New clause 3 - Duty on the Secretary of State to report on designations under Part XVI of the Housing Act 1985

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 26th October 2021.

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“(1) Within the period of six months beginning with the day on which this section comes into force, the Secretary of State must—

(a) consider the financial impact on leaseholders in England and Wales of building safety advice given by his department since 14 June 2017; and

(b) in conjunction with the Treasury and the Prudential Regulation Authority, consider the impact of building safety advice given by his department since 14 June 2017 on the supply of mortgage finance for leasehold flats in England and Wales; and

(c) publish a report setting out his determination, in light of the factors identified in paragraphs (a) and (b), as to whether designations under section 528 or section 559 of the Housing Act 1985 would improve conditions for leaseholders, or would improve the supply of mortgage finance for leasehold flats in England and Wales.

(2) If the Secretary of State’s report under subsection (1) concludes that designations under section 528 or section 559 of the Housing Act 1985 would improve financial conditions for leaseholders in England and Wales, or would improve the supply of mortgage finance for leasehold flats in England and Wales, then at the same time as publishing his report he must—

(a) make arrangements to provide all necessary funding;

(b) make the appropriate designations under section 528 of the Housing Act 1985; and

(c) advise local housing authorities to make appropriate designations under section 559 of the Housing Act 1985.

(3) Before making any regulations bringing into force any section in Part 4 of this Act, the Secretary of State must make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved the report prepared under subsection (1), to be moved in the House of Commons by a minister of the Crown; and

(b) a motion to the effect that the House of Lords to take note of the report prepared under subsection (1), to be moved in the House of Lords by a minister of the Crown.

(4) The motions required under subsections (3)(a) and (3)(b) must be moved in the relevant House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of five calendar days beginning with the end of the day on which the report under subsection (1) is published.

(5) If the motion tabled in the House of Commons is rejected or amended, the Secretary of State must, within 30 calendar days, publish a further report under subsection (1) and make arrangements for further approval equivalent to those under subsection (2).

(6) The Secretary of State shall make a further report under subsection (1) at least every 90 calendar days beginning with the day of any rejection or amendment by the House of Commons under subsection (5) until otherwise indicated by a resolution of the House of Commons.

(7) In this section—

‘leaseholder’ means the registered legal owner of a long lease; and

‘long lease’ has the same meaning as in section 76 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002.

(8) This section comes into force on the day this Act is passed.

This new clause places a time-limited duty on the Secretary of State to consider making designations under Part XVI of the Housing Act 1985 to provide funding for cladding and fire safety remediation and for Parliament to approve the plans for doing so.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. The new clause places a time-limited duty on the Secretary of State to consider making designations under part 16 of the Housing Act 1985 to provide funding for cladding and fire safety remediation and enables Parliament to approve the plans for doing so.

The principle behind the new clause will be well known to Committee members and, indeed, Members from right across the House. It comes from the eye-watering costs faced by fire safety victims. Earlier in Committee proceedings, we took evidence from Alison Hills, Stephen Day and End Our Cladding Scandal. All talked about the enormous bills they face and the fact that they simply cannot afford to pay them. The new clause requires the Government to report on whether the process of designating these premises as defective could improve leaseholders’ financial position. The 1985 Act presents an interesting precedent of a Conservative Government intervening to establish a scheme to reimburse people who later found themselves to be living in defective premises. The grant funding under the Act covered only 90% of remediation costs; alternatively, it would purchase the home for 95% of the defect-free value.

As drafted, the new clause, tabled in the name of Stephen McPartland, has a couple of challenges, but neither is insurmountable. The 1985 Act scheme applies only to homes purchased from a public authority, but I am sure the Government can find a way to amend that Act—through primary legislation or perhaps by accepting the new clause—so that it applies to the current crisis and bring forward a new proposal to include defective private homes.

The other issue is that the definition of defects in the 1985 Act focused on modes of construction, rather than the specific defects that need to be remediated. It would be a little tricky, but not impossible, for the Government to capture all the fire safety defects they would want covered under the new clause. Indeed, they could introduce statutory instruments that list them, or they could put a duty on the new Building Safety Regulator to report to the Secretary of State on what should and should not be included.

