It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, and the fact that you managed to allow 19 people to contribute to this debate is significant. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Reed. He spoke only briefly today, but I know the assiduous work that he has put into this issue over a long time. His constituents should be proud of what he is trying to achieve. This has been a rightly challenging debate, and I hope that the Minister will take that on board. He is relatively new in office and has the capacity to begin to effect a change and recognise that this challenge is legitimate. This is not moral panic or outrage; this is a basic safety case that we must take on board.
Many years ago we had a major fire in Manchester—the Woolworths fire—and those of us of an older disposition, like myself, remember it well. People died and as a result the law was changed and polyurethane foam was banned for use in domestic furniture. We must be prepared to be radical if we are to make our safety case. My hon. Friend Matthew Pennycook made a point about fire marshals. It is good to see those marshals, but they cannot be a permanent solution—it is a short-term safety case. We must look towards the longer term, which is about ensuring that those buildings are safe from fire as far as is humanly possible. That will mean the removal of existing cladding where that is inappropriate, and its replacement with more suitable materials.
I want to begin by talking about the question of responsibility, which has engaged Members from all parts of the Chamber. It is important to say that leaseholders cannot seriously be expected to foot these enormous bills. I think it was my hon. Friend Sarah Jones who quoted from the Minister’s letter, which used words identical to those of the Secretary of State in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North. I say this kindly to the Minister, but it is not enough for him to write that
“I believe that the morally right thing is for the building owner to take responsibility for meeting the cost of remediation”.
The Minister is a lawyer, so he will know that moral rectitude will not stand up in court or pay the leaseholders’ bills. I am not sure whether this still applies, but in the early moments of the situation with Citiscape, the freeholder was saying to leaseholders that unless they were prepared individually and collectively to agree to pay for the remedial works, no remedial work would take place. That is not moral responsibility; that is an outrage. We collectively have to do something about it.