind Peers of just how far the Government have come. Leaseholders are fully protected from costs associated with the removal of unsafe cladding. On non-cladding defects, where a developer has signed up to our developer pledge—that is more than 35 developers—they will fix non-cladding defects, as well as cladding defects, in their own buildings, and these leaseholders will pay nothing. If a building owner is, or is linked to, the developer, that building owner will be liable for the costs associated with non-cladding defects, and their leaseholders will pay nothing. If the building owner or landlord is not linked to the developer but has the wealth to meet the non-cladding costs in full, their leaseholders will pay nothing. If a leasehold property is valued at less than £175,000, or £325,000 in London, the leaseholder will pay nothing, and, if the leaseholder has already contributed up to the cap, they will pay nothing. Based on this approach, the Government’s assessment is that the vast majority of leaseholders will pay less than the caps, and many will pay nothing at all.

In relation to safety checks, noble Lords agreed to an amendment that requires the new building safety regulator to look at a number of important safety matters. We have consulted with the HSE and are happy to confirm that we fully accept the principle of this amendment, and the building safety regulator will be happy to take forward these safety reviews. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, for his passionate advocacy in this area. The Government therefore proposed an alternate version of this proposal, which was agreed in the other place. I hope noble Lords will agree that this provides clearer drafting and a more practical and pragmatic approach. Importantly, we have increased the time available to the regulator from two years to three years. This reflects the time needed for the regulator to develop the capacity to carry out these reviews alongside all its other functions. We have also made a number of technical improvements to the Bill, and I am happy to answer questions while summing up.

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat

My Lords, as the person who has just had his name mentioned, I will start my very brief contribution by saying that there will be noble Lords who have a lot of criticism of what has come back from the Commons, but I am not one of them in respect of Amendment 6A. I am very pleased to see that the Government have responded well to the views that were very strongly expressed by Members of your Lordships’ House on all sides on the importance of tackling these issues. The Minister has come back with an amendment that is longer than the one that we tabled, and he has come back with a period of time that is longer than the one that we suggested. I am delighted with the first, which shows that he has better drafters than I had at my disposal, but I am not so happy about the three years.

However, it is going to be a major step forward if we get these issues of fire suppression, stairways and ramps, electrical equipment and safety, and provision for people with disabilities properly examined and costed, with the regulations coming in front of the House and in front of the Secretary of State. Even if it takes three years, it will be a significant step forward, and I am very pleased indeed to see that it is included in this Bill.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Conservative

My Lords, I commend my noble friend again for the way he has managed this Bill through your Lordships’ House; like him, I very much hope the end is in sight. It has been particularly challenging, as he has had to retrofit into the Bill the remediation clauses, while negotiating at the same time with the industry and the Treasury.

On those negotiations, since we last debated the Bill, Ministers have persuaded the last remaining housebuilder—Galliard—to join the pledge to remediate defects in their own buildings, and I very much welcome that. I have one issue to raise on the builders’ pledge, which is restricted to “life-critical fire-safety” work. Can my noble friend confirm that this definition, which appears to be narrower than the one in the Bill, will cover all the necessary work to make a building safe? It would clearly be unsatisfactory if a builder were to argue that some particular aspect of remediation was not life critical, and he therefore did not do it, with the result that the building did not qualify for the relevant certificate and the leaseholder could not sell the building.

On Motion D, I understand why the Government resisted the Lords’ amendment which sought to give enfranchised leaseholders the same rights as unenfranchised leaseholders. My noble friend has just explained the perverse incentive that that would have resulted in. However, inserting that section back into the Bill leaves the enfranchised leaseholders in the firing line for the time being. I will not repeat all of my noble friend’s “read my lips” speech, which we have heard on several occasions, but the last sentence was:

“They are effectively leaseholders that have enfranchised as opposed to freeholders. I hope that helps.”—[Official Report, 28/2/22; col. GC 262.]

