*Update 29th April* This Bill has now received Royal Assent and is now an Act of Parliament
Following the vote on the Lord’s proposed amendment 4 to the Fire Safety Bill on Monday (March 22nd), I wanted to explain why I voted with my colleagues, and the Government, against this amendment, which was defeated by a majority of 69.
Ministers made it clear in the chamber that, despite the best intentions of these amendment, it has been strongly reiterated by my colleagues in MHCLG, and in the Government, they are unworkable, impractical and will potentially make legislation less clear. Ministers and MPs felt they don’t reflect the complexity involved in apportioning liability for remedial defects. This, alongside the key steps the Government recently announced in order to resolve this issue, are why I was unable to support the Lord’s amendment.
Linking into this, I want to share the steps the Government are taking to support leaseholders and property owners affected by unsafe cladding:
- The Government will pay for the removal of unsafe cladding for leaseholders in all residential buildings over 18 metres (six storeys) in England
- We have committed an unprecedented £5 billion investment in building safety, including the £3.5 billion announced recently. This will ensure taxpayer funding is targeted at the highest risk buildings in line with longstanding independent expert advice.
- Generous finance scheme to provide reassurance for leaseholders in buildings between 11 and 18 metres (four to six storeys), ensuring they never pay more than £50 a month for cladding removal
- Lower-rise buildings, with a lower risk to safety, will gain new protection from the costs of cladding removal through a generous new scheme. This will pay for cladding removal – where it is needed – through a long-term, low interest, government-backed financing arrangement. Under the scheme, no leaseholder will pay more than £50 a month towards the removal of unsafe cladding.
- An industry levy and tax to ensure developers play their part
- We will introduce a developer levy targeting developers seeking permission to develop certain high-rise buildings in England. In addition, a new tax will be introduced for the UK residential property development sector. This will raise at least £2 billion over a decade to help pay for cladding remediation costs. This will ensure that the largest property developers make a fair contribution to the remediation programme.
- These new taxes and levies in no way absolve building owners, builders, construction products manufacturers, warranty providers or insurers from paying for their failures. We strongly urge them to do so, are pleased some have and are supporting further efforts to bring this about.
- A world-class new safety regime to ensure a tragedy like Grenfell never happens again
- We will protect lower future generations from similar mistakes by bringing forward legislation, including the landmark Building Safety and Fire Safety Bills, this year to tighten the regulation of buildings safety and to review the construction products regime to prevent malpractice arising again. This builds on steps we have already taken to establish a world class regime such as setting up a new construction products and building safety regulators.
- Providing confidence to this part of the housing market
- These measures will boost the housing market and free up more homeowners to once again buy and sell their properties. This boost will be backed up by the introduction of new Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors guidance, to be published in March, which will make clearer the circumstances in which an EWS1 is required – freeing hundreds of thousands of leaseholders from the process.
I also wanted to add a really important message from my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Christopher Pincher MP, during Monday’s debate, which preceded the vote, highlighting why the majority of MPs, including myself, voted as we did:
“As parliamentarians, we have a duty to implement a clear framework and transparent legislation to support fire and building safety reform. I am afraid to say that, despite the best intentions of these Lords amendments—I absolutely accept the sincerity with which they have been posited—they are unworkable and impractical. They would make the legislation less clear, and they do not reflect the complexity involved in apportioning liability for remedial defects. I have had extensive conversations about the effects that the amendments might have with my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood, who has pressed me hard on this, as have others.
“These amendments would also require extensive redrafting of primary legislation, resulting in delays to the commencement of the Fire Safety Bill and to our overall programme. They could also have unintended and possibly perverse consequences for those that the amendments are intended to support, and we would still be no further forward in resolving these issues.”
To access the full debate on Hansard, please visit here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-03-22/debates/DE427086-1602-49E9-8A16-4FE006D346E0/FireSafetyBill?highlight=fire%20safety%20amendment#contribution-17A9AA26-5634-4BA7-BEB5-03F927E5EB2C
I hope the above has outlined why I chose to vote as I did, and I know many constituents will perhaps disagree with this decision, but I hope they can understand why I made this difficult choice. I will continue to raise the concerns of all constituents on this matter with colleagues in MHCLG in the weeks and months ahead.
For my further thoughts on this issue, here are some recent pieces I wrote on my website, which I hope you find helpful and informative: