The Fire Safety Bill is on the verge of becoming law after a final but ultimately doomed push in the House of Lords to amend it to help leaseholders this week (28 April).
The Bill, which clarifies who is responsible for fire safety in blocks of flats, was drawn up in response to the fire at Grenfell Tower in west London in June 2017 which claimed 72 lives.
Earlier this year, the Government announced a new £3.5 billion package, with ministers insisting no leaseholders in high-rise blocks in England will face charges for the removal of unsafe cladding.
But critics of the Government’s response argue this will not cover the costs faced by leaseholders, which have emerged through no fault of their own.
What does this mean for the Fire Safety Bill?
The Liberal Democrats pressed a final vote in a bid to prevent remediation costs linked to fire safety improvements being passed on to leaseholders and tenants.
Despite the Labour frontbench signalling they would not support the amendment after bemoaning the Government for “not listening” to their concerns, Lib Dem Baroness Pinnock moved it.
But the proposal was defeated by 242 votes to 153, even as a total of 32 Conservative MPs rebelled in a bid to retain the Lords amendment, thereby paving the way for the Bill to become law following a lengthy parliamentary battle.
That means when the Bill receives royal assent as it is expected to do on Thursday (29 April), it will not contain an amendment aimed at protecting leaseholders from costs to make their homes safe.
Thousands of building owners currently face large bills to pay for safety improvements including fire breaks, new balconies, safer doors, and sprinkler systems.
It is the fifth time MPs have rejected an attempt to protect leaseholders from crippling fire safety bills of up to £100,000.
What have ministers said?
The parliamentary stand-off over post-Grenfell fire safety reforms appears to have ended, but not before troubled Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered another major rebellion, with a total of 32 Conservative MPs rebelling from the party line in a bid to retain the amendment.
“While the fundamental elements of the Bill are worthy," said Tory backbencher Sir Bob Neill, “it nonetheless has at present the effect of causing collateral damage to innocent leaseholders.”
Conservative MP Royston Smith said the Government had “done nothing” in the last five months to find a compromise with the rebels.
But housing minister Christopher Pincher argued amendments proposed by peers “won’t help leaseholders” due to a lack of detail for such a “complex and intricate problem of this nature”.
He added: “This Government remains steadfast in its commitment to delivering the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase one report’s recommendations.
“The Fire Safety Bill is an important first step in our legislative programme delivering these recommendations and I cannot stress enough… the vital importance of this legislation and the ramifications if it fails as a result of outstanding remediation amendments.”
What does it mean for Johnson?
Though the amendment was rejected by a majority of 89, it still saw Boris Johnson suffer another parliamentary rebellion, after 32 Conservative MPs rebelled in a bid to retain it.
The blow comes at an uncertain time for the prime minister, who faces mounting questions over the refurbishment of the No 11 Downing Street flat, as well as backlash from allegations he said he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than enforce another coronavirus lockdown.
Sarah Jones, Labour’s shadow police and fire services minister, told parliament: “The government should pay and then go after the building companies and developers responsible.”
“Fourteen separate companies and individuals with links to construction companies using the potentially lethal ACM [aluminium composite material] cladding on buildings have donated nearly £4m to the Conservatives since 2006.
“The prime minister must have his new curtains. So they turn away from the screams for help from the people who face extraordinary bills of forty, fifty, sixty thousand pounds.”
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