The speech made by Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in the House of Commons on 10 January 2022.
May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your kind words about Jack Dromey, who should have been with us here today? There is a space over there that I know Jack would have occupied. Back in the 1970s, horrified by the spectacle of a skyscraper in London that lay empty while people slept rough underneath it, Jack was one of those who occupied Centre Point tower in protest. He was never afraid to speak truth to power, and I hope that today marks the start of all of us across the House invoking his spirit.
Four and a half years after the appalling tragedy at Grenfell, and with a road paved with broken promises and false dawns, hundreds of thousands are still trapped in unsafe homes, millions are caught in the wider crisis, and the families of 72 people who lost their lives are waiting for justice. It is a relief that we finally have a consensus that the developers and manufacturers who profited from this appalling scandal should bear greater costs, not the victims, and that blameless leaseholders must not pay. After a year of hell of the prospect hanging over leaseholders, we welcome the decision to remove the threat of forced loans, but can the Secretary of State tell us what makes him think that he can force developers, who have refused to do the right thing for four years, to pay up? We have been told there is a March deadline and a roundtable, but there is not a plan. If he has one, can we hear it? He will find an open door on the Opposition side of the House, if he has a credible proposal to bring.
Today the Secretary of State warned developers that if negotiation fails,
“our backstop…what we can do…is increase taxation on those responsible”,
but that is not quite right, is it? I have in front of me the letter from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May I remind the Secretary of State what it says? He was told that
“you may use a high-level ‘threat’ of tax or legal solutions in discussions with developers”
“whether or not to impose or raise taxes remains a decision for me”
—the Chief Secretary—
“and is not a given at this point.”
If I have seen the letter, I am fairly sure that the developers have too. Furthermore, it appears that what the Secretary of State has told the public—that tax rises are the backstop—is not what he has told the Treasury. The letter says that
“you have confirmed separately that DLUHC budgets are a backstop for funding these proposals in full…should sufficient funds not be raised from industry.”
That is not what the Secretary of State told the House a moment ago, so can he clear this up? Has the Chancellor agreed to back a new tax measure if negotiations fail, or is the Secretary of State prepared to see his already allocated budgets—levelling-up funding, or moneys for social or affordable housing—raided? Or is his plan to go back to the Treasury, renegotiate and legislate, if he fails in March? If that is the case, it will take months, and there is nothing to stop freeholders passing on the costs to leaseholders in the meantime. Does he even have an assessment of how many leaseholders will be hit with whacking great bills if he delays?
If the Secretary of State is serious about going after the developers—I hope that he is—why is he not putting these powers into the Building Safety Bill now? The only trick that he has up his sleeve, as he just confirmed to the House, is to ban them from Help to Buy, and we know that the impact of that, though welcome, will be marginal. Can he see the problem? He will also know that there is a gaping hole in what he has proposed. A significant number of buildings have both cladding and non-cladding defects, and leaseholders in them face ruinous costs to fix things such as missing fire breaks and defective compartmentation. One cannot make a building half safe. Given that the Secretary of State recognises the injustice of all leaseholders caught up in the building safety crisis, why is he abandoning those who have been hit with bills for non-cladding defects, and why will he not amend his Bill so that all leaseholders are protected from historical defects in law?
The truth is that the pace of remediation has been painfully slow. The Secretary of State is now on track to miss the deadline to fix all Grenfell-style cladding by over half a decade, and there are huge delays when it comes to building safety fund applications, so will he get a grip on what is going on in his own Department and ensure that the progress of remediation is accelerated markedly? As he knows, this has been a living nightmare for affected leaseholders, and we owe it to them to bring it swiftly to an end.
What the Secretary of State has given us today is a welcome shift in tone and some new measures that the Opposition very much hope will succeed, but the harder I look at this, the less it stands up. We were promised justice and we were promised change, to finally do right by the victims of this scandal, and that takes more than more promises. It takes a plan.