There are obstacles to overcome, but as I say, they are not insurmountable. The question is whether the Government want to overcome them. If the Government continue to refuse to resolve this crisis, Back-Bench Members will continue to find every opportunity to use the Bill to make sure that we can protect leaseholders from these enormous, eye-watering costs. Thatcher’s Government had the compassion and foresight to ensure that those who bought their homes under the right to buy were not left with defective homes through no fault of their own. If even Thatcher’s Government could do that, we hope that Johnson’s Government can finally step up and do the same.

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

Her Majesty’s Opposition support the new clause. Fundamentally, and collectively, we will use every opportunity to try to protect leaseholders from historical remediation charges. As the hon. Member for St Albans argued, where there is a will, there is certainly a way.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd, and I welcome the Committee to the last day of its deliberations on the Bill—and also, may I say, the 70th anniversary of the re-election of Sir Winston Churchill’s 1951 Government, which of course was a great home-building Government.

I thank the hon. Member for St Albans for having raised this important matter, and I entirely understand the motivations that lie behind her attempts to insert this new clause into the Bill, but I am afraid that I will not be able to accept it. Let me explain why, but first, by way of parenthesis, remind the Committee of the unprecedented commitment that the Government have already made: £5 billion of taxpayers’ money invested in grant funding for cladding remediation in buildings of 18 metres and above. As we know, that will protect hundreds of thousands of leaseholders from the cost of remediating unsafe cladding on their homes. We are also stepping in to provide a generous finance scheme for the remediation of lower-rise and, to that extent, lower-risk buildings, which we will say more about later.

I am afraid that our assessment of this proposed new clause is that, although it is well intentioned, it is disproportionate and does not strike the right balance between funding from the private and public purse. If passed, this new clause would mean that private and social buildings of any height could potentially be designated as defective and be eligible for grant funding of 90% of the property’s value, or repurchase by the local authority if we take the two measures together. New clause 3 lacks detail about the types of dwelling covered and clarity about the types of remediation or remediation works to be covered, which provides ample scope and grounds for all sorts of legal interpretation. It is important that our funding decisions are proportional, to ensure that taxpayers’ money is used effectively and protected as far as possible.

I should also point out the unintended—and I am sure that it is unintended—but necessarily consequential effect that this new clause would have on local government. It would place a responsibility on local authorities to purchase defective properties, which in a number of cases would place significant strain on those local authorities. In the past two years, Wandsworth has seen an average uplift in funding of 4.5%. The figure in Lewisham is 5%, and in Enfield it is 4.8%. The Committee needs to recognise the excessive burden that potential costs may impose on local government.

The hon. Member for St Albans mentioned the Housing Defects Act 1984, which is the predecessor of the 1985 Act that this new clause seeks to amend. That Act was designed for very different conditions: the policy was introduced due to issues with the post-war social housing stock. If we compare the costs of the 1984 scheme to which she referred with those of today, we see that the cost burden then was substantially lower than the estimates for remediation required now. In today’s money, the Housing Defects Act was about three times less costly in terms of grant funding than present remediation costs.

The hon. Lady said in her remarks—I entirely understand why she made them—that there are obstacles to the success of this new clause, and that it is for the Government to find a way. I gently say to the Committee that it is for whoever tables a new clause to find a way to make it work, because it is not the job of this Committee to make bad or defective laws, suggestions or reports to the House of Commons. Proposed new clauses or amendments need to be able to work; otherwise it is the Committee’s duty to ask the proposer to withdraw the motion or to vote against it because it does not do the job for which it is intended. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her suggestions, but I respectfully ask that she withdraw the proposed new clause.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I will respond briefly before deciding. I thank the Minister for his considered response. He said that the funding required under the new clause would create a disproportionate burden on the public finances. He will of course be aware that new clause 4, which we will discuss next, proposes a mechanism to enable the Government to recoup some of the costs from those responsible.

The Minister’s second point was about the excessive burdens that would stem from the new clause, but if those burdens do not fall on the state, they fall on leaseholders, who are the innocent parties—the only innocent parties—in all this, so I ask him and the Government to reflect on that.

The Minister’s third point was that it is not the role of the Committee or the Government to fix the new clauses. I respectfully say that it would be entirely possible for the Government to fix this particular problem without requiring any amendments or new clauses at all, because they have set up the building safety fund without creating legislation. They could extend the fund and get on with the job of making people’s homes safe within months, but they choose not to, which is why it falls to Back Benchers to bend over backwards to find ways of forcing the Government to do the right thing. None the less, I am happy at this stage of proceedings to beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.