The Minister has responded to the amendment that I tabled with my noble friend by announcing a consultation, and I very much welcome that. Perhaps he could say something about the timetable for that consultation—when it will begin, when it will end, and when the conclusions will be announced—because time is fairly critical for some of these leaseholders. I hope he can repeat the commitment that the objective is to put enfranchised leaseholders in the same position as unenfranchised leaseholders—namely, with caps on their contributions, which they do not have in the Bill at the moment. Unless that firm protection is offered, it will undermine all the efforts made by successive Governments and by my noble friend to encourage leaseholders to enfranchise.

I would like to say a word about orphaned buildings. Will the Minister say how he envisages these buildings being remediated if there is no guilty party or freeholder to pursue? We cannot leave those tenants and leaseholders in unsafe buildings that they are unable to sell, and it would be reassuring for them if they knew the Government had a plan to deal with that.

Finally, on Motion H, there are two issues. I am sure that the Minister is right when he says that there are few buildings under 11 metres with serious problems, but the fire at Richmond House burned the building to the ground in less than 11 minutes in September 2019, and it was under 11 metres. Therefore, I very much hope that the case-by-case analysis that the Minister referred to will quickly reveal which buildings are at risk. Following that, can he confirm that they will be remediated without the leaseholders bearing all the costs, which is currently the position under the Bill?

When we debated this on Report, my noble friend Lord Blencathra and I tabled an amendment which effectively halved the cap on leaseholder contributions. However, we were persuaded by the eloquent arguments adduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, that zero was possible under ECHR and we then supported that amendment, which was carried by the House. The Government have made it quite clear that zero is unacceptable, so I see no point in pursuing that at this stage of the Parliament. However, I remain of the view that our original amendment is actually the right way forward, so, while not supporting the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which is quite close to zero, I will not vote against it. I hope that if it is carried, the Government will retable my and my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s amendment in the other place, and bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 8:00 pm, 26th April 2022

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the constructive amendments that the Government have tabled at this stage and for listening to the noble Lords, Lord Young and Lord Blencathra, who have been very helpful during the passage of the Bill. However, there are still concerns outstanding, as has just been said, so I will speak now to my Motion H1 as an amendment to Motion H.

We on these Benches have consistently argued that all leaseholders should be protected from the cost of remediating historical cladding and non-cladding defects and the associated secondary costs, irrespective of circumstance. Although we fully acknowledge that the waterfall system set out in Schedule 8 provides leaseholders with a far greater deal of protection than was proposed when the Bill first came to us, when it was originally drafted, it does not protect all of them fully. Just as importantly, the Bill does not provide redress for the countless blameless leaseholders across the country who have already been hit with huge bills and have paid out significant sums as a result.

That is why I have tabled Motion H1 to reduce leaseholder contributions to a maximum of £250. I am aware that the Government have said that leaseholder contributions are fair in principle because they will apply in only a very limited number of cases. The Minister has said that leaseholders will pay up to the cap or a proportion of the cap in only a minority of circumstances. However, if it is only a very small number of cases that we are talking about, why are the Government so reluctant to provide proper and full support? For many people, £15,000, or £10,000 as the cap currently stands, is simply an impossible sum to find.

Leaseholders have refused to give up. They recognise more than anyone that the situation they face is simply not fair, and your Lordships’ House recognised that by supporting the amendment that I tabled on Report. I ask for noble Lords’ continued support in agreeing Motion H1 and, in so doing, to acknowledge the determination and persistence of the leaseholders and cladding groups that have been pressing for redress in this matter.

In sticking rigidly to the position that a minority of leaseholders will have to pay sums that, although capped, are still significant, in order to resolve a scandal that they played no part in causing, we believe that the Government are not acting equitably and will not ensure that the most vulnerable leaseholders will be protected. Our Motion H1 would provide such protection. If the Minister is unable to accept it, we will seek to divide the House, with a view to ensuring that all leaseholders are fully protected.

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Conservative

My Lords, I apologise to the House for missing the first two minutes of my noble friend’s magnum opus; the last business went slightly faster than I had anticipated. I declare a personal interest as a leaseholder in a block of flats that may contain some non-cladding works that may require remedial treatment.

I have to praise my noble friend the Minister yet again for the tremendous changes that have been made to the Bill since it came from the other place. I also congratulate my right honourable friend Michael Gove on forcing all the big building companies to sign up, including bringing the Galliard Homes horse kicking and neighing to the water, although he will need to ensure that it and the other companies actually drink the water—they will throw millions at lawyers to weasel out of what they have signed up to.

