Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans, Daisy Cooper, has put forward legislation which would force the government to launch an independent inquiry into its handling of the building safety crisis.
Cooper put forward a Ten Minute Rule Motion which passed today in parliament and will move to second reading in September.
The full text of Daisy Cooper’s speech is below.
“Tens of thousands of innocent people deserve to understand how and why after four years they are still trapped in homes that are not safe and which they cannot sell. They deserve to know why they are facing bankruptcy from bills they cannot afford, with their mental health left in tatters.
“And they deserve to know the government’s real motivations, because for four years fire safety victims have had to battle with the government again and again at every twist and turn to get help to solve a problem that is not of their making, and for which there is still no end in sight.
“There are scores of questions that the government must answer, but they relate to three broad areas. First the government’s failures to date, second the faulty design of the building safety fund, and third, the gaping hope between the prime minister’s promises and his government’s actions.
“It is incomprehensible that four years on from Grenfell we still don’t actually know the scale of the building safety scandal - that’s because this government has no complete data on how many mid-rise buildings below 18m have been built with dangerous materials and fire safety defects.
“It was revealed more than a year ago that the government had been told by its own advisers that the most dangerous forms of ACM cladding and insulation are unsafe on buildings of any height.
“And yet the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government admitted it did not have the data on the number of buildings below 18m which have cladding systems or which proportion of the buildings which do, are likely to be clad in ACM. The government could have taken immediate action but it failed to do so. An inquiry is needed to find out why.
“On the face of it, it appears as though the Building Safety Fund (BSF) has been deliberately designed by this government to exclude a huge amount of issues and a huge amount of people. Housing Associations with non-ACM cladding are excluded, properties below 18m are excluded and non-cladding fire safety remediation works are also excluded. Anybody who really wanted to solve this crisis would not design a remediation fund that excluded all of this.
“The Secretary of State has ignored recommendations from the Housing Select Committee that social housing providers should have free and equal access to the fund. This is in the face of a national housing shortage, when social housing providers should be investing their funds in new affordable homes.
“On the 18m threshold, how did the government reach the conclusion that buildings below 18m should be treated differently and not be eligible for the building safety fund, because the SS himself has described height as a “Crude factor” when determining risk. And we all saw the video of a top civil servant working on the cladding scandal admitting that the crucial 18m rule had been picked simply because ministers didn’t have time to come up with a better number. And yet the government is still using it. Why?
“There has been no explanation of why this arbitrary figure has been applied. And the perverse nature of this 18m rule is demonstrated perfectly by The Decks in Liverpool. To the casual observer it is a development of 6 identical blocks. Three of these are just above 18m and might qualify for help from the government, and three are just short of 18m and are left out in the cold.
“So why does the government persist in using this 18m threshold when it is clearly unfair and in some cases outright absurd? An inquiry is needed to look into this.
“And then there is the size of the building safety fund. The Housing Select Committee estimates that the cost to remediate cladding will be in the region of £15bn, so how did the Secretary of State arrive at the very precise initial figure of £1.6bn and then his revised position of £5.1bn? Fire safety experts have repeatedly said that this fund is a mere drop in the ocean. So why is the government refusing to budge?
“And why has the government excluded all other fire safety issues that aren’t caused by cladding from the BSF? Flammable balconies, missing fire-breaks, defective fire doors, dangerous insulation: these are all issues that have been identified as critical safety failings and like cladding none of these are the fault of leaseholders.
“Yet they are still not being addressed by the government’s schemes. And that’s even before the huge cost of waking watches which are needed to make sure people’s homes don’t go up in flames.
“And finally, the third area relates to the gaping hole between the Prime Minister’s promises and his government’s actions. Last autumn the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign put forward a very simple ten-step plan. In essence it called on the government to stump up all the cash to remediate fire safety problems, to get rid of all the problems by the end of 2022, and then use its weight to recoup the money from those responsible.
“That plan would meet the government’s own test of not letting the cost fall to the taxpayer or to innocent building safety victims.
“On 3 February this year leaseholders were given fresh hope that their nightmare was finally over because the Prime Minister stood at that despatch box and told this house, “we are determined that no leaseholder should have to pay for the unaffordable costs of fixing the fire safety defects that they did not cause and are no fault of their own”.
“But that fresh hope turned to false hope, because the Prime Minister and his government spent 10 months fighting members of this house who tried to protect leaseholders from these costs when we tried to amend the Fire Safety Bill, but the government fought tooth and nail to stop us.
“On Sunday, to much fanfare, the Secretary of State announced he was bringing forward measures in the Building Safety bill which would give leaseholders 15 years to take action against those who are responsible. Fire Safety victims have already said that most of them won’t benefit from this.
“Either because the 15 year limit has already expired, or because the potential defendants no longer exist or are insolvent. For everyone else, they now have to add the prospect of years of litigation to their woes.
“But what’s really disturbing, is that the Secretary of State has announced this in the full knowledge, and I quote from an NAO report, “that the legal costs of taking action are likely to outweigh the costs for remediation works” in a significant number of cases, and “that enforcing cost recovery from the outset could impact the pace of remediation”.
“So does this government really think that it is acceptable for leaseholders facing bankruptcy and mental ill-health to have to start legal action against huge powerful housing companies builders and others - when they know that the legal bills will cost more than the remediation work itself and then delay that remediation?. This is Alice in Wonderland stuff.
“And it’s not just that the PM and his gov are falling short on his promises, but that they are doing exactly the opposite, because this government is actively legislating to effectively protect the guilty while letting innocent victims hang out to dry.
“A public inquiry is now needed to rigorously investigate why this government has comprehensively failed to put any serious system in place to protect innocent building safety victims, or recoup the costs from developers, builders, suppliers and contractors.
“And what precisely is the government’s relationship with these potential defendants? Such that it is so determined time and time again to put the interests of big developers and others ahead of innocent tenants and leaseholders?
“This public inquiry is desperately needed, because when we said never again, some of us actually meant it. Fire safety victims have faced four years of delays, obfuscation and broken promises. This has become a national scandal of epic proportions.”