All 1 Lord Leigh of Hurley contributions to the Building Safety Act 2022

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Mon 28th Feb 2022

Building Safety Bill

Lord Leigh of Hurley Excerpts
My noble friend has a chance to achieve two of these aspirations. If he accepts our great amendments, which we are thrusting on him, then he will himself achieve greatness; when this Bill is an Act, he too can have the epitaph, although not too soon of course, of that great British builder Sir Christopher Wren at St Paul’s Cathedral: “Si monumentum requiris circumspice”—if you seek his monument, look around you. This Bill could be a great monument: safe housing for all our citizens.
Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con)
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My Lords, with some trepidation after that, I rise to speak to my Amendment 94ZA, as advertised by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. I welcome the Government’s clear commitment that no leaseholder in a medium or high-rise building will have to pay to remove dangerous cladding, so I therefore support the significant legislative changes being introduced in this Bill. I am also pleased to see that legislation is coming forward to identify the beneficial owners of freehold and leasehold properties, because without that I am not sure how this Bill would work in its entirety. We need to know who owns property in the UK.

However, there is a small group of leaseholders who have fallen through the Government’s net of protections. They are leaseholders who have already paid for the removal of ACM Grenfell-type cladding from their buildings through an exceptional service charge imposed by their landlords, but whose landlords have unilaterally decided not to pursue available government remediation funding because they have no incentive to do so, given that the leaseholders have already borne all the costs. No encouragement by or pressure from their leaseholders or the Government has resulted in any change in their position, particularly in one specific case of which the Minister is aware.

This was not the intent of the well-meaning government cladding remediation scheme, as it assumed that landlords would behave appropriately. The scheme required applications to be made by landlords. Leaseholders had no right to do so directly, nor could they force landlords to seek funding. As a result, these leaseholders remain without reimbursement for the considerable sums that, in some instances, they have expended on removing dangerous cladding to live safely.

This behaviour has been described in the other place as outrageous; my noble friend the Minister described it as unacceptable in his Written Answer to me on 26 January. However, the Government’s proposed legislation does not expressly address this inequitable situation. My O-level Latin was even worse than that of most Members of the Committee, so to provide some balance I will quote from my coat of arms the Hebrew “Im low achshav aymarthie”, which, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who is not in his place, would explain, means “If not now, when?”

Paragraph 8 of new Schedule 9 prohibits a service charge being payable under a qualifying lease in respect of cladding remediation if the tenant was resident at the qualifying time, as we have heard. This does not help resident tenants who have already paid up by way of service charge before the Bill becomes law. My proposed amendment extends paragraph 8 of Schedule 9 to include situations where resident tenants have paid for cladding remediation at any time during the five years before the commencement of the Bill. This will leave the landlord with the choice of applying for available qualifying remediation funding or having to reimburse relevant resident tenants out of their own funds.

I appreciate that this will be relevant in only a small number of situations but that is not a reason not to have legislation. There is a glaring hole in the legislation, and we have the opportunity here to correct it. I can see that some might argue that this is retrospective, but it is not because the amendment covers only situations where the lessees have paid and the freeholders will not act as they should. It is up to the Minister, inspired by the call to arms, to widen this amendment—on Report if not here—to cover future situations where lessees pay for recladding as they are fed up with waiting for landlords, knowing that, if this amendment passes, the freeholders will be forced to apply for reimbursement.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak to my Amendments 93 and 94. I thank the Minister for explaining the many amendments relating to the costs of remediating cladding and other fire safety and building defects, including who will pay and how.

However, my amendments are to his Amendment 92 and are about my favourite issue, which is that leaseholders should not pay a penny. It is not their fault. The Government and everybody else accept that, and therefore, they should not pay anything. The easiest way of ensuring this is to amend the government amendment to change the maximum amount—that is, the cap—to £15,000 or £10,000, be it in London or outside London, to a peppercorn; in other words, to zero, zilch, nothing. This would achieve the aim I started with two years ago.

There are reasons for this. The Minister may not want to do it, but I certainly do. He said, “Of course”, so I assume he will now accept my amendment. However, if it helps the Minister, I am willing to exclude paragraphs 6(4) and 6(5) of the new schedule proposed by Amendment 92. They relate to properties with a value of £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 or more.

I appreciate that the Minister and others in the Government have laboured long and hard to reach a more just outcome for leaseholders. However, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, the letter we received said that the Secretary of State had stated on behalf of the Government that leaseholders must not be required to pay anything. That is what my amendment would achieve. The building failures were not theirs. As we have all agreed, those who made the failures, who put up flammable cladding and failed to put in firebreaks, are the ones who have to pay.

In his introduction to his amendments, the Minister said that cap will be offset by costs already being paid for waking watch, fire alarms and other such things, which will reduce the final liability. In that case, why on earth are we pursuing it? Let us say that the amount liable is £7,000. If it is paid over a period of five years, that is less than £1,500 a year. What bureaucracy will be set up to collect that? The cost of collecting it will almost certainly outweigh the benefits. So there is a practical reason as well as a reason of justice, and I guess that the Minister will therefore accept my amendment. We will have a whole new bureaucracy for nothing very much. It is not a practical proposal at all, and it is not a just one.

The amendment is straightforward, but there are one or two things I want to ask the Minister to explain and to give some very straightforward answers to some very easy questions. Some things are not clear from all this. There are good intentions in all these clauses to try to solve who pays for remediation, but what happens if nobody pays up? Who takes on the liability? Secondly, if they all go to litigation—which is my guess about what is going to happen, and we heard earlier that there are already moves in that direction—that could take a long time. So what happens then when buildings are not safe? Who will pay for the removal of the cladding and putting right the fire safety defects? Are we expecting leaseholders, shareholders and tenants to remain in those unsafe buildings for all that period of time? So who will pay, and what about the timing? If we do not get the cash, what happens and, with that timing, what happens—peppercorn rents excepted? My noble friend Lord Stunell will wind up for us on these Benches.