I am told that the owner of Galliard Homes, Stephen Conway, has accused Michael Gove of acting like Al Capone and the mafia. My respect for young Gove increases by the minute. Conway had an estimated worth of £270 million in 2015; imagine what he is worth now. It seems to me that the owners of the big building companies have made their billions by being a bit more ruthless mafiosi than Michael Gove ever was. However, that is for another day.

Despite the excellent progress on the Bill, there are still some gaps. I regret that we do not have anything specific in the Bill protecting enfranchised leaseholders. All Governments have encouraged leaseholders to buy out the freehold. Those who have done so are still exactly the same as other leaseholders who have not, and they should get the same protection. I welcome the consultation but I hope it is speedy, and I hope that, if legislation is necessary or this can be done by regulation, that is brought in as quickly as possible.

I acknowledge that the Government have increased the number of properties qualified under buy to let, but in my opinion they have not gone far enough. As a small buy-to-let owner said to me, why does the Bill support with cost-capping a billionaire oligarch non-dom with two buy-to-let leasehold flats in Mayfair, valued at millions, yet leave completely exposed a pensioner buy-to-let leaseholder with a small portfolio of just four flats? These people are not big landlords. Although nothing can be done in this Bill now, I hope something can be done in future.

Nor am I happy that we are planning to reject buildings under 11 metres. They may not be as big a risk but they are unsellable. When an estate agent or lawyer tells prospective buyers that the flat they have looked at has some dangerous cladding—but not to worry because you will probably get out in time if it burns down—I do not think that they will find many buyers. These flats are simply unsellable.

Finally, I disagree with the removal of “zero”, and like the Opposition’s amendment of £250. I do not accept that the government caps set a proportionate balance, as was said in the other place by my right honourable friend Stuart Andrew MP, who was also an excellent Deputy Chief Whip in his time. As Michael Gove said, no leaseholders should pay a penny for any remediation works. We heard impeccable legal advice in this House from the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and a former Supreme Court Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, saying that making leaseholders pay in order to avoid an ECHR challenge was misguided and wrong. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said, the challenge will happen in any case, no matter what level the Government set the cap at, and those building companies will try it on.

If Motion H1 succeeds today, I do not want the Government in the other place to take on the role of the wonderful Ukrainian Snake Island defender, Roman Grybov, who offered sexual advice to the Russian warship. We are not the “Moscow”, and I hope that the Government will bring forward a compromise amendment, perhaps higher than £250 but much lower than the government caps.

With those quibbles, I wish to congratulate my noble friend yet again on the massive progress he has made with this measure. “One more heave”, as Jeremy Thorpe said in 1974—but hopefully with a bit more success.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

My Lords, I have been living with this matter since we first debated the Fire Safety Bill in 2020. I declare an interest as chair of the Built Environment Committee. I believe that the building industry has an important part to play and has tried to rise to the table in the current circumstances. The Government, and my noble friend the Minister in particular, are to be congratulated on all they have done to find a way through on cladding, but the measures legislated for are inevitably costly and should not, in my view, be legislated for in respect of buildings under 11 metres, as proposed in Amendment D1.

I have some news for my noble friends. Since Michael Gove’s Statement on 10 January about proportionality and common sense, the logjam in buildings under 11 metres has eased. I have experience of this, relating to a family leaseholder in a nearby village, where there is now a less absolutist and more flexible approach to fire safety in a block of homes; this has become apparent in recent weeks since the changes were made. I believe, therefore, that there is a limit as to what we should provide on a contingency basis. I do not believe that taking the proposed powers, as now suggested, is justified. I think that the situation is improving in relation to buildings under 11 metres, and we should welcome that and see how that approach can be progressed.

I end by thanking my noble friend the Minister for the progress that has been made. Obviously, there are horrific problems, right across the board, in relation to taller buildings and cladding. Howeever, I urge people to be a little careful in bringing into the legislative framework, without looking at all the details, a very much larger number of homes.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

My Lords, like everybody else, I think it has been refreshing to be in a situation whereby the debates in this place have been listened to and changes made. On a number of other Bills, one has not had that feeling—but in relation to this we definitely have.

