Royston Smith – 2021 Speech on Unsafe Cladding

The speech made by Royston Smith, the Conservative MP for Southampton Itchen, in the House of Commons on 1 February 2021.

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I say that just for the avoidance of doubt, as I do not think the leasehold property that I own is included in this matter.

The cladding and fire safety crisis has blighted too many lives for far too long. Leaseholders bought their homes in good faith. They would have trusted the developer to build a safe home and they would have trusted the Government to ensure that it conformed with the law. Most would have needed a valuation for a mortgage and nearly all would have used a solicitor to ensure that everything was legal. Governments have encouraged them to buy by offering them incentives to do so. Buyers had every reason to expect that our building regulations were sound and could be more than forgiven for believing that modern flats built in Britain would be safe. However, the events of the past few years have shown that this is not the case. Leaseholders have had to wake up to a sobering reality that the dream of home ownership has turned into a living nightmare as they face huge bills and bankruptcy.

Let me make something clear: the Government are not to blame for this situation. This is not the fault of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State or the Housing Minister; it is a failure of building safety regulation over many decades, involving many Governments. Regardless of what happens today, the Government have an opportunity to sort this out once and for all. They can give leaseholders the certainty and security they deserve and let the unwitting victims of this crisis once again sleep soundly in their beds at night.

The Government may feel that our amendment to the Fire Safety Bill is defective. Perhaps it does not do what leaseholders would like or it would slow the progress of the Bill. There is a simple solution, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman): accept our amendment, tidy it up, and ensure that it does protect innocent leaseholders.

The shadow Minister for Housing and the Leader of the Opposition said in interviews today that we should put party politics aside and work together. I could not agree more. Labour has had seven weeks to sign our amendment—seven weeks of victims of this scandal begging it to join us—and what has it done? It has done as it always does—ignored the opportunity and instead jumped on a passing bandwagon. Labour has led the victims of the cladding crisis up the hill, and now it is going to abandon them at the top.

There are options for the Government, and I know that they are working hard to find one that works, but today I ask them to accept our amendment and once and for all tell the leaseholders that it is not their fault and they will not have to pay.