Further votes expected on Fire Safety Bill while consultation on code of practice for cladding assessors launched
Rebel MPs are today expected to make another attempt to force the government to exempt leaseholders from bearing any of the cost of fire safety repairs to the external walls of their homes.
The move is the latest in an ongoing saga over the Fire Safety Bill, which is designed to ensure that building owners are responsible for fire safety on the external walls of buildings, but which critics say will immediately make leaseholders liable for repair bills of thousands of pounds.
The expected House of Commons vote on comes after the government yesterday for the third time defeated a rebel amendment tabled by Conservative backbenchers Stephen McPartland and Royston Smith designed to exempt leaseholders from safety costs, only for peers to immediately reinstate the clause in the House of Lords.
The government has pledged to spend £5bn on repairing cladding assessed as unsafe in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, however campaigners for affected residents and leaseholders complain that the cash is far short of the £15bn figure identified as needed to solve the problem, and will only help those in the tallest towers.
Yesterday’s defeat of the amendment, by 320 votes to 256, came despite the fact 31 Conservative MPs abstained on the issue and nine rebelled. However, the government’s majority was made secure by the SNP’s decision not to vote on the matter, as the law is only applicable in England.
Conservative rebels included former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, and former Brexit secretary David Davis.
Labour’s shadow fire safety minister Sarah Jones said: “Do the Government care only about the donors who keep their Prime Minister in fancy furniture, so that he can spend £60,000 on curtains in No. 10, while nurses and key workers out there face £60,000 bills for cladding with no wealthy Tory donors to bail them out?”
Voting against the government, Iain Duncan Smith said: “I do not see the Government responding to the overwhelming concern about what is happening to leaseholders, many of whom, as has been said before, were first-time buyers.”
Housing minister Christopher Pincher, speaking for the government, said that allowing the amendment would damage the functioning of the rest of the bill, arguing that it would exempt leaseholders from bearing any costs at all, even where they were either minor or demonstrably the responsibility of the leaseholder.
He said: “I entirely accept that the motivations of all those who have contributed today are not to damage the Fire Safety Bill, I have to tell them that the practical consequence of passing the Lords amendments would be to do that, because they are ineffective and defective”.
The news comes as the government yesterday launched a consultation on a new code of practice for professionals assessing buildings’ external walls and cladding system.
The government said the new code of practice, being drawn up by the BSI, was designed to “ensure external wall assessments are carried out to a high and consistent standard, giving building owners clarity on the fire risk of the construction of external walls.”
Building safety minister Lord Greenhalgh said: “I welcome the launch of this consultation on a new code of practice, commissioned by Government, which will ensure greater clarity and consistency for those completing assessments of external walls and a clear steer on where remediation is, or is not, required.”
The consultation is due to close on 20 May 2021, with the BSI aiming to publish the standard in the autumn, following review by an expert steering group.