I want to emphasise the key issue of buy-to-let leaseholders. They can be presented as big landlords, but I remind the Minister that many people were advised that investing in property would be an important way of being sensible and would provide them with an income or a pension and so on and so forth. So people did this in good faith. They are not landlords. They are leaseholders; they just have more leasehold flats. They are not big business. They are being treated differently if they have a small portfolio of four properties. This needs to be looked at, because it feels wrong that such people should be punished.

Secondly, I am very mixed about the 11-metre question. I agree that the danger of an unintended consequence here would be to say that, if you paid the remediation for under 11 metres, everybody would rush out and start remediating under 11 metres when it is not necessary. I am delighted to hear the Minister’s pledge, which I hope we will keep him to, that anyone having a problem with a building under 11 metres can get in touch if they are being charged. However, there is the problem of sales, and people feeling that they have unsellable flats; the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, mentioned this. That is the approach I want to feel that we leave this Bill with: that leaseholders can come to the Minister with these kinds of problems that are unintended consequences.

I was one of the people who was very enthusiastic about having some kind of ongoing review—although we did not go down that route. The unintended consequence of what has in the end been a bit of a risk-averse panic over the past few years—which I understand—is that everything is seen as a fire risk. This has led not to keeping people safe but to making people very poor and not solving the safety problem. Let us hope, therefore, that things such as consultations and these kinds of questions will be taken seriously, because one thing I have heard consistently from leaseholders is that, although there is a lot of talk about listening to leaseholders and tenants—we heard that post Grenfell; we all know that Grenfell residents had tried to raise issues but were ignored—they still do not quite feel that they have a way of having a voice. That is an important thing for the Minister to carry on with.

I support Motion H1, because I want to push the Government one last time on this question. Ultimately—this is a very important point—the number is small but, on principle, we just want to be in a situation where the leaseholders are not paying. That is really what is being argued here: leaseholders, who were always the innocent people in this, should not pay.

Finally, because I think this can get lost, I have tried to represent the voices of at least some leaseholders—particularly those from Tower Hamlets, where I know the Lib Dems in particular have been brilliant at raising all these issues. It is an area where there are more problems around the leaseholder question than anywhere else, but greater remediation; I have been really inspired by that.

I also remind noble Lords that I want more houses to be built. This is a huge, important part of levelling up or whatever it is. We just need more houses built. I have always been concerned that we do not do anything that ends up destroying the construction industry or having the outcome that no houses are built—risk aversion in housebuilding. Part of what has happened is that people now understand the downside of being a leaseholder. Even if you are building those houses, you now think, “Why would I buy a leasehold flat?” I can assure you that, if I ever buy a flat again, after I have sold my leasehold flat—I am going to get rid of it as quickly as possible—I will not then want to buy a leasehold flat. I just think it is too scary.

So I hope that, in the next parliamentary Session, we will have a chance to discuss leasehold in more detail and to reform it, and have more initiatives that mean that more houses are built, but in collaboration with people such as leaseholders, who can advise on some of the pitfalls of building too quickly and put forward safety concerns.

Photo of The Earl of Lytton The Earl of Lytton Crossbench 8:15 pm, 26th April 2022

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baronesses, Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lady Fox. I pay tribute to the efforts of the Secretary of State and the Minister to achieve significant changes in the face of a very difficult situation. That should never be understated. If it has been too slow for some seriously challenged individual households, the Bill is undoubtedly immeasurably better than when we started. Obviously it was a disappointment to me that several key elements were rejected in the House of Commons, and I remain concerned by the sub- 11 metre exclusion, buy to lets, enfranchised blocks and orphan buildings, about which so much has been spoken. Although the point that the perpetrator should pay was not before the House of Commons, the problem remains a real one: the problem of funding does not go away.

On the 11-metre cut-off, it has been consistently said that with the measured and proportionate response that the Government say they have adopted, there is no systemic risk for low-rise properties. I do not know whether this means that other mitigations, such as alarms, smoke detectors or sprinklers, may be appropriate, but the claim seems to lack a basis in data. The point was well made in the seventh report of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee of the other place and followed by an Answer to a Question for Written Answer of mine: without data, assertions regarding risk, mitigation options and cost-benefit lack foundation and create doubt.

If the Government are saying that adding sprinklers, smoke detectors and alarms to such buildings is an acceptable means of overcoming an initial failure in construction, I ask the Minister to be aware that there is a reputational and moral hazard here. If those are seen as workarounds to deal with essential, original compartmentation in buildings, I would really worry about how that will be taken forward and potentially abused in the future. I just do not want to go there; this one has been bad enough. So we rely heavily on government assertions that they will have the powers to deal with these issues.

I acknowledge that the Secretary of State has made considerable progress on the developer pledge but, as the British Property Federation observes, it does not cover sub-11 metre buildings and, in several aspects, as the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said, it may be inconsistent with the Bill. But if, as I am led to understand, this will be enforced by denying developers planning consent, apart from the questionable basic legality of such an intervention in planning and development laws, it should be noted, as I have said to the Minister before, that planning consent runs with the land, not with the applicant, and even less with whoever happens to be the current owner. That is a matter of law, not of debate.

I was also led to believe that one of the reasons why the perpetrator-pays approach would not stand the test is that it means backdating to a previous era, beyond what would normally be covered by the provisions of the Limitation Act. If I am right and a fundamental failure to meet the mandatory provisions of building regulations from 1965 and at all times since is, in fact, an offence, time cannot run against the commission of an offence in favour of the perpetrator. I am a bit fearful that aspects of the Bill could be regarded as arbitrary and discriminatory as between classes of owner and the nature of liabilities, touched on by other noble Lords. In a sense, that might lead to its own legal trajectory in another area.

I hope the Government have a constant process of rolling review of what is going on here, because if we do not deal with ongoing market turbulence, lack of confidence, economic attrition and the victims in all this simply concluding that they have been hung out to dry in some way, that will really be a system failure and we will not have delivered on the promise given by Ministers in the other place and here that leaseholders should be kept free of these costs, for which they were entirely blameless. I am absolutely sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, will say just that in a minute.

I finish by paying tribute to noble colleagues with whom I have worked and particularly to the many leaseholders and their groups. They have campaigned for justice and proper defect remediation. My arguments here have been fuelled by their plight, and I intend to keep reminding the Government that this matter, until it is all put to bed, will have to remain in their line of sight.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and to hear that he intends to keep a close eye on this, because that will clearly be needed well into the future.

I rise to offer Green support for Motions D1 and H1 and to make a single point about how I see these fitting together. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and others said that the leaseholders are the absolutely innocent parties here—but, more than that, it is important to say that they are the injured parties. They have been injured over years and years of stress and worry, both financial and about their physical safety, given where they are forced to live. Think about going to bed every night fearful about what is going to happen. They are the victims of the policies of successive Governments who have allowed the building industry to act as a cash cow rather than a provider of secure, affordable, decent homes.

There are still a lot of steps down the road, but if we pass Motions D1 and H1 we give those leaseholders and owners the clarity and certainty that they will be looked after, whether or not their building is under 11 metres, and that they will not be hit with a bill that they still cannot afford to pay, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said.

I was tempted to say that your Lordships’ House should put one last heave behind the Building Safety Bill, but then I thought that was a slightly unfortunate metaphor in the context we are talking about. I will pick up what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said: the campaigners have done so much work and have fought so long and hard on this. Let us buttress that and put in the final supports they need to get the Bill we should have.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, it is good to recognise that the Bill has indeed been transformed during its passage through Parliament, but the major transformation point was initiated by the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, when he said that

“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.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/1/22; col. 283.]

I agree, as many others across the House will. Unfortunately, however, the Bill currently does expect some leaseholders to pay. My colleagues and I are asking the Government today to think again.

The Government argue that Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights ensures a balance of rights between property owners and leaseholders, which in their view means that leaseholders have to pay towards the costs. That is the basis of the Government’s argument for the cap of £10,000 and £15,000. However, that view was comprehensively challenged by my noble friend Lord Marks, whose argument was endorsed fully by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, on Report. Senior legal minds in this House agree that it is possible within the ECHR for innocent leaseholders to pay nothing.

