The Government “has been incompetent” in its handling of the cladding crisis in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, a Conservative MP has said.
Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) used a Commons debate on cladding brought forward by Labour to call on the Government to protect leaseholders from having to stump up huge sums to fix building defects, including the removal of flammable cladding.
Mr McPartland and his Conservative colleague Royston Smith (Southampton Itchen) have tabled amendments to the Fire Safety Bill in a bid to stop remediation costs being passed on to leaseholders and tenants.
Several Conservative MPs offered their support for the amendments, signalling the Government faces a strong challenge when the Bill returns to the Commons, despite housing minister Christopher Pincher asking for them to be withdrawn after citing concerns they would not achieve their intended purpose.
Mr Pincher also said the Government will announce “very shortly” a financial solution to protect leaseholders from high costs to deal with unsafe cladding.
On Twitter, Mr McPartland accused Labour of getting residents’ hopes up by tabling a non-binding opposition day motion calling for similar measures and urged the party to back his amendments when the Bill returns to the Commons.
During an opposition day debate, he told the Commons: “I also believe that the Government has been incompetent, the department, throughout this saga.
“They’ve created a whole host of these problems especially with the consolidated advice note they published in January 2020.
“That effectively made sure that buildings which were over six storeys, over 18 metres, were involved in this crisis. But the consolidated advice note then made sure that any building of any height, so that took it from around 1,700 buildings to well over 100,000 buildings.
“On top of that, cladding on buildings under 18 metres right now can still be built with combustible cladding.”
He added: “I will not accept loans to leaseholders. If the Government announces that, I will not accept it, I will vote against it. We cannot have leaseholders pay mortgages of £150,000 which is 90% and then maybe having to pay a loan on top of £75,000.”
Mr Smith added: “Regardless of what happens today, this Government has an opportunity to sort this out once and for all. This Government can give leaseholders the certainty and security which they deserve and let the unwitting victims of this crisis once again sleep soundly in their beds at night.”
The Father of the House of Commons added: “What needs to be ruled in: first of all making the money available so that buildings can be made safe. Secondly, challenging the insurance industry who are putting premiums up by rates which I think should be investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority to see if they are fully justifiable.”
Fellow Conservative Bob Blackman (Harrow East) added: “It is fundamental that leaseholders should not have to pay a penny piece towards the cost of remediating the unsafe cladding that is there.”
Conservative MP Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) told the Commons: “For too many local leaseholders, the nightmare of towering costs still looms large and is a source of everyday stress.”
Earlier in the debate, Mr Pincher said he fully understood what Mr McPartland and Mr Smith were attempting to achieve via their amendments.
He added: “It is clear that the scope of the amendments as currently drafted would only apply to those residents and leaseholders who have had a fire risk assessment undertaken, not to those residents who have suffered an incident or had works done for any other reason.
“Nor are the amendments sufficiently drafted to allow them to be introduced into the Bill without significant change to the Bill both to primary legislation and secondary legislation that must follow.
“As a result, the amendments – if accepted – would significantly impair the progress of the Bill through the House, it would delay it, and I’d therefore encourage my honourable friends – having looked carefully at their amendments – to withdraw them.”
But Chris Green (Bolton West) urged the Government to build on the amendments made by his Conservative colleagues if it does not believe they are suitable, adding: “This is about people’s safety and people’s wellbeing – physically as well as mentally. So many people have put their lives on hold waiting to move on.”
Labour’s shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire praised the work of Conservative MPs Mr McPartland and Mr Smith.
Ms Debbonaire added: “I am a member of Her Majesty’s Opposition, but I’m not here to score party political points. We know there are at least 34 Conservative MPs who agree that leaseholders shouldn’t pay for these costs and I’m sure there are many more who haven’t yet said so publicly.
“I commend in particular the work of Mr McPartland and Mr Smith on the Fire Safety Bill, whose amendments to that Bill seek to protect leaseholders and push the Government to take action.”