I am bitterly disappointed that the Government has passed the Fire Safety Bill with no protection for leaseholders, who are facing ruinous bills to fix dangerous cladding.
But please be assured: this fight is not over.
For the last four years, Labour has been urging the Government to move further and faster to tackle the building safety crisis and support the people up and down the country who have been caught up in it.
The Government have been too slow to act, and we have tried to force them into action. Nearly four years after the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, around 700,000 people are still living in high-rise blocks with flammable cladding. Leaseholders have been trapped in this impossible position for far too long.
A House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report said progress on remediation has been “unacceptably slow”, with residents facing exorbitant costs of funding interim safety measures and many residents reporting worsening mental health as a result.
Over the last year I have spoken to hundreds of people in this appalling situation, across the country. I appreciate and deeply sympathise with the cost, anxiety and stress many leaseholders have endured caused by problems for which they bear no fault.
Labour repeatedly tabled amendments to the Fire Safety Bill to try to force the Government to honour its promises that remediation costs will not be passed onto leaseholders, but Ministers repeatedly rejected our amendments. Instead, the Government has proposed a loan scheme, which would leave many leaseholders bearing the cost. Ministers have also said that the issue of responsibility for remediation costs should be addressed in a separate piece of legislation – the Building Safety Bill.
I supported the Lord Bishop of St Albans’ latest amendment to the Fire Safety Bill. I also supported similar Labour amendments to the Bill. These amendments would have given leaseholders a guarantee that building owners cannot pass on the costs of any remedial work in the time before the Government brings forward its promised reforms in the separate Building Safety Bill.
I am deeply disappointed that the Government repeatedly refused to vote for our amendments, which has meant that the Bill will now pass without vital protections for leaseholders. As a result, leaseholders will be hit with five-figure bills and long-term debt for a problem they did not cause.
At every stage of the Fire Safety Bill, Labour has pushed for protections for leaseholders to be added into the legislation. Each time we gave the Government a chance to do this, they chose to ignore our calls. It is shameful that the Conservatives refused to act, but we on the Labour benches will not stop fighting for leaseholders. I will keep on pushing Ministers to support leaseholders with the costs of remediation now before pursuing building companies and developers who are responsible.
The Queen’s Speech is in two weeks’ time – it must contain a Building Safety Bill that protects leaseholders in law which is introduced to Parliament immediately.
The Government could fix this problem now if they wanted to. They could bring forward funding to fix dangerous buildings and spare leaseholders the threat of bankruptcy. Every day they choose not to is a betrayal of leaseholders.
For the memory of those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire, the Government must right these wrongs, learn the lessons and protect the hundreds of thousands who face daily uncertainty, fear, and bills.