This legitimately opens up the opportunity, which must be grasped, for the Government to accept that leaseholders must not pay a penny whatever the height of the building, hence Motion D1 in my name to include buildings under 11 metres so that leaseholders in those buildings do not pay. As the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, rightly reminded us, a building under 11 metres has been destroyed by fire in under 11 minutes. We really need to think again about those buildings under 11 metres. However, I thank the Minister for the assurances he has given to those leaseholders in buildings under 11 metres at the Dispatch Box today and for urging them to get directly in contact with him if they get any invoices for remediation works. I am sure I will be holding him to account on that one, as will the leaseholders, and I am sure they will get in touch with us across the House to make sure that they do not pay. They must not.

What I do know is that the Government need to think again about the leaseholder cap. My Motion H2 reduces the cap back to zero, where it should be. I remind the House of the commitment by Secretary of State Michael Gove that leaseholders should not be paying the cost incurred as the result of the sometimes deliberate actions of others. The Minister himself has acknowledged tonight that some leaseholders will still pay, when we agreed in January at the very start of this great transformation that they are blameless and it is morally wrong that they should have to be the ones to pay the price. We have looked after many leaseholders but not all.

Obduracy in the face of moral right is a failure of political leadership. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches will support the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in her Motion H1 to achieve a degree of improvement to the lot of leaseholders, who have shouldered the burden of anxiety and fear for too long and whose campaigning efforts have achieved so much.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My Lords, I must thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I am not sure; maybe we are close to that point where we can say, “One more heave”. I want quickly to turn to Amendment 94 and Motion D1, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, to the Government’s Motion D, where she disagrees with the Government. I explained in my opening speech the reasoning behind our Amendment 94A and I do not propose to repeat my arguments. I simply remind noble Lords that the approach the Government have proposed is sensible. Setting the threshold at 11 metres will help restore proportionality to the system, as also argued by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the Government have committed to consult on how best leaseholders in collectively enfranchised and commonhold buildings can be protected. On timescales, in response to my noble friend, I think we said “soon”. I shall strengthen that and say “as soon as possible”. That is a big concession.

I turn to Motion H1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, as an amendment to the Government’s Motion H. It would replace a zero cap in a previous amendment with £250 for leaseholder contributions, while Motion H2 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, disagrees with the Government’s caps.

Motion H1 would make changes to the leaseholder contribution caps in Schedule 8 and reduce them to £250, up from the zero cap in her previous amendment. Motion H2 disagrees with the Government’s Motion and would return the caps to zero. As I said in my opening speech, the Government have been clear that setting the leaseholder contribution caps to zero or to a nominal level, such as £250 or £25 a year for 10 years, would not be a proportionate approach. I reiterate the Government’s commitment to protecting leaseholders. Indeed, it is hard to overstate how far-reaching our proposed protections are. They represent a hugely significant and robust improvement on the existing position for leaseholders.

I shall briefly respond to two important questions raised by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. The developer pledge will require developers to tackle life-critical fire safety issues in buildings they have had a role in developing. If freeholders are acting proportionately, we do not expect that additional work will be required in most cases. If any such additional work is required, the leaseholder protections in the Bill will apply, as I have outlined on many occasions.

On my noble friend’s question about so-called orphan buildings, also raised by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, the Government do not think that this is a problem. A funded plan is in place for the removal of unsafe cladding. Freeholders will not have to bear those costs. For non-cladding defects, freeholders will be able to recover some funds from leaseholders and from other landlords with an interest in the building. The ambitious toolkit of measures in the Bill will allow them to pursue those directly responsible for defects through the courts.

Through these measures, we believe that costs can be spread equitably across the system, meaning that no single party will face costs they cannot afford. Should any freeholder seek to avoid their responsibilities by, for example, declaring themselves insolvent, orphaning their buildings, there are powers in the Bill to extract funds from them and their associates, including through the insolvency process.

I hope that, with those further explanations, noble Lords will be content to support the Government’s amendments today—but I expect not.

Motion A agreed.