Hilary Benn - Member of Parliament for Leeds Central
(Leeds Central) (Lab)
I am speaking in support of all the amendments before us that seek to protect leaseholders from having to pay.
First, on the Minister’s argument that this will delay matters, I think that leaseholders are left perplexed by the Government’s position. One day Ministers say that the cost of fixing historical defects should not fall on leaseholders—the Minister said it again today—but on another day, they say that it should. The £50 a month towards the loans that the Government propose to give to buildings below 18 metres shows that that is their policy.
I do not think that Ministers can criticise others who are trying to address the problem—I support the speeches we have heard from supporters of the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland)—because the Government are completely unclear about what their policy is on who should bear the cost.
It is clear to me that it should be the people who built the blocks.
On the argument that leaseholders who are also part-owners of the freehold may walk away from their flats, that is a very fair point, but exactly the same argument applies to loads of leaseholders who will not be able to afford to meet these costs. What this tells us is that if we are to solve this we must deal with the whole problem, not just part of it.
Secondly, to argue that this is the wrong Bill misses the urgency of the situation. Leaseholders are facing bills that they cannot afford now—waking watch bills now, insurance bills now—and they still face the prospect of being asked to pay to make safe homes that they bought in good faith. That is why we should take the first available opportunity to protect them from this great injustice.
Thirdly, although the Secretary of State’s recent announcement represented progress, it has not solved the problem. Ministers have not addressed the question of how other defects that many buildings have—missing firebreaks, flammable insulation not connected to cladding, wooden balconies and walkways—will be fixed, because leaseholders do not have the money to meet the cost of repairing these defects. Even if the dangerous cladding is removed, either under the grant or the loan scheme, their blocks will still be regarded as a fire risk, because the other problems will not have been remedied.
We cannot make a building half-safe, as that will mean that they will still need waking watches, there will be high insurance bills, and EWS1 certificates will not be issued—people’s homes will still be worthless, and they will not be able to be sold. An important part of the housing market will remain stuck.
The question for the Minister in replying to this debate today is very simple: what will he do about this?
If we together do not find an answer, the suffering of hundreds of thousands of leaseholders in Leeds, in my constituency, and up and down the land will carry on.